Why does Sonia Gandhi hates India
India: The world's most ambitious quota for women
The strong women of the subcontinent have given the country a quota for women in parliaments. A third of the seats are to be reserved for female MPs. Many feminists shake their heads at this.
New Delhi. Shatabdi Roy wears a long orange Indian dress over tight-fitting trousers. Her luscious henna-dyed hair lies loosely on her shoulders. She smiles a lot. And she doesn’t fit the old, disgruntled man she’s sitting next to at the breakfast table of a mediocre hotel in New Delhi.
The two represent an unequal pair of MPs, but they have one thing in common: They are critics of India's planned quota for women. Shadi Lal Batra is a political veteran of the ruling Indian Congress Party. He has a seat in the House of Lords, the Chamber of Indian States, which recently voted overwhelmingly to amend the Constitution for a quota for women.
The question is whether the largest democracy in the world reserves a third of all seats in the national parliament and in all states for women. It would be the most ambitious quota program for women anywhere in the world. So far, there is only a similar quota in Nepal.
Odds for lower castes too?
Shatabdi Roy, born in 1968, does not excite any of this. She is a member of the West Bengal regional party Trinamool Congress, which forms a coalition with the Congress Party. She sits in the lower house, the main chamber of parliament, which will not make a final decision on the women's quota until April.
But above all, Shatabdi Roy is a famous actress, a superstar of Bengali cinema. She can flatter men. Batra can't take her eyes off her. Despite his bad mood, he is carried away by Roy. Batra suffers from the fact that he had to vote for the quota with his party due to a factional obligation of the MPs that is common in India. “Why don't we introduce more quotas for the lower castes first?” Complains Batra, noticeably embarrassed. He comes from Haryana, a very patriarchal state where fewer than 800 girls are born for every 1,000 boys. Every fifth girl is eliminated there before giving birth.
Shatabdi Roy's criticism, on the other hand, sounds rather casual. Your small Bengali party insists that if a women's quota is introduced for India's parliaments, a quota for women from the lower castes must also be provided. Otherwise only women from the upper classes benefited from it. But Roy formulates these objections rather dutifully. She too has to stick to the party line. Basically, she seems to be of little interest in the quota issue.
Roy then has a photo opportunity in front of the India Gate, New Delhi's landmark. The archway, still built by the English colonial rulers, honors India's soldiers who died on the side of Great Britain in the First World War. Today the huge green square of the India Gate is the meeting place for the youth of the capital. Roy easily joins the young people, raises her arms in victory pose and smiles again. The Indian flag flies over her.
Applause for Sonia Gandhi
If you forget that Roy is also an actress, then she looks like the new female political star who is just conquering India's capital. Maybe there is even something to it. Unstoppable, self-confident - a woman who doesn't need a quota. In fact, Roy won her poor rural constituency in Bengal with her first candidacy in a coup. She knows the bitterest poverty of her constituents, but for herself all she knows is progress and success.
The influential parliamentary group leaders of the largest parties in the lower house, the president - all three are women. The most powerful of them is Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party. Her husband Rajiv Gandhi, who was murdered in an assassination attempt in 1991, is considered the first staunch advocate of women's quotas in India. Now his widow cleverly portrays it as if she was posthumously realizing her husband's women’s project. She gets a lot of applause in the media for this.
Like Roy, Sonia Gandhi is a woman who never needed a quota. She comes from the most powerful family in India. Her husband was the grandson of the republic's founder Jawaharlal Nehru, and her mother-in-law was Prime Minister. Due to Sonia Gandhi's female power from above, the women's quota in the House of Commons no longer seems to be averted today. But is this really a victory for India's women?
"Patriarchy would continue"
Aruna Roy says no, but it is a beginning, a new chance for women. She is an older lady, around the age of Sonia Gandhi, and like this one she wears gray saris. First of all, she has to pull up rusted shutters. She receives in a kind of garage with a computer, the office of her rural citizens' movement in New Delhi.
Aruna Roy comes from Rajasthan, the neighboring state of Haryanas in northwest India. Both states are dominated by former, strongly patriarchal warrior castes. But in Rajasthan, Roy is still organizing one of the most successful extra-parliamentary protest movements modeled on Mahatma Gandhi - with a lot of women involved.
Roy and her movement succeeded in enforcing a new constitutional right to information in 2005. Since then she has been a star of Indian politics. Still, she hates politics in Delhi. Roy could have left her little garage long ago. She was the official advisor to the Prime Minister. But she always wanted to go back to Rajasthan, to the common people. She didn't trust her successes in Delhi. Nevertheless, she is now in favor of the women's quota. “Our social structure does not allow women to go into public space without quotas. Then the patriarchy would continue unchanged. "
But Roy also warns that most women in India are too poor to even understand the concept of women's quota. They lived as peasant women without money or education. 400 million of them are malnourished.
Aruna Roy pours tea. She never gave up her unpretentious life in Delhi either. Like Mahatma Gandhi once did. She herself lives the old contradiction of Indian politics, which since Gandhi's struggle for independence have repeatedly launched breathtaking initiatives for progress. They even wanted to abolish the caste system, and they still want it today. The initiatives never quite succeed. Will that also be the case with the women's quota?
Politics against the poor
Arundhati Roy shakes his head at such questions. The famous writer cannot stand the optimism of those who support quotas. It has more important things to do: deplore India's “war” against the Maoists. Roy recently held a press conference in New Delhi in front of a jungle of Indian television cameras. She conjures and appeals, she gives a brilliant performance, her pictures are later all over the media.
She demands sympathy with India's indigenous people, whom only the Maoists would help to protect their forests from the attack of the raw material companies. She doesn't seem to be interested in the women's issue. “There have always been women in Indian politics. None of them were feminists. The reality is that one overlooks the fact that India’s democratic system, regardless of whether it is run by men or women, is now working against the poor with the help of big corporations, ”says feminist Roy.
All three Roys have reservations and criticism. All three are powerful, influential women. There will soon be more of them in India - especially when the quota comes.
AT A GLANCE
■Indian quota for women. The Indian upper house recently approved a 30 percent quota for women in parliaments. The House of Commons will finally vote on the reform in April.
■India's women politicians Opinions are divided: while Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, defends the quota, there are dissenting voices who say that the fight against (female) poverty is more important.
("Die Presse", print edition, March 29, 2010)
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