What does the BJP manifesto for Himachal Pradesh‘s 2017 Assembly election promise? More importantly, what does it reveal about the BJP’s gender politics?
Called the “Golden Himachal Vision Document 2017,” the document opens with a listing of ten ways in which the Modi government has strengthened the foundations of Himachal Pradesh; sixth and seventh on this list are the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana under which 1,80,829 accounts have been opened and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign for which Rs. 49 lakhs have been mobilised for this state. The seven health developments listed do not include women’s health measures.
In the list of promises, women follow youth and farmers and precede senior citizens, government workers, army veterans and weaker sections. This tells us that women are considered an important vote-bank, though not as vital as youth or farmers.
The section on women is titled “Empowered woman, equal rights” (Sashakt Nari, Samaan Adhikaar). The BJP states that it is necessary to take steps to ensure that women are equal partners in development, and that respect and safety for women is their highest priority. Development programmes should be gender-sensitive and they would take measures to improve women’s health and livelihoods.
The Empowered Woman Yojana will have a special allocation which will enable the setting up of an ‘Empowered Woman Centre’ (Sashakt Stree Kendra) in every gram panchayat, which will fully empower women and make them independent. The word ‘empowered’ is repeated throughout this document but we do not know what ‘empowerment’ means. Today in India, it is as if repeating ‘women empowerment’ (forget the ‘apostrophe s’) will transform society. In fact, it acts as a smoke-screen that protects patriarchy.
The Empowered Women Centres will generate new job opportunities for women, and support women entrepreneurs, farmers and self-help groups. Women will be offered legal help in the centres and an ‘Empowered Woman Official’ (Sashakt Stree Adhikari) will be appointed for the implementation of the 2005 Domestic Violence Act. (Twelve years later, should this even be a promise?) The Centre will allow women to be a part of decisions made at the Panchayat—a right that the Constitution gives them. The Centre will host (Sashakt Stree Sabha) Empowered Women Assemblies where elected women Panchayat representatives will meet other women and take forward issues, demands and recommendations to the state government level. Funds will also be allocated towards building the capacity of elected women representatives. The Centres will also be responsible for administering nutritional schemes.
Considering cleanliness to be a fundamental right, the regular cleaning and maintenance of public toilets will be undertaken, the BJP promises. Facilities essential to women’s health and reproductive care will be provided for in public bathrooms—presumably, this refers to sanitary napkins. Allocations will be increased for prenatal and postnatal health care.
The next category of promises relates to women’s safety. The accent here is on protection and the paternalism is underscored by the name of the redressal mechanism to be launched: “Gudiya Yojana” or “Doll Scheme.” Every district will have a 24×7 Women’s Police Station. There will be a 24×7 Gudiya Helpline. Every mobile phone will have a Shakti (Power) button which used, will report the user’s location, name and phone number to the police control room, the nearest mobile police van and station. To increase the percentage of women police recruits to make 33% of the force, is another promise, as are self-defence classes organised in government schools.
To refer to women and girls as ‘gudiya’ may be intended to demonstrate filial affection but dolls are lifeless, lacking in intelligence, unable to think and act and must be acted for and upon. What does this tell us about the thinking of the BJP in this state (or elsewhere)? That women and girls are less than human?
The next subheading is ‘Women-Centred Laws.’ Immediate investigation and strict implementation of laws against rape, dowry, sexual harassment and domestic violence are promised. It is shameful that this should even be a promise; it should be a given.
Women farmers will be given equal rights, and a Women Farmers’ Bill will be introduced to recognise their debts, agricultural inputs and land rights. This last suggestion is the only one that recognises women as agents and contributors to society.
For the rest, they remain mothers and otherwise infantile objects to be protected, provided for and empowered. Government—mostly men, given the nomination statistics—will take care of women and girls, don’t worry. Moreover, many of the promises are tantamount to simply stating that the government will do its job—from safety and health care to recruiting women into the police, these are old policies.
It is laughable to apply the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist here but when one does so just as an academic exercise, the omissions and silences in the manifesto are underscored:
- The number of nominated women is pathetic.
- It is not clear how well-supported those women are.
- There is no censure of misogynistic speech.
- While the BJP promises to protect women, it says nothing about penalising men who have been charged with hurting women.
Tomorrow: The Congress manifesto for HP.
(Translations mine, with occasional help from Google.)