An Open Letter to the Candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha Election
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections we women, as citizens, take this opportunity to address those who seek to represent us and to share with them our concerns.
In recent years, our fundamental rights have considerably circumscribed. We have lost the freedom to choose what we eat, how we pray and how we live. Our constitution tells us it is our duty to promote scientific temper, but we are now a country that considers rationality and science anti-national. Our fellow-citizens are lynched, arrested and disappeared on flimsy grounds and there is no justice, nor even a simple condemnation. A culture of impunity prevails across all human rights violations and violence.
As citizens, we deplore the gradual transformation of our democracy to a political culture in which asking questions is anti-national. We raise questions about our rights, about the safety of our communities, about the environment we are leaving our children or about the future of our livelihoods. For this act of citizenship, we are denounced and pronounced as seditious. Women human rights defenders face the spectrum of violence, verbal to physical, in response to their work.
To us, therefore, this election is about who we are as a country, about our equality as citizens, about our freedoms and about our right to a good life.
We are citizens and we affirm our faith in the Constitution of India and its values. This is non-negotiable for us. In particular, we want those who would be our representatives to uphold the following provisions:
- The values of the Preamble, including secularism, equality, justice, liberty and fraternity, so that all Indians can enjoy full citizenship;
- The spirit of a federal Union where powers and resources are shared fairly across the Union so that states are not tempted to raise revenue through the sale of alcohol;
- The rule of law, so that all of us have equal access to justice;
- Fundamental rights, so that we may think, speak, believe and organise politically without being targeted for doing.
We are women and it is important to us that parties and candidates demonstrate their commitment to gender equality through:
- Gender parity in nominations and appointments;
- No nominations for those accused or charge-sheeted for gender-based and sexual violence;
- Zero tolerance for misogynistic speech;
- Meaningful and respectful inclusion of women in public affairs, including policy decision-making;
- Gender transformative rather than gender stereotype driven manifesto commitments.
A commitment to gender equality is a commitment that, in making policy, you will recognise gendered vulnerability; resilience and agency; and that your work will be informed by women’s and minority narratives.
Physical safety is important to us but we do not want to hear about how you will protect us. We want:
- Full utilisation of funds allocated to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, and transparent accounting for the same;
- A law to address gender-based violence arising from caste rivalry and conflict;
- Support services and structures for women who suffer domestic violence and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence;
- Sensitive, meticulous and time-bound investigation into cases of sexual and gender- based violence;
- Commitment to ending impunity and rape culture, and universalising access to justice.
We are deeply concerned about the erosion of our livelihood rights, which also impinge on our right to equality. All workers, formal and informal sectors, should enjoy these rights:
- The right to work with dignity and self-respect, irrespective of family and marital status;
- The right to safe, humane and equal workplaces that provide for transparent grievance redressal;
- The right to infrastructural facilities that meet women’s needs;
- The right to unionise and collective bargaining;
- The right to a living wage and social security;
- The right to gender-equal training for work free of stereotypes.
In the spirit of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, all workplaces should be required to create awareness among employees about their rights as workers. In the informal sector, this should be the responsibility of the local administration.
A minimum wage, universal health benefits and maternity and child care support should be available to all working women.
We would like to see the establishment of labour welfare boards that are dedicated to the rights and needs of unorganised workers. This board should oversee entitlements, allowances and benefits, and grievance redressal systems, ensuring representation of independent, non-party trade unions.
These elections are critical for us as women and as citizens. We are clear about the India we want. We urge you as candidates to demonstrate your commitment to the constitution through your actions and choices.
This statement has been drafted by the Penn Thozhilalar Sangam and Prajnya teams.
It is based on women’s consultations held in 2017-19, accessible here and here, and on the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist.
Anushika Srivastava, When Women’s Groups Wrote An Open Letter To Lok Sabha 2019 Candidates, ShethePeopleTV, April 9, 2019.