A woman’s place is in the House…of the people

I opened a session titled Womanifesto recently with this provocative line, “A woman’s place is in the House”. The audience held its collective breath and some of them who know me, watched with puzzlement. Before they could recover and organise a lynch mob, I quickly went on to add, ‘of the People’.

Way back in 2015, I had mulled over the idea of pushing for a more open discussion on this topic ; I even had a few graphics run up.

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But I never got around to actively pushing it out, and so when Shruti Kaura asked me to moderate the  programme on April 24, I accepted with alacrity. The following are my statements at the programme. For a detailed report on what other speakers said, read Citizen Matters.

“This is an apolitical forum, notwithstanding our personal political beliefs, to encourage all parties to put up more women on their own right, and who are the actual representatives. We would like to get more women candidates and more credible women candidates.

Karnataka was the first to introduce reservation for women in Panchayat Raj, keeping 25 per cent of the seats for women, way back in 1983. After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, three levels of Panchayat Raj institutions, more than half of the members of gram panchayat, taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat are women.

But when it comes to representation in Legislative Assembly and Parliament, it is a very sorry set of figures.

Let’s look at numbers. Karnataka’s population is 6.1 crore out of which men are 50.7 percent and women are 49.3 percent. But when it comes to representation in the state assembly, the percentage of women is just 2.6 percent. Of the 225 seats in the 14th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, there are just six elected women and one nominated. Out of 70 ministers in the Karnataka cabinet, only 2 are women. For the upcoming elections, the candidates of major political parties are predominantly men.

The worrisome fact is that not only are fewer women contesting, fewer women are winning.  175 women contested in the last Assembly elections in 2013, out of which only 6 won, 159 of those lost forfeited their deposits. (In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 21 women contested in Karnataka, and only one won).

Universal problem

Do female candidates ‘lose votes’?: A study on the experience of female candidates in the 1979 and 1980 Canadian general elections concludes that, ‘It does not seem, then, that the relative failure of women in federal elections can be traced directly to voters’ sentiments. Rather, it appears as if the limited success of women in federal politics in Canada largely originates in their difficulties in securing nominations to contest seats which they have some reasonable prospect of winning.’

The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats were proposed to be reserved in rotation and would have been determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.

The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Is there hope on the horizon? As women in India are getting  more mobilized than ever before over issues of safety, sexual harassment and human rights, could this lead to more political mobilisation?

Can all women’s groups and women’s wings of political parties agree to lobby for the passing of The Women’s Reservation Bill  It should be a non-negotiable agenda, cutting across ideologies and affiliations. Be it a women’s wing of a political party or an Inner Wheel Club, in the next Parliamentary elections, all women should refuse to vote until all political parties agree to pass this bill.

A study by Politico.com says that America has a shortage of female politicians because, to put it simply, women don’t want the job. What about Indian women? Are we up to the job?”

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More about me: I have always been interested in politics; I studied for a Master’s degree in political science, and I was at the periphery of student politics as class mates and friends were involved in the students’ union. The major part of my career as a journalist was spent covering Karnataka politics. 

It was years later that the irony struck me; that while in college, students could win votes based on their capabilities without gender being an impediment, the equation seemed to change in the real world of adults. For many impressionable young women, the fact that we had a woman Prime Minister was a matter of great pride. I has secretly treasured with shy pride the family lore that, when I was very young and while on a tour of the Parliament, I had climbed on to the Prime Minister’s seat. Childhood games of pretend that I played with my older sister consisted of me playing the role of Indira Gandhi. 

The sad reality is that the poster women of Indian politics Indira Gandhi, Mamta Bannerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati could have played a bigger role for the cause of women. Their triumphs are more personal than a victory for the sisterhood. One of Karnataka’s most successful politicians told me in an interview that politics is a man’s world. A change has got to come!

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Learning the alphabet for justice

In the wake of the recent spate of brutal torture, rape & murders of young girls in India, the staging of 17-year old play hits home truths.

Alipha

The current production of Alipha is an example of theatre at its best, with a great amount of ‘simpatico’ between playwright and director on the one hand, and director and actors on the other. Poile Sengupta has an incredible felicity in fleshing out her characters, and you are bound to immediately connect with them as they remind you of people you have met.

Two actors command your attention for an hour on either side of the stage. One is a little orphan girl (Kavya Srinivasan) being raised by an aunt; she dreams of going to an English medium school and is ecstatic at a scholarship. The other actor (Anirudh Acharya) is the son of a politician, entitled and self-obsessed, used to riding rough shod over anybody who comes in the way of his greed and appetite. Their lives run on tangential tracks until they collide with disastrous results.

Read the full review at http://thegoodcity.in/j-for-justice-the-alipha-of-poile-sengupta

Romancing the text

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we’d moved from flirting

to sexting

in a few fluid texts

the crossing was fraught

with real promises and

imagined reciprocations

now, as i wait with waning hope

for the third day in a row for an alert,

i read of 20 year olds

who complain that dating apps

make it ‘too easy’

of a ‘hit-it-and-quit-it’ attitude,

of ‘coldness & rudeness’

i smile because my problems

are so youthful

Confessions of a new lover

The handful of guests at our tea sat in silent communion, allowing each to admire the beauty of the ceremony and mutual courteousness. In the warm calm of the afternoon, it occurred to me that if everyone were respectful to each other, there would be no hostility.

A true-blue south Indian from India’s largest coffee growing state, coffee has been my go-to drink. Making the perfect cup of coffee just the way it should be (add coffee to boiling hot milk, don’t boil the two together) is the way we lavish love on our families and guests at home. Tea was a rare drink and drunk strong and sweet with spices until about six years ago, I took to drinking  green tea.

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I slowly started appreciating the merits of silver tipped to single estate to Sri Lankan to Assam and Nilgiri teas. Of late, the romance has bloomed thanks to the unending varieties of teas – from the rather sweet strawberry to the light vanilla to the exotic rose -in-bloom. Now my days begin with homegrown lemongrass- infused tea. And when something bothers me, I treat myself to an extra large serving of tea in a gorgeous and large cup. There’s a deeply aesthetic satisfaction to it.

On a recent afternoon, I was invited to a Japanese tea ceremony at a restaurant owned by a friend. It was a bit of a makeshift affair as they didn’t have the entire paraphernalia. But it was such a beautiful presentation with a measured pace that I could hardly cavil about anything.

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My impression: The person who made the tea was completely focused on doing everything aesthethically – he took several minutes to arrange the pot and the cup, folding the napkin ever so delicately that it seemed like a special ritual in itself.

Before pouring the tea, he washed the cup in warm water, wiped it carefully before pouring the tea and served it reverentially. The guest thanked the server equally respectfully and took the permission of the neighbour before drinking.

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The tea was served to one person at a time, and the cup was to be held in both palms, turned around twice before the cup was emptied in three delicate sips. The whole process of brewing the green tea, whisking it with a tiny broom and serving was repeated until all the guests had their turn.

I don’t know if the tea drinkers in Japan are a quiet lot ( they can be quite rowdy at a bar) but the handful of guests at our tea sat in silent communion, allowing each to admire the beauty of the ceremony and mutual courteousness. In the warm calm of the afternoon, it occurred to me that if everyone were respectful to each other, there would be no hostility. Politeness is an under-rated virtue, sadly.
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change

 

five months can be a lifetime.
21 weeks
152 days
3652 hours each as long as a month.

far too long for lives to remain the same.
to want
to feel
to speak the same words.

but, five months aren’t long enough to change.
the situation
the will
the motivation

five months back
we spoke
i waited
you too? perhaps

for five months
we sidestep
like dancers,
without words

five months on
we agree
not to speak
it’s clear

the more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

AAP & the art of gentle persuasion

 imagesEven as AAP comes to grips with the reality of governing, like several others, I find myself willing that it comes through as more than a loose conglomeration of well-meaning people.

We’ll have to wait and watch if it will repeat its Delhi triumph in other places, but I am immeasurably cheered by the wave of optimism that it has infused amongst the ‘aam aadmi’. I do not agree with the statement that the AAP is a party that has come to power on a wave of ‘negativity’ which can’t last.

The media hails Kejriwal one day, denigrates him the next – it seems it can’t make up its mind. After all, media people are among the ‘empowered’ class in this country.

I heard Prithvi Reddy, AAP national executive member and Bangalore-based industrialist, speak last evening. I will not report his entire speech here but suffice to say, he speaks quietly, but surely. He’s firm in rebuttals but not aggressive. He answered questions, some of which would have made seasoned politicians squirm. Prithvi Reddy did not impress with his panache, he impressed with sincerity.DSC_3386

For example, a journalist asked him, “AAP seems to help only the Congress by taking the spotlight away from BJP’s prime contender.” Prithvi replied:” Do you want to rid the country of the Congress or corruption?”

I asked him if AAP had criteria for members, he said since there were thousands of applicants, they could not screen members, but were definitely screening office bearers and potential candidates. I pointed that among the top business honchos, there is at least one, if not more, who have huge business debts. He promised that such aspirants would be in for a surprise when the list of candidates was announced.

For a contribution of Rs.50, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, her driver and her office boy, can all get to wear a badge that says, “I support Aam Aadmi Party”. So is there is a classless Socialist Utopia in the making? Will we all, like worshippers in the mosque, share an egalitarian space?

Will we not need power and/or pelf to process our papers? It’s the dream of such a day that I am sure has compelled the banking and IT honchos who have had their fill of navigating through murky waters, to quit their lucrative careers and join AAP.

AAP does not need conventional media of print and TV; skillfully harnessing mobile and internet tools with the good old fashioned personal meetings at localities is working for it, and this is a strategy that is going to bring it manifold returns.

PS: I have not signed up as an AAP member; I don’t know if I want to be an active political worker but I am watching with hope that it will indeed cause a change not just in the way politicians behave, but in the way we do.