Congress and Women Empowerment

  • Dr. Anil Dutta Mishra

The real wealth of a nation is its people and the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. The Congress Party recognized the power of the people and worked for their empowerment in pre and post independent India through various programmes and policies.The only and most appropriate way to solve the problems of women is to change the position of the women in society and make her equally responsible for the well - being of the social order. This can only be achieved by empowering them. The Congress Party is an embodiment of women empowerment in true sense. In fact, women’s empowerment is central to the achievement of the triple goals of equality, development and social justice. And for that, political participation is needed. In a democratic system, women participation may be viewed at two levels, (i) awareness and assertion of women’s political rights and (ii) acquisition and exercise of power.

Even in India despite their vast numerical strength, women occupy a marginalized position in Indian society due to several socio-­economic constraints. Social evils like dowry deaths, polygamy, child-marriage, female infanticide, forced prostitution and crime against women have not yet been uprooted from our country. This has inhibited the effective participation of women in the political processes and institutional structures of democracy. A broad-based political participation of women has been severely limited due to various traditional factors such as caste, religion, feudal attitudes and family status. As a result, women have been left on the periphery of political life. The Congress Party took note of these concerns and undertook welfare measures, under the stewardship of Gandhi in pre-independent India and after independence, under the stewardship of the great leader Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the architect of Modern India, New India or Vibrant India. In all the activities of life, Congress gave importance to women empowerment. During freedom struggle, women participated in all Satyagraha against colonial power. Even Sarojini Naidu became the President of the Congress Party in 1925. Many women became the active participants in the famous Dandi March of 1930 and the Quit India Movement of 1942. Congress encouraged them and they were given the front seat in the freedom movement. We got independence and Nehru became the Prime Minister of India. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was appointed the First Health Minister in 1947 by the far-sighted Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru. Indira Gandhi was appointed Cabinet minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri. After his death, she became the first woman Prime Minister of India and braved the dangers inherent to the steps she took to maintain the unity of the country. Under her leadership, India became a nuclear power country and she created a new state ofthe Republic of Bangladesh out of dividing Pakistan in 1971 war. She sacrificed herself so that India remains united. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman to represent India in the UN. Sucheta Kripalani became the first woman Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Pratibha Devi Patil became the first woman President of India. Meira Kumar became the first woman speaker of Lok Sabha. Sonia Gandhi became the third woman and the longest serving President of the Congress Party. She symbolizes India and Indian culture in thought, words and action. Her persona reflects the true Indian ethos. She is the centre of gravity of power but she always keeps herself away from becoming PM or President of India.

The struggle to lift curtain of unequal relationship and wipe out the unseen tear from the eyes of women, Congress did the needful. Through 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, Congress Party provided 33 percent reservation in PRI and Urban Bodies. The participation of women in PRIs is considered essential not only for ensuring their political participation in the democratic process but also for realizing the developmental goals for women. Participation enables women to experience a sense of dignity and value. For women, participation has three roles: educative, integrative and empowering. This was a far-sighted first step towards the empowerment of women at mass level in political process. Reservation of seats for women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and municipal bodies provided them with an opportunity to ventilate their grievances and to take active part in the formal political arena which deals with social and economic problems. This was all done by the Congress Governments under the leadership of Rajeev Gandhi who revolutionized India through the application of computer and IT for the first time in India. Women constitute half the society and belong to all classes and all sections. So, women’s empowerment is not the question of one section only. It is ultimately the question of the entire society. It is an integral part of the entire social phenomenon. Human society cannot move forward without stirring half of its body, the women. Thus, it is in the social and national interest to draw womenfolk into the social and political process. Recently, the Congress Party gave 40 percent ticket to women candidates in Uttar Pradesh where election process is going on. It is a historic decision by the Congress Party and in coming years it will be a game changer.

Today, women are connected directly or indirectly to the operation of society at every level, and at the same time, occupy the aggregate position of outsiders. No one can deny today the fact that for women’s empowerment, participation at every level and in every field is essential.

Independence of India opened the doors for the women of the country to find their due place in society and partake in the political, social and administrative life of the country. The advent of democracy in India brought forth the spectacle of women moving up along in the corridors of political power, which has brought them new opportunities both as voters and candidates. They entered the two houses of the Indian parliament in their own way and some of them made a mark therein. Studies on political participation show that there is still gender gap in the level of political information and perception regarding implications of various political issues (e.g. the right to franchise both quantitatively and qualitatively).

Women are increasingly participating in the political process, as indicated by the shrinking gap of per cent of actual voters by sex. In 1962, the gap was more than 15 per cent. This declined steadily over different elections. In 1980, the gap was little over six per cent, but in 1984, it again went up to about 10 per cent. The number of women contestants to the Lok Sabha rose steadily between 1962 and 1980, but number of successful female candidates progressively declined till 1997 (from 33 in 1962 to 19 in 1977). But in elections of 1980 and 1984, the number of successful female candidates again increased to 28 in 1980 and 42 in 1984. Till 2014, under the Congress government at centre, women got their due in every sphere of life. These increasing figures are indicative of the fact that after independence, more and more political consciousness and desire for greater political clout has grown among Indian women. However, this increasing participation of women is insignificant when we view this fact in the light of male participation. Other important mechanism includes networking, participation in the campaigns of other politicians, lobbying, and membership in the same clubs, professional and academic associations.

Rays of hope are becoming brighter and radical changes in and through participation in social political process, will be instrumental to women’ empowerment. Women’s empowerment is essential and desirable for societal development. A society attempting to develop without the full participation of women is like a bird trying to fly with only one wing. It is bound to go off course. Let women realize their immense potentialities for social change, rise up and excel as the builders of this nation. At the same time, women must take upon themselves the task of participating in political and economic affair with commitment and a sense of challenge and men must accept women in their new roles. The Congress Party is committed to women empowerment.

One may conclude by saying that because of the Congress Party’s efforts, the pattern of women’s participation in decision-making processes at all levels and in every sphere of life has dramatically changed in India. Empowerment is not a technocratic goal- it is a wholesale political commitment and that reflects in Congress Party’s policies and programmes. Achieving it requires a long -term process in which all cultural, social, political and economic norms undergo fundamental change. History will judge us not by what we pledged in the past but how we perform in the present; not by promises made but by the promises kept. Congress stands for fulfilling the promises and making India a vibrant democracy in the world; with scientific and secular outlook and the credit goes to the Congress Party and its dynamic leaders- Sonia Ji, Rahul Ji and Priyanka Ji.

The author is an eminent Gandhian scholar and the author of “Reading Gandhi”