Damsels no longer in distress
They may not be as suave as Nafisa Ali all set to wow Lucknow on a Samajawadi Party (SP) ticket to Lok Sabha or the messiah of the dalits as the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) Supremo, Bahen Mayawati, but this election the mahila brigade in the city of Nawabs are gearing up to be heard and how!
Down trodden and oppressed for decades now, a good number of Lucknawi women have come together and decided to say enough is enough. To be heard is their agenda and to campaign for their rights is top most on their election manifesto. All feisty members of the women's wing of Bhartiya Ekta Party, they are more than determined to make a place for themselves in UP's highest office.
Says Neelam, a victim of dowry harassment who was burnt by her in laws for not bringing in the booty they expected at the time of her marriage, "I was thrown out of my husband's house way back in 1992 with an infant son. No one came to my help, I approached everyone right from the police to the women's commission, to the local corporator of my ward, but all my pleas fell on deaf ears. For 12 years I have struggled to make ends meet with no financial support from my husband or in-laws. But now I have decided no more will I suffer in silence and so when I heard that women were getting together to fight back in this election and ask for their rights, I joined in."
Completely disfigured by the flames that engulfed her 12 years back when she was set afire by her in-laws, the fire is still burning in her heart to get justice for herself and her son and also develop a support system through the women's wing of the all women's party she has just become a member of.
And just as keen is Ram Pyari, a 65 year old widow who has been denied a widow's pension for years now, "I have three daughters to be married off and no source of income despite the fact that I have been enrolled with the Social Welfare Department in UP to receive the widow's pension. But to date I have not gotten a single penny from them. I have written to them. I met the MLA here and gave him an application in that regard, but nothing has come out of it. So when the women who were forming the Bhartiya Ekta Party came to my neighborhood and talked to women and asked them to join up, I jumped at the opportunity. I feel that only when we women get together and build our strength to stand up for each other only then our voice will be heard."
As upbeat as that sounds the fact remains that over 160 women who have joined up to give a voice to women issues are not only thinking of taking up issues where rights have been denied to the fairer sex, instead they plan to build an all women's forum that will draw its strength from the sheer number of women who come together with them to take up the cause.
Explains Neetu Bajpai, who runs an NGO called Neetu Mahila Bal Kalyan Samiti at Gulzar Nagar in Lucknow and is a member of the all women's Bhartiya Ekta Party, "When I began working for women's rights, I understood that it's a challenge for a woman to keep the home fires burning on her own. Many times they slept hungry as they could not get even one square meal a day for their children. Deserted by their husbands and in-laws and abandoned by society they had no where to turn. So I decided to visit each house in my locality and help those who could not afford to burn the 'Chula' in their homes. Today over ten thousand women stand by me and fight for all such women who have been abandoned and abused. The aim of the party we all have become a member of is to ensure that women in UP are no longer taken for granted and considered weak. We will take up every issue and campaign for them and no more tears will be shed, whether it is marital abuse, police brutality, rape, or molestation or denial of the basic right to live.
Adds Bahen Farida, Nagar Mahasachiv, Muslim Mahasabha who is leading the women, "I draw my strength from these women and the determination will help me fight to get them their rights. We have decided to go on the offensive as it's been long enough that we have been on the defensive. The first step towards that is forming an all women's party. That is the way to do it."
But what if the electorate does not support the noble cause?
"We are prepared for that but even then we will form pressure groups and voice the issues that we want to be addressed by the government. In fact a group of the women's Bhartiya Ekta Party is already educating the female voters to seriously question the credentials of the candidates of various parties that come to them to seek their votes. They have been told to analyse whether or not that particular candidate has helped address and solve the problems women have been facing. If not, then he or she will not be voted for," informs Farida.
How's that for a beginning demanding equal rights in decision making in the parliament? They may still be denied the 33 percent reservation in the parliamentary process, but women in UP have decided to exercise their rights nevertheless. And being part of the electoral process is just a start. Right ladies?
(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS) and also the Director of Saksham Foundation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)