WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: THE GATEWAY TO DEVELOPMENT
Reformation of society is a relay race, through time, without a finish line! Elective politics and social reform, apparently, seem to be ideas that conflict with each other. The reason being that, in order to achieve or retain power, it is important to keep people pleased. While, in order to reform the existing practices, that are hurdles to the progress of the nation, one has to swim against the current. This ultimately means, taking on the displeasure of people. The challenge lies in balancing both! Sometimes, one has to be ready to make a choice between staying in power or living the principles that are necessary for the true good of society.
It is very commonly said that women make half the society and at the same time, they are the ones who actually nurture the other half. It, therefore, is reasonable to assume that only empowered women can make an empowered society. Isn’t this exactly what Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj had implied, when he had said,
“Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother?”
This undeniable truth seems to have, unfortunately, always been negated by individuals and families and society as a whole.
The baton for social transformation, through the empowerment of women, with the goal to take the nation forward, has been passed on by great people through several centuries; from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Mahatma Jyotiba Phule-Savitribai Phule, to Mahatma Gandhi, to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. This baton, in current times, is being upheld by Shri Sharad Chandraji Pawar.
Resistance to change is an integral part of human nature. The wisdom of Sharad Pawar, in the pursuit of empowering the nation, through the empowerment of women lies, first and foremost, in the identification and empowerment of women, who themselves are receptive to change and who possess the approval of families, who believe in empowering these women and are willing to support them. Considering the paradoxical truth, that the very families, who desire to take the benefit of transformation in society, to empower themselves, are hardly inclined to empower the woman in the family and give her control over her own free will. Most of them would go in for a “shadow empowerment” of women, as a means to empower themselves! I find myself fortunate to be among the innumerable such women and such families, who have been identified and empowered by Shri Sharad Pawar!
I met Hon’ble Shri Sharad Chandraji Pawar, for the first time ever, on 21 February 2002, at Silver Oak, his residence in Mumbai. This was the day, that I was nominated as the Member of the Legislative Council. This was the day, that he gave me the vision and direction to my own path. His directions to me were clear and specific. I was clearly told that I was nominated as a representative of women, minorities and the weaker and deprived sections of society.
In 2006, I called on Pawar Saheb with a request that I wanted to arrange a “Mahila Melawa” in Parbhani, in which I wanted to invite 40000 women and I requested him to preside over the function. He questioned me as to what was the purpose of such a programme. To be honest, I had not given this much thought. He, however, told me that simply arranging a programme, without any concrete consideration of the long-term good that it will do for women, would be a futile exercise. Instead, he advised me to go back home and return with a proposal that would concretely empower women. He took care to give me specific directions on how such a programme could be conceptualized and promised to extend all help.
Thus, a three-day programme entitled PARIVARTAN 2006 was organized. This was attended by over one lakh women from all over the state, 500 stalls for the sale of goods, produced by women self-help groups were set up. Competitions, cultural programmes and training workshops for women were organized on all three days. Along with Sharad Pawarji, over a dozen ministers, several IAS officers, vice chancellors and experts from the non-government sector participated.
The highlight of the programme was the direct interaction of Shri Sharad Pawar, the Union Minister for Agriculture, with the more-than-a-lakh women from across the state. The interaction inspired the required encouragement and confidence in the minds of those who had so far considered themselves voiceless and powerless. This interaction provided the awareness to them that they possess wings of their own and can take their own flight into the limitless skies! The women carried back a power that they had never imagined they possessed within themselves!
He instilled in their minds something like what Arunadhati Roy had said,
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. They are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard”
This programme gave a big boost to the women self-help group movement in Maharashtra and several important decisions by the government towards the economic empowerment of women.
This aroused in me the curiosity to understand the impact of the provisions of The Women’s Policy, that had been brought forth by Hon’ble Shri Sharad Pawar in 1994 in Maharashtra, when he was the Chief minister. It led me to undertake a small effort to study the implementation by the various ministries. This Gateway to Development, which was subsequently brought out as the National Women’s Policy; after the active intervention and persuasion by him at the level of the Government of India, as well.
With this intention, I visited the ministers of several departments and discussed the decisions taken by the government with the gender perspective. The meeting with the-then-Deputy Chief Minister of Mahrashtra, Shri R R Patil endowed me with a new perspective and insight. I had a book in my hand on the LETTERS BETWEEN PANDIT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU AND DR B R AMBEDKAR CONCERNING THE HINDU CODE BILL. Aaba, as Shri R R Patil was fondly called, glanced at these books in my hand and commented, “Don’t you see the seeds of the Hindu Code Bill in the Women’s Policy?” These very words provided a kind of revelation! Indeed, there is great parallel between both! The Hindu Code Bill was nothing but a roadmap to the liberation, upliftment and empowerment of the women of India, the half of its population! The journey between the Hindu Code Bill and The Women’s Policy 1994 and the subsequent two policies brought out later, are important milestones on the route to social reformation through the empowerment of women. And in this, I perceive the unmatched tallness of the vision of development in Shri Sharad Pawar!
The intense resistance that was faced by Dr B R Ambedkar, when he introduced the Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament as the Law Minister of India; so much so that he had had to tender his resignation, as the Minister for Law, in protest, was also faced by Shri Sharad Pawar, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, when he brought the Women’s Policy proposal to the Maharashtra Cabinet for approval; after a series of meetings under his chairmanship with various stakeholders. It was his sagacity and innate political acumen, that finally, he could get it approved and set a landmark in history. Thus, an official, government policy was laid out for the social, educational, economic and political empowerment of “the half of the nation that actually raises the other half” and was handed over to the concerned mechanism for effective implementation.
Decision after decision cascaded down the hills of time. Be it the making of a special Women and Child Development Ministry in 1994, headed by the-then-Chief Minister of Maharashtra, providing 50% political reservation to women in the Local Self Government or the 30% reservation to girls in education or in government services, incorporating women into the Airforce, presenting a gender responsive budget, framing various commissions, committees, various laws, various rules for the welfare of women or any of the innumerable decisions that have been taken and are being taken by the governments….
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had once commented,
“I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”
Shri Sharad Pawar believes that this is indeed the benchmark to measure the development of a nation.
At every decision, at every step, at every point of time, in his half-a-century long political career Shri Sharad Pawar, is doing nothing but bringing into implementation the Supreme Constitution of India!
Thus I salute to the great vision of Shri Sharad Pawar and wish him a long, long, happy, successful life on his eightieth birthday!
Dr. Fauzia Khan
– Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament
– National President
Nationalist Mahila Congress Party