What Can, Or In Fact Cannot, Affect The Life Of Women In India?

The biggest festival of the world’s largest democracy has entered in its concluding phases. Elections for the 16th Lok Sabha is being definitively distinct in its own signature ways. Political pundits have hailed this election as the most inclusive ever with the stakeholders having direct access to their favorite candidates, primarily owing to the massive surge in the use of social media. Empowered with technology and tools, candidates are claiming to form a more empathetic government. Amidst the hullabaloo about the prevalent issues, the moot point is whether any party was able to touch those perennially unattended issues of the poorest of the poors. Well, it’s time for a reality check.

I would like to bring forth one such incident from one of the many such experiences of Bharti Mishra, chief facilitator of the Meena Manch, an initiative to ensure women from the countryside in UP to participate in the elections.

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With the word “Women Empowerment” dancing on the lips of many, including the politicians and intelligentsia, it’s definitely one of the most critical issues of modern India. There are schemes for their education, employment, security, health and sanitation, and what not. But the grotesque part is only a small proportion has been able to bear the fruits of these empowering schemes. A large section, predominantly in villages, is still waiting for the benefits to trickle down.  Here’s that immensely jolting experience in the words of Bharti Mishra where you’d see how even a garbage dump can affect women’s life so emphatically:

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While campaigning in Nagla Samaai, a small village in the Western UP, Meena Manch started their proceedings in the same routine manner. It went well with most of the villagers took an active participation in the forum. We got a shock when we were about to finish our campaign there. A girl, barely aged 13 or 14 years, came to me and said “दीदी क्या आप अधिकारियो से मिलती हो?तो आप उनसे कहना कि हमारे नगले में बारात घूरे पर टिकायी जाती है।कभी कभी बाराती इस बात से नाराज होकर बिना बिदाये कराए ही लौट जाते हैं।“ (Didi do you know Government Officials? If yes, then tell them that in our villages the wedding guests from the boy’s side are made to stay on a dried up garbage dump. This sometimes infuriate them so badly that they go back without marrying the girl)

“Ghoora” is a local term used for a pile of dried up garbage used for making compost or bio-fertilizer.

She spoke about the condition of a couple of girls who faced such situations and couldn’t get married. In fact, a few of those are still mocked by their in-laws for such an ill hospitality even after years of marriage. She said “It’s the fear of all the girls who had exposed to the fact that they would get married some day, and this garbage dump has the potential to ruin their entire life.” On behalf of all the girls, she requested us to ask the officials to build a “Baraat-Ghar” to avoid such mishaps in future.

This moved us like anything and presented an unfortunate picture of the so called “Women Empowerment” happening pan-India. It’s high-time when political parties should shun that holier-than-thou attitude and start reaching out to these all important stakeholders who’re still fighting it hard for the survival.

 

 

Responsible Kids – A Proud Sight

I really feel fortunate enough to be a part of a campaign where I got the chance to meet and know the people from countryside – their issues, problems, lifestyles, and above everything, their “perception about election”. There’s hardly any ambiguity about how lack of education has been an impediment to their growth as informed and contributing stakeholders. These people are just oblivious to their rights and the worst part is they don’t even care much. Obviously a daunting task of arranging a square-meal for a family in a day leaves no time for them to think about such “trivial” things.

On a recent visit to a remote village in Western UP, called Nagla Jaitpur, I came across many inquisitive eyes staring right into the face of a so-called “educated and informed” citizen of a world’s largest democracy. I was not able to figure out whether those were filled with hopes or questions or suspicions about facing just another government officer appeared in the time of elections to pelt sweet yet meaningless words at them.

I will discretely take up the voting pattern in villages in a different post. Here, we were all set to talk about what voting is and how its going to make a difference in their life. To our surprise, we were greeted with strange responses. One of the most striking was when they uttered in unison “In Chunaavon se kya fark padta hai..Kaun sa Pradhaani ka chunaav hai..Hum Pradhaan chunte hain bas” (How does it even matter..This isn’t an election of Village Head..We elect our village head only). It was really difficult to finally convince, that’s what we believed, them that this election is equally important.

Though sounded convinced initially, many of them looked completely apathetic towards the voting exercise later. We had to find a way to make sure that the adults understand their responsibility and cast their vote. So we turned to kids. We were never sure how to rope them in but they were our last resort. While we were discussing this, one of our members said “Why not ask the kids only?” All the children took the responsibility and went aside to discuss how to make it possible.

After around 20 minutes of a chirpy discussion, those kids came to us and said “We have found a solution.” A 11-year old girl leading the bunch informed they’d devised a slogan, which is:

“Jab Tak Mummy-Papa Vote Daalne Nahi Jaayenge, Tab Tak Hum Sab Chote Bachche Khana Nahi Khayenge.” (Till Mom and Dad don’t go out to vote, we small kids won’t eat our food)

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They really got excited when we patted their back for such an imposing slogan. They said they would write this slogan on each and every wall of the village as a reminder for their parents, They would stage a small anshan in their homes and break it only when their parents go out and vote. In fact, one girl highlighted the best part of this initiative. She said “this would compel our parents to go and vote right in the morning itself”.

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This was a learning of its own kind for us which filled us with a sense of pride that our coming generation is already responsible and keen to make a difference. We will keep you posted about our experiences and of course seek suggestions from you on how we can make this initiative more effective.