Semantee Chattopadhyay
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We have often heard people saying “politics is not for women. It’s just simple for a woman to handle her responsibilities at home and leave the politics to men. The social costs of ancient Indian society tend to straightjacket elite women into domestic roles, denying them entry into the political sphere. But defying these goals in any women played indirectly and sometimes even director roles in the exercise of political power. The ancient Indian text Arthashastra acknowledges women’s political agency. In the Mahabharata, Draupadi plays an active role in the debate to decide whether the Pandavas should go to war or not. In ancient Tamil Sangam poetry, we see evidence of women as ambassadors, advisors and even bodyguards and throne guards under Chola rule. Centuries later, in Mughal India too we see evidence of wives and mothers of nawabs playing a prominent role in politics.
Several things changed with the birth of print media in India and women’s public participation in India’s first debates, on law and reform, related to the age of consent and child marriage. The nationalist movement too encouraged the participation of women especially after the agitations against the partition of Bengal in 1905. Between 1920 and 1929 all British provinces in India decided to give women the right to vote. However, this was the right enjoyed by just 1% of women. It was only after the drafting of the Constitution in 1947 that all women could vote. Even the women, they were still not holding many political leadership roles. Even today, women make up just about 13% of the parliament, why the global average is around 20 to 25%. It’s been 25 years since for reservation 33% of seats for women in the parliament was introduced, but it is yet to be passed. Most National and regional parties don’t give more than 20% of MLA and MP tickets to women. This attitude stands from a monolithic patriarchal mindset, according to which only men can be capable of being good leaders. We reinforce this mindset from a very young age. The notion of politics being a ‘dirty game’ plays a huge part in families and their support system finding it dangerous or unsafe for your to get into politics. This cycle of politics continued to be male-dominated. Everything female politicians do or say comes under scrutiny. They are far more prone to sexualisation and derogatory remarks about their merit and demeanour. It is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in politics improves governance, by increasing responsiveness to citizens’ needs, by improving cooperation between political parties, and by prioritising long-term development through education and healthcare.