Whistling in the dark
Like a feudal and jarring male song stuck in a long-playing rewind, Mulayam Singh Yadav might glorify whistling at women, after his Yadav allies branded modern Indian girls as parkati (short hair) or bagalkati (sleeveless) - but this archaic stance has no shelf life. There are certain inevitable things whose flow just cannot be stopped anymore, despite the often dubious politics of quota. And this is not only the flip side of modernity. This is the reflection of the simmering tectonic shifts happening in the multi-layered realities of a 63-year-old democracy in denial, no more young, but deeply fragmented, unfulfilled, unequal, and longing to become what it promised to itself during the freedom struggle. If the heavy burden of patriarchy and oppressive male-centric ritualism has moved to and fro in a relentless vicious circle of betrayal, as reflected in the exile of the Women's Reservation Bill for the last 14 years, mere symbolism might just about cut the ice. For the ice to melt, a protracted struggle should actually move and change history, and radical transformations should be seen in theory and praxis, at all levels, especially in the margins, where women's voices are as choked as little girl children choked to death in the feudal interiors.
The truth is that Indian women will no more accept the status which demeans and subjugates them, that they are as good if not better in all realms of work or knowledge, that they have broken all barriers of physical and intellectual thresholds, that they deserve to fly on the wings of liberation with absolute abandon, in whatever role they choose for themselves. This is the political unconscious which has been denied in both the feudal and the capitalist realm, which often unites in a deadly cocktail of male revenge. However, if these tectonic shifts do not create a paradigm shift at the grassroots, then what is the meaning and vision of a reserved quota for women? That has been the eternal crisis of all jump-start, half-hearted reforms, in this case, still caught in a chakravyuh, with the prophecy of the mother's womb incomplete and the way out unknown.
In the first instance, the quality of discourse or vision in Indian Parliament or in the political domain is not of such a superior quality that it will become any worse if there is a 33 per cent reservation for women. In any circumstance, it might become more sensitive and subtle. In contrast, how much hope can be derived from the daughters and bahus of politicians who are convinced that all the fruits of democracy belong solely to them and their families? What great hope can be generated from the likes of crorepati inheritors like Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi, Hema Malini, Jaya Prada and Harsimrat Kaur, even Agatha Sangma? What is their ideological vision for Indian women in the years to come? What is the India of their dreams? If the majority of current women MPs are so cash-rich, how are ordinary women - backward castes, Dalits, adivasis, Muslims and the poorest of the poor - going to benefit from a reservation policy which might get hijacked by the rich and powerful and miscellaneous dynasties?
Despite these contradictions, the women's bill must move towards an optimistic victory because a new cycle of history should begin from the ruins of orthodoxy. A radical and progressive realm of philosophy and praxis should guide this new generation of women, so that those women who till the land or break stones or build the Commonwealth Games or nurture their children on homeless streets, they too can have a stake in the power corridors of democracy. If that is a starting point of this moment of revelation, then yes, let women's reservation become an universal reality; because, as Brinda Karat would know, until now we have only interpreted the world - the point is to change it.