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Women Under the BJP Rule

A prerequisite for women's equality is economic independence. But for the RSS, the working woman is an aberration: "if due to economic necessity she has to work let her do so, if she is specially talented let her go to the public sphere... but for the average woman, her entire attention should be to make her home a paradise."

Working Women

Who is the average woman? Today there are an estimated 35 per cent female headed households among the poor in rural India. The survival of the members of these households depends on the woman's earnings. With a big increase in economic disparities, thanks to the BJP-supported liberalisation process, more and more women have to look for paid work. What chance do these women have of getting their problems even recognised, let alone being addressed, in an RSS-ruled BJP raj? There has not been a single scheme for working women including women in agriculture in any of the BJP-ruled States. Not a single joint patta for land has been issued. In Rajasthan, the Sathin programme, which employed over 2000 women, has been virtually scrapped against the recommendations of the National Commission for Women. Young middle class women with skills, talents and high aspirations to break barriers in the job market, who are being wooed by the BJP, would do well to remember that the RSS disapproves of women looking for work and the BJP obliges it by ignoring the economic rights and needs of working women in its government programmes.

Rape and Sexual Harassement

One of the important aspects of the struggle for the rights and dignity of rape and molestation victims is to fight a social attitude which victimises the victim, blaming her and not the perpetrator for the crime. The RSS represents that social attitude. Asked about the shocking increase in sexual crimes against women, Ms. Usha Tai Chati, Pramukh Sanchalika of the women's wing of the RSS, said: "The girls in the university are also responsible ... they dress provocatively which invites teasing ... they deliberately don dresses to attract the boys ... mothers fail to educate their daughters." The same type of outrageous logic was used by the BJP Government to defend the criminals in the J. C. Bose University hostel gang rape case in Jaipur. Incidentally, the father-in-law of one of the main accused recently joined the BJP.

In Delhi, when young women researchers in a Government hospital complained to the BJP Health Minister against the sexual harassment by a senior professor, he reprimanded them for ruining their own reputation by making the charge public.

This is the culture being propagated in the numerous shakhas run by the RSS throughout the country and adopted by BJP Ministers. It is hardly surprising that the fastest growing crime rate against women occurs in the BJP-ruled Delhi and Rajasthan. Indeed today the BJP can boast of having the largest number of Ministers accused of crimes : 171 cases against Cabinet Ministers in U.P. including cases of rape and attempted rape. It can also boast of having protected the largest number of politicians accused of crimes against women including its own members in Rajasthan.

The RSS firmly holds that no further legal reform is necessary for Hindu women. In its view, it is only the minority personal laws which require to be replaced by a uniform civil code based on "Indian" culture. The BJP has been at pains to clarify that its slogan for the code does not mean the imposition of Hindu laws and that it is committed to legal reform. Yet what has been its practice? However, in all the BJP States Hindu women are denied by law an equal share in ancestral property. They are discriminated against in custody and guardianship laws. Census figures have shown that in Maharashtra there is a record number of bigamous marriages among upper caste Hindus. Did the BJP make an effort to change any of these blatantly discriminatory laws?

On the contrary, in its continued support to the accused in the 'sati' case, it has shown that it is committed to defending the most anti-human practices against women in the name of culture. Eight years after Roop Kanwar was burnt on her husband's funeral pyre, the perpetrators of the crime remain free. The Government has made no attempt to follow up on the appeal filed in the High Court by women's groups. The most prominent supporter of 'sati' who should have been charged under the anti-sati legislation is a Cabinet Minister in the Shekhawat Government. Clearly, the demand for a uniform code has little to do with pro-women legal reform and more with the agenda of minority community bashing.

Brinda Karat
General secretary,
All-India Democratic Women's Association
(photographs by Dominic Morissette)

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