RINGING THE BELLS OF DEMOCRACY AT NATIONAL WOMEN’S PARLIAMENT! The interesting panel of women from India and Goa included (second row, L to R) Nelly gets an award from Goa DYSP Sunita Sawant, MIT World Peace University’s Rahul V Karad, chairperson of National Commission for Women in India Rekha Sharma and Lakshmi Agarwal (acid attack survivor and campaigner for acid attack victims, also TV host). The women’s sessions were brimming over with several pep talks and inspirational stories to learn from and be entertained by! 100% women are for men to change or perish!
By Tara Narayan
IT was a showcasing of the ruling BJP government to inspire confidence in Lord Ram alone knows who! Women from a cross-section of Goa’s society filled the spacious auditorium and podium of the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium in Panaji on the first two days of the five-day celebration of Liberation, Democracy and Women’s Empowerment from November 8 to 12, 2021.
The first two days were dedicated to the “National Women’s Parliament” (the remaining three days reserved for “National Youth Parliament” and “National Panchayat Parliament”). Call it a government mela of the very best kind if you like and nobody is asking who bank-rolled it for how much? It was all Courtesy Goa’s State Legislative Assembly but the entire hi-tech digital production and presentation was the brainwork of Pune-based MIT School of Government’s Rahul V Karad.
Interestingly, this MIT School of Government is dedicated to creating future political leaders, if that is possible in the school of life! For the National Women’s Parliament the audience was largely women from government services, teachers from government schools, panchayat women representatives, Self-Help Group entrepreneurs who have benefited from government schemes to promote their small businesses – not to forget the roll call of women speakers from the upper crust of society who perhaps need no liberation.
The truth is while most of the women followed the various speakers when they spoke in Konkani, Marathi, or even Hindi, most in the audience gave up trying to make sense if the talk was in English! Although it was not difficult to follow the gist of the familiar content of women’s matters and a host of issues which leave most fighting for the right to be on par with men vis-à-vis equal pay for equal work. Be it in government or private employment or in family or their own businesses it is always uphill for women to win economic freedom, dignity, and political power so that they may contribute to decision-making at the very top levels of bureaucracy or the political spectrum.
TO TAKE HOME
THERE were many messages old and new to take home. In the first day sessions some pretty well-empowered women from Laxmi Agarwal to Shovana Narayan, Shital Mahajan, Neli Rodrigues, Sunita Sawant (DYSP) spoke on the issues of “socio-political challenges in women empowerment”, “women status and decision making power,” “Women in corporate: symbolism and substance,” “new frontiers for women,” “opportunities for women and their role in nation building” and so on. Speakers included Hima Bindu, Nanik Rupani, Pratima Dhond, Nirmala Sawant…and in the second day sessions there was Rekha Sharma (chairperson of the National Commision for Women, Nishita Rajput (social activist), Bhakti Kulkarni Preeti Bhardwaj Dalal, Dr Harshita Pandey, Adv Radhilu Chai, Dr Sneha Gitte, Sayonara Telles Laad and several more women.
The few male speakers included Dr Dilip Chenoy (who is secretary-general, FICCI), Dr Sanjay Upadhye (speaker and mentor at MIT World Peace University) and the very articulate Rahul V Karad who was the convener for the National Women’s Parliament and he welcome all the women on stage and audience on behalf of the MIT World Peace University and MIT School of Government. All men and women agreed that women make up almost half the population of India and “women impowerment is a vital key to the overall success, allround development, and prosperity of the nation. A womanempowered is an indomitable powerhouse.” (Quoting Rahul Karad)
Most of the women had interesting insight into the dilemmas faced by women vis-à-vis seeking freedom to work out of home in professional fields. As Goa’s DYSP Sunita Sawant pointed out in the case of Goa there are so many women in government panchayats, and this is a good platform for women to grow into a political force for the betterment of governance. She urged women to respect themselves, live with dignity, and not to be afraid to speak out if something is wrong.
But at the same time, DYSP Sunita Sawant offered, enjoy the pleasures of life, “prem (love) binds us, we have to understand love, we expect it from others but don’t understand it ourselves, don’t look for my time and my privacy because families cannot stay together then, if you marry it is fully family is your space. There are complaints of not understanding but bai manus needs patience and strength.” She said there are so many role models in India for women to learn from, women may take strength from them, for example there is Indira Gandhi, Kalpana Chawla, Neli Rodrigues and many more.
In one Question/Answer breaks student Jeevan Naik from Dhemphe College of Arts & Science asked speaker Lakshmi Agarwal if we wouldn’t be better off without the concept of beauty in the world, came the answer: “It all depends on how you see beauty, main man se dekthi hoon (I see it with my mind)!” Another student asked about igniting women’s power and was told, “No need, every woman already has that spark in her, she should know her potential and work and plan, everything depends on how much work she puts into what she wants.”
Dr Sanjay Upadhye rued the fact that there were very few women at the top in the corporate world in India while the “global average is 31%, in India women rarely make it to the top.” Rahul Karad pointed out that women juggle with a lot of responsibilities and in corporate corridors it is a difficult struggle, there is a 50% drop out rate at the workplace initially, it is 20% to 15% drop out at work place at middle level, and finally 5% to 15% when it comes to leadership level. Final observation: “To win the game you have to stay in the game! That is corporate reality. Only 5% to 15% women make it to executive level….” Quite simply women don’t have the kind of freedom men have to move up the corporate ladder. With women it is always “marriage, maternity, childcare, the care of seniors which take them away sooner or later.” Of course, it would be another story altogether if men in India keep pace with women and helped reduce her housework by two hours!
CHANGE OR PERISH
CHANGE or perish was a key message coming through in many of the pep talks given by women for women at large. According to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, his government is ready to help women and elsewhere at the venue Goa@60 was literally laid with details of how the government of Goa works from the inside out, there was a surfeit of presence online as on smooth glossy literature tucked away in give-away eco-friendly cotton bags for those who had registered online or on the first day of the celebrations. For some sessions it seemed more like empowered women advising and cheering up not-so-empowered women!
On the surface of it one got the impression that this is a wealthy Goa government giving itself a pat on the back for a bit of perhaps much-needed public relations, for it is certainly true that Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has been working overtime to make all its social welfare schemes stretch out to those in need of it, although the story is much of it online is inaccessible to those digitally challenged, plus there are all the details to fill in to testify that so and so is a resident of Goa for at least 30 years — to qualify for a slew of government benefits. Even then the waitlists are long and who benefits and who doesn’t is anyone’s guess.
In any case the women of Goa have always been more liberated and empowered than the rest of the women in India! But to be really empowered the ball is really in the court of our society’s patriarchal male mind set which continues to perceive their women folk as homemakers whose first duty is to be dedicated to home and hearth, husband, children, seniors.
Most of us in society are aware today that given the economic difficulties and crisis most couples have to do jobs independently to make ends meet at home. Most women do put in double-duty time working at home as well as at office jobs but sooner or later conflicts arise because quite simply your typical Indian male still perceives himself beyond doing any so called domestic chores or helping out with other necessary work related to running a household on well-oiled wheels.
ALTOGETHER it was an upbeat and well-digitalized with zoom introductions of some of the key speakers at the National Women’s Parliament, providing an extravagant and broad celebration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s as well as Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s ideated programs — as reflected in India’s Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (commemorating the country’s 75th year of independence) and Sixty Years of Goa’s Liberation.
There was the usual ad infinitum talk of taking the country forward to a new India where patriotism and being exemplary Indians would count for much in the eyes of the government. In a curious ceremony before speakers went on stage they had ring the bell of democracy in a procession! And all had to rise for the singing of the national anthem this time led by “Vande mataram…” and later “Jana gana mana…” with everyone at one point taking an oath of patriotism with right hand stretched forward with hearty cries of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai!”
For a while there one wondered if the worst phase of bygone Nazi Germany and its tyrannies may yet come alive in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new vision of India as Bharatmata? What is the dividing line defining a farcical dictatorship and genuine democracy? If India is already a de facto Hindu nation where is the need or rationale for any official declaration of being a militant Hindutva nation, just to arouse fears of this sub-continent’s yesteryear Partition traumas anew?
Are we, the people, Hindus-Muslims-Christians-Buddhists first or human beings and Indians first? These are the questions each one of us must ask ourselves in the silence of the heart and the mind surely?
PUTTING A SMILE ON CM’S FACE!
AMONGST speakers from Goa at the National Women’s Parliament were Canacona MLA Isidore Fernandes and Revenue Minister Jennifer Monserrate (currently the only woman in the Goa assembly). Both speakers were full of praise for Goa’s young, handsome and available for 24 hours Chief Minister of Goa Dr Pramod Sawant.
Isidore Fernandes while praising all women urged the women in the audience to come forward themselves to avail of the national and state welfare programs designed to help them become financially independent, he said, “I want you to come out as lions, become lions, rule Goa!” He pointed out that every woman knows what politics is all about because she learns it at home, “She knows what’s politics in the home is all about and controls the whole family!” A woman knows every member in the family and what they like and don’t like; therefore, women are natural leaders and they would do a good job in politics too for it is akin to taking care of their family.
Jennifer Monserrate too praised Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s and his keenness in women’s development and security in Goa, she said he was not only young, handsome and lovable as other speakers before her had noted, “I always find him strong and determined and don’t know how he looks fresh even at the end of the day…unlike us women!” She reminded the CM that this must surely be because of his wife Sulakshana who makes things easy for him to be chief minister of Goa!
Speaking a little about how she became interested in politics she said in the beginning she was hesitant, but her husband Babush Monserrate encouraged her to start at panchayat level and now she knows the meaning of “women power, no man can beat us!” At the same time she paid tributes to women for whom home-making is the toughest job of all. It is women who contribute to a nation being great and in the last seven years in Goan politics she has seen excellent governance with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, anxious to help women from all walks of life by making it easy to avail several national and State-level programs for women’s welfare.