Why is Biju Janata Dal (BJD) celebrating International Women's Day on 8th March in a big a way in all assembly constituencies of the State and BJP and Congress are nowhere near in catching up with the magnitude of what BJD is doing on the occasion? Such massive mobilisation of women by BJD in sharp contrast to the marginal activities of BJP and Congress in this respect explain the meaning of BJD President Naveen Patnaik's speech delivered while celebrating the foundation day of his party on 26th December 2020. He claimed on that day that BJD has already become a social movement and "Women are the soul of this movement." That speech of Naveen Patnaik was entirely centered around gener equality, women's empowerment and demand of the party for 33 per cent representation of women in the Parliament and State Assemblies. Adding with emphasis that empowerment of women is empowerment of the nation he asserted that his party would raise the issue of greater representation of women, in the apex legislature and State Assemblies, in the sessions of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and Odisha Assembly. Observing that half of our population cannot be deprived of their rights and they should get their rightful place in the political space of our country" he said, " If we Indians want to compete with the developed countries, we must first give rights to our women". He charged the national parties that they only mention the issue of greater representation of women in the legislative institutions in their election manifestoes and on coming to power they forget about it.
Naveen Patnaik’s Assertion for Political Empowerment of Women and Opposition Response to It
The response of BJP to that speech of Patnaik was unseemly critical. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan without responding to the core issue of greater representation of women in legislatures sharply observed, "You can see how women and children are treated in Odisha".
Some of the Congress leaders of the State were dismissive of the Odisha CM's women centric speech on the occasion of the foundation day of his party. They claimed that it was Rajiv Gandhi who took pioneering measures for reservation of women in thirty three per cent of seats in Panchayat bodies and later in 2009 the Manmohan Singh Government could pass a bill in the Rajya Sabha for reservation of women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
Nehru and Women’s Empowerment
It is rather incomprehensible that Congress party of Odisha is oblivious of Jawaharlal Nehru's letter to the Chief Ministers dated 4th January 1950. In that letter Nehru mentioned that he requested Pradesh Congress Chiefs of that time to give more ticket to women to contest elections and when no action was taken in tune with his request he expressed disappointment in another letter of 26th January 1950. After the first general elections in 1952 Prime Minister Nehru in another letter to the Chief Ministers regretted that much less women were elected to both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and observed,
" I have noticed with great regret how few women have been elected. I suppose this is so in the State Assemblies and Councils also. I think we are very much to be blamed. It is not a matter of showing favour to any one or even of injustice, but rather of doing something, which is not conducive to the future growth of our country.â€¨I am quite sure that our real and basic growth will only come when women have a full chance to play their part in public life. Wherever they have had this chance, they have, as a whole, done well, better if I may say so, than the average man. Our laws are man made, our society dominated by man, and so most of us naturally take a very lopsided view of the matter. We cannot be objective, because we have grown up in certain grooves of thought and action. But the future of India will probably depend ultimately more upon the women than the men.”
What Nehru envisioned for the cause of women is hardly recalled by Congress leaders. Rather what is stated by Naveen Patnaik for the cause of women's empowerment and their greater representation in legislatures is evocative of what Nehru wrote in the formative phase of our nation building.
Foundation of SHGs in Odisha Embody Gandhi’s Vision
Naveen is taking it forward by taking a variety of measures. He set up SHGs in 2001. It embodied the vision of Mahatma Gandhi who had presciently said on 7th March 2018, "People have realized that there is nothing like self help. In both these matters, success lies along the lines summed up in these two slogans: “You will win by your own strength, not ours”, and “You will not win except through suffering deliberately endured.”
Celebration of International Women’s Day by BJD by Involving SHG Movement
Having established SHGs on a firm and secure footing BJD is celebrating, from 2019 onwards, International Women's Day, on 8th March, in every Assembly Constituency by organising women's rallies and honouring at least ten women who excelled in SHGs by their sincere and dedicated work.
There are at least eight lakh SHGs across the State and with ten members in each such SHG a total of eighty lakh or 8 million women constitute the formidable pool of human resource created by the Odisha Government. These functioned within the scheme of Mission Shakti Scheme of the Department of Women and Child Development of the Government of Odisha. Shrimati Tukuni Sahu, who is the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Department told that each SHG gets access to three lakhs of rupees as interest free credit for engaging in a variety of economic activities for their empowerment. She also added that of late several activities of the Government have been outsourced to these SHGs and as a result these are getting further fortified with numerous economic actvities. Such measures have helped millions of women in the SHG fold to economically empower themselves.
It may be recalled that in 2019 general elections BJD fielded women in 33 percent Lok Sabha seats. One lady Shrimati Pramila Bisoyi who sprang from the SHG movement was given BJD ticket to contest from Aska parliamentary constituency which was earlier represented by Naveen Patnaik when he for the first time entered politics in 1997. Shrimati Bisoyi is currently an MP in Lok Sabha.
The State wide celebrations of International Women's Day by BJD in sharp contrast to BJP and Congress which hardly do anything of that magnitude puts BJD in an advantageous position in addressing the cause of women on a mass scale. The BJD is possibly the first such political outfit in the country to have done so in India.
Separate Department for Mission Shakti
This year the BJD Government has decided to make Mission Shakti a separate Department of the Government and thereby investing it with huge importance for carrying forward the SHG movement and realising the vision of Naveen Patnaik who has the courage of conviction to interrogate patriarchy and strive for achieving gender equality, women's empowerment and greater representation of women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Such a vision is in consonance with the global theme of the International Women's Day, 2021- "Women in Leadership : Achieving An Equal Future in a COVID-19 World on the Way to the Generation Equality Forum." The example set by BJD in celebrating International Women's Day is worth replicating. The national parties, particularly BJP, should walk the talk and implement reservation for women in 33 per cent of seats in the Parliament and State Legislatures.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.