WOMEN POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN INDIA: HISTORICAL EVOLUTION
(a) Women Empowerment: Theoretical Perspective.
In the past, women all over the world were kept out of the socio political realm. They were not welcomed at the helm of political affairs of nations. Socially they were assigned a secondary role as daughter, sister, wife and homemakers, child bearers, household servants, obedient wife, self sacrificing mother, etc. These thousands, of year old practice remained unquestioned until the twentieth century. The modern era too has bought about new forms of subjugation and denial of women their rightful place, i.e., equal work but no equal pay, sexual harassment at the workplaces, isolation of from the governance of the country, etc. But changes began to show up with women becoming more and more assertive of their rights with the help of the then emerging feminist movements and emancipation struggles.
Feminist movements in India have posed challenges to established patriarchal institutions such as the family, and to dominant social values and structures, most signiﬁcantly in the arena of legal interventions in the areas of violence against women. Feminists have intervened in the area of law in at least three ways. One, to expose the working of patriarchal controls and structures within law, for instance, critiquing civil marriage and divorce laws that extend more rights to men than women. Two, to unpack the plural ways in which law operates, including offering some redress to women in situations of domestic violence and ﬁnally, to campaign to extend rights to women, such as campaigns against sexual assault and rape. As a movement that has challenged hegemonic notions of the ‘Indian family’, detractors have constructed Indian feminism as a distinctly western phenomenon. Therefore Indian feminists have been forced to confront and combat claims of being ‘westernized’ both from the state and from sections of civil society, including by right wing Hindu fundamentalist forces as being alienated from the ‘Indian’ realities of family structures.
The movements and struggles launched for the women’s causes particularly under justice and socio-economic, political and cultural equality are generally termed as the feminist movements. In modern times feminist movements and women’s studies have become a fascinating area among the scholars throughout the world particularly in the third world countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In fact with the rise of feminist movements, women’s causes are globalized and accordingly unified efforts are being carried out by the world level agencies to emancipate women from the socio political inhumanisations1.
Feminism was defined in terms of two long goals namely that “the freedom from oppression, involves not only equality but also the right of women to freedom of choice and the power to control their own lives within and outside of the home. Having control over their lives and bodies is essential to ensure a sense of dignity and autonomy for every woman”. The second goal of feminism is the removal of all forms of inequality and oppression through the creation of more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally. This means the involvement of women in national liberation struggles in plans for national development, and in local and global strategies for change. Charlotte Bunch, the American black feminist, at the international Tribune of women started, “Feminism is and must be a transformational politics which address every aspect of life.” The feminists accepted the ‘working definition’ of Alision Jaggares which identifies feminism with the various social movements dedicated to ending the subordination of women”2. Many others also agree that feminist theories ultimately are the tools designed for a purpose – the purpose of understanding women’s subordination in order to end it3.
Feminism in general is the movement for the political social and educational equality of women with men. It had its roots in the Humanism of the eighteenth century and in the Industrial Revolutions. Both had generally contributed to the emergence of society from a feudal aristocracy to an industrial democracy. Originally women had been regarded as inferior to men physically and intellectually and their minds where assumed to be unfit for much learning. Both law and theology had ordered their subjection. Although Marry Astel and others had pleaded for larger opportunities for women, the first great feminist document was of Mary Wollstone crafts “vindication of the rights of women” 1970. During the French revolution too, women’s republican clubs demanded that Liberty, Equality and fraternity be applied regardless of sex4.
It was in 1848, however, the feminist movement became really materialized. The “subjection of women” and the origin of the family, private property and the state published by Jhon Stuart Mill and Engels respectively can be referred can be beginning of the serious academic discussions on women’s issues5. Jhon Stured Mill was the most influential of the English advocates and his subjection of women is one of the earliest, as well as the most famous, works of propaganda. Mill observes that the progress of a country can be judged by the status of its women as she occupies a significant place in the family in particular and society in general. In this sense, women in politics cannot be viewed in isolation from the general picture of women in society. Political status of women refers to the degree of equality and freedom enjoyed by them in shaping and sharing of power and in the value given by the society to their role in the total development of society and polity.
By the 1980’s, many writers identified many theories such as liberal, socialistic and radical theories of feminism. Some other classification also came such, as post-modern feminism, stand point feminism, power feminism, victim feminism and new feminism6. The liberal theories that developed from the seventeenth century onwards believe that individuals have the right to own the property, sell their labour and go about their lives within legal framework that protects them from arbitrary interference by governments or other individuals. Later, these rights were combined with the democratic claim that the individuals also have a right to choose their own representatives to govern them. However, most of the early liberal democratic theorists denied these rights to women. Some women publically argued that they were just as intelligent and rational as men and that even if they appeared inferior, it was because of their lack of education rather than a quality inherent in themselves.
The feminist of the eighteenth century claimed that women’s equal worth entitled them to the same rights as men in terms of education, employment property and the protection of civil law. During the nineteenth century feminists like Elizabeth Cody Station and Susin Anthony in united states and Harriet Taylor and Jhon Stard Mill in Britain emphasized women’s citizenship rights on the same basis as men. These ideas where further extended to the twentieth century, when feminists insisted that women are entitled to participate in the public world of politics and paid employment. Socialist feminists promise equal rights and opportunities to all individuals, stress economic and social rights and freedom from exploitation and priorities to the interests of the working class people. At the social point of view the socialist theory views women as the exploited class. The theory suggests that women’s oppression can be ended by the total abolition of capitalist economy based on private ownership and its replacement by a communist system with service motto than the pursuit of profit. All socialist feminist stress economic and social rights and freedom from exploitation. Many feminist have argued that only in the context of a general movement of economic equality that the needs of all groups of women, rather than those of an elite minority, can be met. The socialist feminist are against the sexual division of labour and wish the full participation of men in child rearing, and stress on the social construction of feminist and change the particular ways in which gender is constructed.