Indian Women don’t need Handouts or Charity, but Opportunities and the Freedom to take them

Social Commentary

Indian Women don’t need Handouts or Charity, but Opportunities and the Freedom to take them

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

This Monday the Delhi Chief Minister announced ₹ 1,000 per month will be transferred into the accounts of all women in Punjab if his party AAP is voted to power in the 2022 assembly polls. At a time when India’s rate of female labour participation has fallen to 16.1%, the lowest among world economies, I was under the mistaken impression that women were more in need of work opportunities, instead of handouts.

I get it, freebies as part of the election manifesto is as normal as smog in Delhi winters. As long as it gets the voters in the backyard, it doesn’t matter that it puts the state revenue in the red zone. Sometimes it works wonders. The 200 units of free power for Delhi has served as a carrot for many households to bring down their electricity consumption. But giving away 1000 Rs to women serves as poor optics for a politician like Kejriwal who’s seen or maybe even is progressive.

I get it, freebies as part of the election manifesto is as normal as smog in Delhi winters.

I guess I am being unreasonable in expecting political parties promising real economic and social changes rather than tired old tricks like bribes disguised as handouts. Yet I am unable to get rid of the niggling feeling that handing out doles to women seems more like a consolation to them for being shamed by society for nursing ambitions that stretch beyond making hot rotis for their husband and his family. In this age of unemployment and soaring prices, all families could do with more than one working member. But strangely no political party has shown any concern and intent to address this problem, much of which is social as much as it might also be practical.

Why would they, when they are busy reminding us from time to time that women are not capable of being left free or independent! They should be kept away from mobile phones, chowmein and ripped jeans for our well-being as a society. This is a perfectly reasonable assumption to make if we inhabit a parallel universe where a woman must take responsibility for inciting a man’s lust, violence and must cover herself with a shroud so as to not arouse her man’s insecurities. Maybe I’m just talking about this one. Thankfully this is a much-cherished dream of the gatekeepers of patriarchy and we have been led to believe AAP works as much for the interests of the aam aurat as for the aam aadmi.

Perhaps Mr. Kejriwal is under the impression that he will be empowering women by giving them charity.

Perhaps Mr. Kejriwal is under the impression that he will be empowering women by giving them charity. Yes, a thousand rupees may mean a lot to some families but how will he ensure that the money will be hers to spend and not the men in her family? How is he not aware that giving agency to women involves education, skills enhancement so that she can seek employment, get financially independent and lead a life of dignity? Why not start with offering them affordable childcare, safe transportation, workplace safety and make it easier for her to step out of the house minus the guilt and anxiety. I understand the social aspect of this challenge is galling, but then everything else feels just like a gimmick for election time.

Small steps can yield substantial social changes. It makes it easier for a financially independent woman to walk out of an abusive relationship. It instills the dream of a life beyond domestic drudgery in her daughters and brings up sons more respectful of women. Yet, social overhaul is the most ignored section of election manifestos, regardless of the parties that put them out.  Every wonder why? Because it requires actual work that most politicians shirk and is mostly taken up by good Samaritans and NGOs.

A big show is made when a small amount of our rights are ‘gifted’ to us when they are ours in the first place.

While the world is waking up to the fact that women who work are a reliable source of economic growth, it is unfortunate that many of us are still stuck with the mind-set that a woman’s purpose is to pop out babies and ask aaj khaane mein kya banaoo! Thankfully studies do not endorse patriarchy and have shown that an empowered woman translates to an empowered society. A society that constantly tells its women what they can and cannot do, only undermines its many possible futures.

It’s sad that we assume gender equity is not possible without concessions and reservations. A big show is made when a small amount of our rights are ‘gifted’ to us when they are ours in the first place. Dear Mr. Kejriwal, thank you for making us painfully aware that women matter the most only when elections are round the corner. Why not try something different this time? Just give them equal opportunities and see where it goes. Because I’m an optimist, I’d like to think Kejriwal and his party have a thorough idea behind this rudimentary gifting of cash. But then, the politics of today is so cynical, I’d be stupid to see more than there is. On that note here is a great suggestion for a new election manifesto – open to all parties. Why not give men that monthly stipend of 1000 Rupees to stop them from holding back women from seeking the life and livelihood they desire. Let’s try that one out, please!

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