Union government on women empowerment in last nine years

:: M.Y.Siddiqui ::

RSS Pariwar union government in last nine years has been big on women’s empowerment and small on the ground. Inauguration of a new parliament building in the New India’s Azadi Ka Amrit Kaal on May 28, 2023 by the Prime Minister (PM) was a day that brought national shame upon women of the country when its global women wrestlers and sporting icons, who brought glory to India in the comity of nations, faced violent police brutality and aggression during their constitutionally permitted peaceful march to the Parliament, protesting against their sexual harassment charges levied against an elected BJP MP, Chairman of Wrestling Federation of India. Now Delhi police investigating the complaints of the champion women wrestlers asks them to provide proof of misbehavior of the accused in flagrant violation of the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 1986 that provides for onus on the accused to prove he is innocent in the case of crimes against women. This forms part of the continuing police brutality to crush all types of dissent against this government. From the CAA-NRC protests led by the elderly women of Shaheen Bagh, the Satyagraha protest movement against the three black farm laws anchored by thousands of women farmers, the present union government used force to crush any form of dissent or contrarian action against its own conduct.

In the backdrop of meting out ill treatment to women protesters including celebrated women wrestlers, who won national accolades and medals for the country, during the last nine years speak volume of maltreatment of our women in general. BJP’s manifesto in 2014 promised big on ensuring women’s empowerment at all levels, which has been warped in patriarchal suppression of women in keeping with the ideological gospel of the RSS Pariwar, where the powerful assume to empower others and not be able to serve or promote equality of the people.  Current RSS Pariwar regime is based on Shakti Ki Gita (Notion of Absolutist Power) with an executive (government) guided by Rule by Law and not the Rule of Law, which helps the rulers control their own electorate by the brute force of the police, with the same applying against anyone who either tries speaking truth to power or truth about power.

Central tenets of the BJP’s 2014 manifesto emphasised the role of women as ‘nation builders’ that stated the BJP recognized the “important role of women (Nari Shakti) in the development of the society and growth of the nation and remains committed to give a high priority to women’s empowerment and welfare”. Accordingly, details in the BJP’s election manifesto focused on reducing ‘high rates of crimes against women’, ‘increasing female education’ and ‘women employment levels’; and ‘introducing a constitutional amendment to provide for 33 per cent reservation in parliament and state assemblies. BJP’s 2014 election manifesto stated that under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, “crimes against women have(d) reached unacceptable levels” and blamed this increase onto a “gross misuse and total denigration of government and institutions”, yet in the nine years, crimes against women have only increased.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of reported crimes against women jumped to 4.28 lakh in 2021 from 2.44 lakh in 2012, recording 42.96 per cent increase since RSS Pariwar came to power. Rate of crime against women increased from 41.74 in 2012 per lakh population to 56.3 per lakh population in 2021. Since then, the crime rate has fluctuated. As per the latest NCRB report 2021, the rate increased to 64.5 in 2021. The persistently rising trend in reported crimes against women demolishes RSS Pariwar’s focus on initiating any actionable measures that yield positive results. On the contrary, when the police is seen brutalizing and manhandling women on the streets including women sports icons and Olympic champions for leading a peaceful protests, it reflects quite poorly on the government’s ability to walk the talk on its own promises on promoting women safety and the PM’s credibility to stand on his own words.

On economic and political participation of women, India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) has remained woefully low for decades. However, this trend has further declined during the last nine years of the RSS Pariwar government. The World Bank data reveals, reported FLFPR in 2012 was 27 per cent, which dropped to 22.9 per cent in 2021. In 2022, the FLFPR increased to 23.9 per cent. Research from Ashok University shows the increase in labour force reporting can be attributed to an increase in women’s participation in the agricultural sector. Most women in agricultural sector are affected adversely working in areas of low productivity, poor wages, in some instances, unpaid and deeply exploitative work contracts. India also has one of the largest proportions of female-based informal employment, the lowest level of women entrepreneurs working in the organized, industrial space.

Pandemic affected women most adversely across different labour markets. The Centre for New Economics Studies, in its research, documented the nature of troubling scenario experienced over the last three years by female domestic workers, daily wage workers based mazdoor mandis, ASHA workers, Anganwadis, nomadic communities, street vendors, amongst those occupied by the unsecured, unorganized, informal work space. Post COVID-19 pandemic, women shifted from salaried employment with a gap of 34 per cent to casual employment with a wage gap of 50 per cent and self-employment with a wage gap of 160 per cent. The trend reflects a desperate need among women entering or returning to the workforce due to lack of ‘good jobs’ in the organized sector, and are seen being absorbed by unorganized, informal space, often at lower wages, and under much harsher, exploitative work conditions or contracts. Rural women are in a more precarious condition, joining the workforce during times of economic crisis as ‘shock absorbers’ and exiting the workforce during high growth periods. Most growth generating sectors have highly skewed male-female ratios.  This pattern has not changed over the last nine years, and in fact, worsened.

On the political front, a lesser representation of women across the political, policy decision making across different Union, State and local level governing bodies have not improved. It was hoped that the RSS Pariwar union government pitching for a ‘reformist’ agenda would ensure as promised in its manifesto, 33 per cent reservation in parliament and state assembly for women through a constitutional amendment. This did not come to pass under the RSS Pariwar government. Except Kerala that has done well in ensuring decentralized women representation in policy, political decision making, RSS Pariwar has failed miserably in this regard. In 2014, during 16th Lok Sabha elections, women accounted for 11 per cent of the elected representatives, in the 17th Lok Sabha elections, women were 12.45 per cent of the total elected members. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, only 8 per cent of candidates who contested on the BJP tickets were women and 12 per cent of candidates were women contestants from BJP in 2019, indicating a marked difference in the BJP’s words (kathni) and actions (karni).

RSS Pariwar union government also failed in supporting social welfare schemes essential to women. Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY 2016), aimed at distributing LPG connections to women of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, claimed to have distributed 96 million cylinders of which 9.6 per cent of beneficiaries took no refills and 11.3 per cent took only one. As per PMUY, 12 refills are part of the provided subsidy, 56.5 per cent took no more than four refills because of increasing costs from Rs.410 per cylinder in 2013-14 to over Rs.1100 per cylinder in 2023. Compared to government claims of 98.8 per cent coverage on April 1, 2023, households are still not reliant on gas cylinders. In other essential social welfare schemes too, where women are disproportionately higher from nutrition to National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to those critical in healthcare based allocations, RSS Pariwar union government has spent much less than any other union government before.

As for the much hyped catchy slogan Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter), launched in 2015, which aimed at preventing gender biased sex selective elimination, ensuring survival and protection of the girl child, and education and participation of the girl child, the campaign has bogged down in 67 per cent of the total planned expenditure incurred on multi-media projection of the PM. Remaining peanut amount was shared by all states and union territories. The programme failed because of Hindutva’s patriarchic suppression of women in general. For the RSS Pariwar, Women’s rights are all about the Men. The personalized alignment of PM with campaigns on women empowerment and other social policies fosters a new paternalistic contract. This campaign reinforces the role of the father as protector, which then segues into a gender discourse of safety, surveillance and restriction. More significantly, it constructs and reinforces PM as the father figure, a benevolent patriarch, a role he plays out in many areas. This trope is applied as well in the welfare programmes for women.

In all social welfare and care schemes for women, there is a major shift from rights based welfare to institutionalization of a neo-liberal process of market-based entitlements where who gets what is based on ad-hoc, instrumental, documentation-sensitive means, as against rights and capability enhancement needs. Country has reached very demeaning situation where more women live in an environment of ‘unfreedoms’ and witness police brutality that projects ‘women empowerment’ and ‘women safety’ as public relations exercises for political gain and favourable international image posturing. As a matter of fact, it presents apathetic conduct of RSS Pariwar union government that actually cares very little for the interest and welfare of women and other gendered groups. This is what the union government has done to women of India!


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