Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women, Neta and Rajneeti

Let me begin by citing a quote by a chief minster of a state. Digamber Kamat, the CM of Goa, suggested that women from his state should not bother to enter politics, because they have much larger responsibility at their hands of bringing up younger generation of the state. So they should not worry about 33% woman's quota and dream of getting into politics. Well, Mr. Kamat does not make any dent on the national politics but unfortunately he happens to be the chief minister of the state I belong to. And therefore his quote matters to me.

How and why a CM of a state like Goa known for his pristine beaches, high GDP, best health care and 100% literacy should discourage women entering politics? Why women participating in politics in India is seen as threat by the current breed of politician?

Looking back in time in 1930-40s large number of Indian women from every social strata participated in social reforms and political struggle of India. From grass root social worker to party president to military out fit women participated on their own merit and with their free will. This was possible only because the leaders of that time, like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and others who encouraged women to participate in the political struggle had recognized the power of woman in politics. Probably most of these leaders who were educated abroad had realized that for a democratic process to flourish and strengthen, educating women and participating them in the political process is the only way ahead.

However this vision went missing in free and independent India. Women in general disappeared from the positions of power and eventually from the political scenarios soon after local governance began to rule. Only few women who had powerful dynastic connection could come to power and were accepted as leaders by male politicians. Ironically, although these few women who occupied the most powerful positions in Indian politics did not try to influence masses to encourage woman's participation in politics.

On the one hand, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of women in parliament (9.1%). Even the UAE, with 22.5%, has more women representatives, according to the UN's 2008 survey of women in politics. However the situation is changing gradually, as we see many woman chief ministers ruling the Indian states today. It would be wrong to suggest that all the woman politicians have come to power through dynastic linkages, but one cannot deny that political mentor ship has certianly played a big role in some of these woman's career.

The question is has these women politicians made any significant difference in the quality of governance?

According to the study, the rise of Indian women as panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. Malnourished, suppressed, uneducated, violated and discriminated against, Indian women have the odds stacked against them. Even birth is a hurdle, thanks to widespread female infanticide in rural areas. In short at the grass root level women leaders have made significant difference to the society by changing the quality of life of the family and community at large. Although same cannot be said with woman who are at the helm of power, but there are examples like the chief minister of Delhi, who I beleive has been voted to power for three consecutive tenures because of her quality of governance and the changes she brought in the state.

Let me come to my third point of the subject which is the portrayal of women politicians in movie Rajneeti directed by Praksh Jha . Considering that Indian viewers do not patronize political thrillers nor do the political parties take kindly to realistic portrayal of Indian politics, a genre of political thriller is almost missing in Bollywood film making. To avoid the controversy as well the harassment of censorship from the political power, Jha thus shields himself behind the story Mahabharata to make a covert comment on the current political scenario.

The whole movie revolves around the male characters who are the main controllers of political power. However, there are three female characters in the movie who are directly/indirectly connected with politics either because they are part of the family that is ruling the state or by her own ambition to be part of the political process.

Firstly, character of Bharati ( based on Kunti) is a daughter of a politician but ideologically inclined to politics of left . Bharati's political ambitions get cut short when she gets accidentally pregnant. Her rebellion is thus subverted to submission when she is married into a powerful political family and turning her into a helpless matriarch watching her family members disintegrate before her eyes.

Second female character appears in the movie is of a ambitious grass root level woman worker, who wants to climb ranks of political power, played by Shruti Sheth. This woman who has neither any political mentor, nor dynastic heritage to support her ambition has to subjugate herself to all sort of abuse which includes sexual favours in order to achieve her goals.

The third character is of Indu , played by Katrina Kaif, is a vivacious daughter of a industrialist who lands in the corridors of power not by her own choice but by fate and dynastic heritage as her husband gets killed in the political vendetta.

Jha's portrayal of all the three women /politicians mentioned above, comes across as weak, and helpless women who succumb easily to male coercion and are mere puppets in the hands of men who are deciding their fate in politics. Although Jha explains the woman's characterization in the movie as fictional and based on the Mahahbharat( i.e. kunti ( Bharati)and Draupadi( Indu) one cannot escape similarity of Indu's mannerisms with that of current Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Also the character of Shruti Seth seem to have no resemblance in the original epic.

To conclude, in Rajneeti, Jha carves a stereotypical characterization of women in politics. Which only strengths the perception that politics is a male bastion ,steeped in violence, revenge, treachery, corruption etc. Is Jha like Mr. Kamat trying to tell us look, if you get into politics this is what your life is going to be . Used and abused by male politicians who are very powerful, conniving, violent and full of deceit and deception. Is Jha trying to tell us politics is not the space for woman?

My point is if we want to change this perception( Politics = Violence and corruption) than we need more women to enter the politics and make the difference, by changing the face of politics from violence to development and progress.

Question is are we ready to make that change?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mumbai Diary -2

He first came to my home along with his brother to collect 'bhangar'.That was eight years back.

Bhangar is a typical Mumbai word( probably a hindi word) , which means recyclable garbage, such as old news papers, bottles, plastic bags, old clothes , vessels practically anything that can be recycled into something.
In fact there is huge industry of bhangar in Dharavi(biggest slum of Asia) and I am told this is one of the most profitable industries of Mumbai city, as the profit margins can be as high as 100%. In every nook and corner of Mumbai, one finds these shops who will come home collect your bhangar and pay you some money in return. You feel happy that you have earned some money on something you would have discarded free of charge.So it is kind of win-win situation for both the parties.

A shy, tiny, boy of 10/12 years with fair complexion, hair neatly oiled and eyes caste down to ground like a girl, he would obey whatever his brother would tell him do. His elder brother would teach him how to tie the bundles of old news papers in a neat stack and then weigh it on the weighing machine which had a dubious reputation of cheating customers.

His tiny frame could hardly hold the weight of 6/7 kg of paper but he would try and lift it with great pride and say "Madamji dekho"...I was quite amused by his dedication to his work. "Thik hai! Aap bole jo" I assured him that I trusted him. For the first time he looked up straight into my eyes with surprise and asked "Don't want want to confirm if my weight is right?"

Probably he expected me to haggle over the weight as everyone did. "No" I said emphatically with a smile knowing fully the boy was not that innocent as he looked. He was apprentice and learning the tricks of the trade rapidly from his bro. But I wanted to trust him. I wanted to understand him. Boy smiled back for the first time. So every month he would come to my house to collect the bhangar and that's how we started building our rapport.

For the time he would spend in wrapping, tying the news papers, and other stuff we would get chatting. It began with my question "Are you going to school?"to "what you want to do in your life?' " do you beleive in god? This monthly ritual of informal discussion was quite interesting and I am sure he used to look forward to it as much I did. He was amused with my life as an artist and when I told him I had 'chosen' not to bear children when he asked me where are my kids as he saw none around the house. I cannot forget the shock in his eyes. He was learning and understanding that life is not the same for everyone. At least that's what I wanted to impress upon his young mind that he has a choice!

He was a natural quick learner and his curiosity to know much beyond his life and society was fascinating. I knew he was growing up rapidly much faster for his age as he was learning lessons of business as well as life . And I hoped that my interaction with him might give him the choice to choose the life on his terms. I hoped that he would break out the bondage of tradition and think independently as a person living in the free society.

The other day when he came to pick up bhangar he informed me that he had flunked in his 12th grade exam. I was disappointed though not disheartened because I knew he had not prepared enough for his exams. So when I asked him, aren't you going to re appear for exams? He smiled. He seemed to be happy about something. As if failing in exam never bothered him anymore. And that bugged me . "what is so happy about failing in exams" I asked in sarcastic tone .

He was still smiling almost blushing, " Madamji I never told you this all these years. I am a married man. I mean, I was married at the age of 12" ( the time I met him first). He tried to explain me the system of child marriage in his community. "Tomorrow I am going to my village to bring my wife in my home. I am now a man. Good enough to look after a woman and raise my children" As he spoke I could see the excitement in his voice. He was lost in his dream world. Suddenly I realized the 12 year old boy I had met 8 years back had turned in to a mature man. Ready to shoulder the responsibilities of life all at the age of 20.

I really did not know how to react to his news. I wanted to share his happiness but I was equally sad as I realized that 8 years of our interaction had not meant much to him. All talks on freedom of life, doing things differently had just got swept away under a single word of 'Riwaz' ( tradition) He was going to live his life what probably his grand father, father, and his brother had lived. "But Madamji , I will educate my children . Make them graduate. I promise" he said to me with twinkle in his eyes. I smiled back at him. Knowing he had grown big enough to make a choice. A choice of life based on traditional lifestyle. Probably a best choice for him. I felt little defeated but I respected his decision.

I congratulated him and gave him some money as my wedding present. " Thank you madame". He said as he walked out of the house. Somewhere I knew next time he would turn up to collect Bhangar it would be just business visit. No more chats on life and its problems. He was just any other bhangarwala. with no name.