Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women and The Indian Political Male

The Irony was that it had to happen on a day when thousands of miles away, at the academy awards, a woman, for the first time, became best director and her film was adjudged the finest. Katheryn Bigelow re-wrote Oscar history, even as Laloo and Mulayam Yadav reminded us of the regressive nature of our political class and perhaps even Indian society. It’s a shame isn’t it, that we couldn’t have a discussion on the women’s reservation bill in parliament. First it’s appalling that it has taken this long, even more distressing is the circumstances that was created when it was brought, yet again, in front of the parliament. The Bill’s still not through as I write this piece, I hear every analyst on TV, debate on it’s need and predict that it’s fate depends on the political will of the congress party and the diktat of the congress president.

Frankly, I don't think a bill should mandate space for women in Indian democracy; it ought have come from the political class, the voter and the society, a long time ago. Each political party should have ensured that they fielded women at par with men in winning seats and as citizen's we should have campaigned and used our democratic right to ensure that it happened. The truth is we all failed and that's why we need a law to make us do so. I don't agree with the argument that women make better politicians. They are as good or bad as their male political counterparts, each Mayawati has a Laloo Yadav, and as Indian's we need to deal with them man or woman.

All that's beside the point, today we've long passed the time to even write or debate the pros and cons of such a legislation. It's been analysed, re analysed, argued, fought over enough, sabotaged and stalled enough, what else have been doing for over a decade now. This is really not the time to discuss the nitigritys, but look at the big picture and to vote for the bill, to support it not just in letter but also in spirit. Remember, the bill with whatever reservations anyone may have about women's reservation, whatever it promises and doesn't promise, is a symbolic moment of assertion that as a society we believe in empowering women. At the moment the focus should be to be feel ashamed that we haven't put the spirit into practice, regret and realise it's time to ensure that it's finally implemented not just in letter but also in true and unadulterated spirit.

The genuine worry is not the enactment of the law, but whether it's spirit drives our political and national conscience. The letter would ensure that women will represent 33 percent of the seats, but if it's not followed in spirit, we could have the Indian political male manipulate the letter to field his daughters, daughter in law, mother in law, wife, sister and rule by proxy. I even heard a veteran communist leader say "So what. We've seen Betas and Daamads Why not Bahus and Betis now". There’s a problem ma'm, in the feudalistic and patriarchic Indian society the beta and damaad occupy a much more powerful role than the bahu and the beti. The concern should be to ensure that the beti and bahu are given the space in their own right and are not made a proxy for the beta and the damaad. They cannot become fillers because the beta and the damaat can't contest. We can live with dynastic politics, but not with feudalistic and discriminatory political thought. Let's ensure that the daughter has as much right over the dynasty as the son. Remember even in parties, which are ardent supporters of the bill, some, led by strong women, there's domination by the male. He doesn't want to give up his seat and when this bill becomes a law, 33 percent of him will have to vacate space. Let his daughter take over, but let him give it to his daughter as the heir to his political legatee, not just to keep the seat within the family and make her a proxy. Like a Rabri did for Lalu.

What troubles me is also the mischievous arguments and points of view put forth by various sections of our polity. It exposes that amongst the supporters of the bill there are those who are already searching for devious designs to derail it's spirit. I would rather live with the staunch opponent, than the fake supporters. Shiva Sena for instance says, "We support the bill. But we want the decision on seats be left to the parties"... Mr. Sainik we all know that there are "winning" and "losing" seats that every party identifies. What guarantee do I have that you won't field women in "Losing" seats for your party, and your opponent field them in his "losing" seats and there by letting the women lose despite a bill to ensure they win. The decision on which of the seats will be reserved for women will have to rest with the election commission and only that help in generating a new woman political class. There has to be genuine competition between women to throw up the best amongst them to lead us and that's the only way we will have create a strong political class of women.

Lest we forget how the upper castes, in several cases, have found the most acceptable dalit candidate (read weakest) to contest and win and thereby perpetrate their hegemony of the society. Reservation by itself cannot guarantee equality, reservation is putting in public a commitment to steer the society towards equality, the women's reservation bill will be all but yet another law if we as the society do not resolve to understand and acknowledge it's spirit. Symbolism and laws help but not as much as collective social conscience.

As a nation we have not been law abiding, we continue to trample over the spirit of the laws as we hail their letter. The women's reservation bill would yet again be a collective test for a social conscious, will we let ourselves be judged as professionals as human beings sans the sexes. May take years, but as we debate and try to destroy the legislation, guess it's time to resolve to work towards a dream to make a harsh reality less harsh.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spare met the Tweets

Interlocutor - "Helps in a Dialogue"; Mediator - "Helps in bringing about an agreement"

O.K. Mr. Tharoor there's a difference. But so what if there's a difference, I am the journalist and I decide what you meant to convey. You only have the choice to retract, apologise, clarify or withdraw your statement, cause I have already written about what I think of what you thought you wanted to convey. It doesn't matter that you are a distinguished diplomat, writer and man with perhaps more intellect than I. You are still not the journalist, even worse, you ended up as an Indian politician, perhaps the only class that enjoys lesser credibility than me the Indian Journalist. So when I say you need to learn what to say and how to say what you say to the media, then you must listen, lest I remind you again that I am the Indian Journalist.

I went to a journalism school for two weeks, that was enough wasn't it... what's there to learn in the first place. But in those two weeks I did meet a proffesor who I would like to keep anonymous. I 'll call him Mr. X. I was having breakfast when I heard about your "Saudi Arabian trouble" and when I looked up Mr. X was sitting next to me, staring me down just the way he did a decade ago. He asked me "What would've been your lead". "Hmmm" I wondered a bit .... I wanted to sound knowledgeable and decisive and be a great foreign policy reporter. Just as I was about to respond Mr.X interrupted "What did he say". I said "Wants the Saudi’s to interlocute". "So" he said. "So it's a big story isn't it" I replied. He said "O.K." "But what would you check first". Ahh.. I got him here and I couldn't be wrong "The history Indo Pak relations and the Saudi connection" "I would get quote and expert opinion". Mr. X looked at me with a little condescension. The old man has always done that hasn't he, but I got him this time and he couldn't agree that I was right. Those moments of self adulation quickly disappeared; Mr. X asked me "What does interlocutor mean and what's the difference between mediator and interlocutor". I guess doing that gives me the real picture, but then why do that when you have an alleged "foreign policy departure" and a lead story in your hands.

We don't have too many Mr. Xs around and what we have instead are those like me. So when there's an elucidation that asking for Saudi interlocution on dealing with Pakistan on "Terror" is different from Saudi interlocution in dealing with Pakistan on "Kashmir", I will still take it as the same and claim that you’re trying to use diplomatic nuances to wriggle out of a politically disastrous statement. It doesn't matter what transpires between you and your party and I will continue to say that you have been "summoned" and "Told off".

Yes, the logical and progressive thing to do would be to ask me to be more mature when I report, but I have to remind you that I am the journalist and you cannot tweet that. What you can instead do is try to be more illiterate in how you say, what you say. Keep the diplomacy and the wits for those who would appreciate it and keep the more elaborate and simple statements for those like me. Don't expect me to know the language and the sense you derive from it. There are many amongst me who are brilliant and can match your intellect, choose them if you must. But for the rest of us just use the fundamental rule of TV journalism "KISS" "Keep it Short and Simple”.... spare us the tweets.