Women under Modi Government: Promises and Reality

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A young paramedic Nirbhaya was brutally gang raped and murdered in December 2012 at Delhi. This led to nationwide protests with Congress governments both at the centre and state. The BJP government then came into power in 2014 amidst public outrage over the Nirbhaya rape case and Narendra Modi had urged the voters of Delhi back then to ‘remember Nirbhaya‘ while voting for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The BJP had even come up with the slogan “bahut hua naari par atyachaar, abki baar Modi sarkar” during the election campaign to take advantage of this.

Soon after winning the 2014 elections, the BJP’s election manifesto made a plethora of promises including the passing of women’s reservation bill, strict implementation of laws related to rape and removing obstacles in the path of the dispensation of the fund for relief and rehabilitation of rape victims. The manifesto also proposed for a national campaign called ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’. It also said that it would implement 33 per cent reservation for women in the parliamentary and state assemblies. The Congress led UPA on the other hand, had introduced Women’s Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha in 2010 but owing to opposition from parties like the RJD and the SP, the bill wasn’t passed. Despite being in power for more than four years, the NDA had failed to introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha. This is despite BJP and its allies in NDA having a huge majority in the lower house.

The BJP manifesto also had a section that acknowledged women as nation builders yet the BJP government could not arrest the decrease in female labour force participation (FLFP) rate. The FLFP rate has only seen a significant decline under the BJP government. The World Bank report shows that India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate since liberalisation has remained visibly low. The report also states that the ability of women to access jobs in India has remained precarious. According to the report, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2013 ranked India’s FLFP rate as 121 out of 131 countries. In 2013, India had the lowest FLFP rate in South Asia, with the exception of Pakistan. Globally, only parts of the Arab world has held a lower FLFP rate over India in the same year. It’s in this backdrop of declining FLPF that demonetisation was announced. A study conducted by the Indian Academy for Self Employed Women (IASEW), a unit of SEWA, said that incomes of female vendors were significantly affected post demonetisation. The study also said that there was a 68% decrease in incomes of women vendors since demonetisation.

A study conducted by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd. (CMIE) has shown that female labour participation rate fell dramatically after demonetisation and the introduction of GST. According to the CMIE study, the fall in FLFP rose from 1.11 per cent in 2011-12 to 1.39 percent 2016-17. The dramatic fall came after demonetisation when the female labour participation rate decreased by a massive 4.93 percentage points in just one year. The CMIE data also showed that many families started sending older male members to work while women in many families stayed back during the period after demonetisation. Since the unorganised sector depends on cash and most women form a large part of the unorganised sector, women were denied their working capital.

The election manifesto had also promised all women mobile bank and this promise is yet to be realised. The government has instead merged the woman centric Bharatiya Mahila Bank, set up in 2013 by the UPA government into the State Bank of India (SBI).

Another promise which was talked about was the strict implementation of laws related to women, particularly those related to rape and the promise towards clearing obstacles in the dispensation of funds for relief and rehabilitation of rape victims that lies unused at the Centre. In 2014, immediately after the BJP government took office, Union minister Arun Jaitley, stoked a controversy saying that “one small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us millions of dollars ( in tourism).” Reacting to his comment, Nirbhaya’s parents had said that such trivialisation would only help in boosting the morale of the rapists. They also asked how such a small issue was a major issue for the politicians during election campaigns.

In January 2018 after an eight year old girl was brutally gang raped and killed in Kathua, Jammu, two serving BJP ministers and legislators were seen in a rally supporting the accused in the case. The rally was organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch, a newly formed right wing outfit. This led to national outrage and after immense pressure, the two BJP ministers had resigned. Three weeks later, in a cabinet reshuffle in the J&K government, the BJP appointed another MLA, Rajiv Jasrotia, who also participated in the controversial event organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch as a replacement for the resigned ministers. The then newly-appointed Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta described the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district as a small incident. He also added that it should not be given much importance, a local channel Excelsior News. “We hope this kind of thing never happens again, and that the child gets justice. There are many challenges before the government, I don’t think the Rasana (Kathua) case should be given much weight,” Kavinder Gupta said.

Dhanyashree, a 20 year old woman, was found dead in her home after being hounded by Hindutva activists in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka on January 6, 2018. It all began when she changed her WhatsApp profile picture and posted an image of her eyes, close-cropped against a black background. Some men interpreted the photo as an image of her wearing a burqa. This image was then circulated via other WhatsApp groups by the men as proof of her ‘love’ for Muslims. Despite being defiant In the face of cyber attacks, she was tormented when the men came to her house and forced her parents to take mobile phone from her. The right wing activists from Bajrang Dal and Yuva Morcha (youth wing of BJP) led a cyber campaign claiming that she was in love with a Muslim boy and that she was a victim of Love Jihad.

This time too, BJP leaders defended the attacks on the woman. A BJP leader and MLA from Chikmagalur, C T Ravi, said, “What has happened in the Dhanyashree case is unfortunate. A worker of the BJP, Anil, has been arrested for it. But he has not done anything criminal and has not committed any murder. He was just trying to inform the girl’s family about the dangers of love jihad, which has claimed so many Hindu girls. His intention was not to provoke her to suicide [sic]. No men of the girl’s family have accused anyone of harassing them, it is only the police which is making out such a case,” he added. However, her suicide note tells a different story. “I am not in love with any Muslim boy, not going out with any Muslim boy. Because of your unnecessary harassment, you have tarnished my reputation and name. Whatever has happened to me should not happen to any other girl,” she wrote.

On April 8, 2018, a 16 year old girl tried to kill herself in front of the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s office accusing BJP MLA Kuldeep Kumar Sengar and his associates of raping her. The survivor and her family were protesting against the BJP government’s inaction for more than a year. The survivor had earlier alleged she was raped by the BJP MLA Kuldeep Kumar Sengar at his residence when she had visited him along with a relative for seeking a job. She was only sixteen at that time. Nearly a year after the incident, in a clash between the family and the survivor’s father who was injured in the clash, was arrested. The police did not take any action against MLA’s men and soon, the survivor’s father died in custody under suspicious circumstances Meanwhile, another BJP MLA from Bairia district, Surendra Singh, defended the accused by making a provocative statement. “I am speaking from the psychological point of view; no one can rape a mother of three children. It is not possible, this is a conspiracy against him (Kuldeep Singh Sengar),” Surendra Singh told ANI. “Yes maybe her father was thrashed by some people but I refuse to believe rape charge,” Singh added. It was only after the Allahabad High Court came down heavily on the court that the UP government decided to act on the accusation. The case was then handed over to the CBI who confirmed that the MLA was involved in it.

The BJP government also failed to act swiftly against one of its own union minister MJ Akbar who was accused of sexual harassment by his former colleagues. MJ Akbar was a prominent journalist who had edited major media publications before becoming a politician and eventually a minister. It was only after the minister’s threat to take legal action against the complainants failed to subdue the revelations and accusations made by women that he resigned from the post. Even after the MJ Akbar resigned, another Union minister for Shipping and Finance, continued to attack the MeToo calling it “the behaviour of perverted minds”. “If someone makes an allegation that such a thing happened…when the incident happened we were playing together while in class 5….Would it be fair? This (MeToo movement) is the result of the behaviour of some people who have perverted minds,” Radhakrishnan, Union Minister of State for Shipping and Finance told reporters.

As recent as 2018, Shobha Chauhan, the BJP candidate from Sojat Assembly seat in Rajasthan told the people of her constituency said that she will not let police intervene in child Marriages in Rajasthan if BJP was elected to power. “We have satta (power) and sangathan (organisation, or the state government) at our disposal. We will not let the police intervene in child marriages,” Shobha Chauhan added. According to recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) Rajasthan has one of the highest incidence of child Marriage. The survey claimed that a total of 57.1% of women aged 20-24 were married by 18 in Rajasthan.

Despite making enough and more noise towards women empowerment, the NDA government has failed to show that they are truly committed towards the social progress of women.

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