When Will Queens Emerge? A Cry for Leadership from Marginalized Communities

From Suman Devathiya to Bindu Ammini and Chutni Mahto, activists championing genuine women's empowerment stress that political representation alone is insufficient. They assert that promoting women, especially from marginalized communities, to coveted roles in governance is imperative for tangible societal change.
Graphic- Hassam Tajub/The Mooknayak
Graphic- Hassam Tajub/The Mooknayak

Jaipur- The recent victories of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, where the party has entrusted leadership responsibilities to male figures, have raised eyebrows. The appointment of three leaders each in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, following a Chief Minister and two Deputy Chief Ministers formula, lacks the inclusion of female faces. Despite passing the Women's Reservation Bill, which is aimed to secure one-third of seats for women in both Parliament and state assemblies, the BJP has seemingly fallen short of reflecting its commitment to gender inclusivity in the recent announcements of state leaders.

In Chattisgarh, Renuka Singh's name emerged as a potential leader, sparking interest in the possibility of the state's first female Chief Minister. The absence of a female Chief Minister in Chattisgarh, despite notable leaders like Singh, prompts reflection on the barriers faced by women in securing prominent decision-making roles.

Sanganer MLA Bhajanlal Sharma was declared the Chief Minister in Rajasthan on Tuesday evening.

As the saffron party takes the reins with its unique formula of one Chief Minister and two Deputy Chief Ministers, the question lingers: Why aren't women, particularly from marginalized communities, being given a chance to lead the states? The broader issue of why women particularly Dalits and Tribals, are not considered for significant decision-making roles remains a pertinent question. The lack of representation points towards systemic challenges and deep-rooted biases that hinder the recognition of women from these communities as capable leaders.

With male politicians taking charge of these Hindi heartlands, the discussion on the absence of women leaders, especially from marginalized communities, takes center stage. In the quest for more inclusive governance, addressing these barriers and actively promoting the leadership potential of women from marginalized backgrounds becomes imperative.

Representational Pic
Representational PicSource- Gulf Times

The Mooknayak approached Suman Devathiya, a Dalit rights activist based in Rajasthan, who responded with laughter to the question, highlighting that women receive political tickets due to a constitutional mandate rather than genuine recognition. She expressed skepticism, stating that without constitutional provisions, marginalized women would likely be overlooked for representation, emphasizing that even general women face significant gaps in political inclusion.

Suman says, 'When we think of a powerful woman from a marginalized community, the only name is Mayawati. So we can just understand the huge vacuum. The policies at party levels in almost every political party should undergo a major change with women given more chance to lead.'"

Paras Banjara, a social activist associated with the Majdoor Kisan Sangarsh Samiti in Rajasthan, states, 'It is not that women are not capable. In fact, women in marginalized communities, especially those in nomadic societies and tribal groups, are in decision-making roles in their respective families. They have a say in family matters, are self-reliant, and contribute to the household in many ways. It may be noted that women in the general category are more likely to be kept in purdah and confined to household chores. I think a woman from Dalit or Tribal background would understand the practicality of the situation and make policies that are conducive to the development of marginalized classes. They would be more effective and genuine in fulfilling the responsibility.'

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The Mooknayak spoke to lawyer Bindu Ammini, the Dalit activist from Kerala renowned for entering Sabarimala after the Supreme Court decision permitting women of reproductive age to do so. As a crusader for women's rights, Ammini reflects on the recent elections, stating, "This election has been the perfect situation to assess the trueness of intentions and motives of the national parties that had supported the Women Reservation Bill."

Looking back, Ammini notes the historical moment when Draupadi Murmu became the first woman from the tribal community to reach the position of President. However, she emphasizes that this role is more symbolic, lacking real influence or creativity for initiating change. Ammini points to incidents like her been denied entry inside the Garbgrah of a temple or not being invited to the inauguration of the new parliament building, suggesting that Murmu's election fulfilled an obligation rather than a genuine effort to promote marginalized communities.

Ammini adds a critique, especially in Madhya Pradesh where 50 percent of the populace consists of Dalit/Tribal and backward classes, stating, "At least a woman Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister could have been announced if they actually wanted to give the fairer sex a fair chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities." She urges for action, asserting, "Not stressing on any community, but at least give a woman Chief Minister in any one of the states if you truly are a supporter of women's rights and inclusivity."

Padmashri awardee Chutni Mahto, a resilient 75-year-old activist from Jharkhand, is emphatic in asserting that the patriarchal mindset must be eradicated, advocating for women to be recognized as equals. Chutni Mahato, a survivor of witch-hunting, turned her ordeal into a mission to rescue other women. Having saved at least 125 women from this social evil, she was honored with the Padma Shri for her dedicated crusade against witch-hunting.

Speaking to the Mooknayak, Chutni emphasizes that political representation alone is not sufficient. She asserts that for real change to occur in the position of women in society, especially those from marginalized communities, they need to be promoted to coveted posts and roles in governance.

Graphic- Hassam Tajub/The Mooknayak
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Women Leadership in Hindi Heartlands

Since 1949, Rajasthan has seen 13 individuals take on the role of Chief Minister. Notably, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party, is the sole woman to have held this position in the state. Raje served as Chief Minister in 2008 and later in 2013.

In neighboring Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti made history as the Chief Minister in 2003. However, her tenure in office was relatively brief, lasting only 259 days.

Kumari Mayawati is the first and lone woman from Dalit community who served as the 18th Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1995 to 1995, 1997 to 1997, 2002 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2012. She is the national president of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which focuses on a platform of social change for Bahujans, more commonly known as Other Backward Castes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well as religious minorities since 2003.

Sushma Swaraj served as the 5th Chief Minister of Delhi for a short duration in 1998 and was the first female to take the post.

Sheila Dixit was the the longest-serving Chief Minister of Delhi, as well as the longest-serving female chief minister of any Indian state, she served for a period of 15 years beginning in 1998. 

As for Chhattisgarh, the state has yet to witness a female Chief Minister. The absence of a woman in this leadership role raises questions about gender representation and inclusivity in the political landscape. The path to breaking this trend and fostering more diverse leadership remains a topic of interest and discussion.

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