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Bihar’s woman power, from proxies to politicians

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Picture credit: oneindia.com

New Delhi: Thirty-five-years-ago, Bhagirathi Devi was a sweeper in the block development office in Narkatiyaganj, a town in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

Picture credit: economictimes.com
Picture credit: economictimes.com

Today, she is a third-term member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), representing the Ramnagar (formerly Shikarpur) constituency in northwestern Bihar, one of 34 female MLAs in the 243-member house.

A Mahadalit – as the Bihar government started calling the poorest of low-caste Dalits in 2007 – Bhagirathi Devi joined politics as a reaction to what she saw around her.

“I was angry at the injustice and cruelty meted out to the poor, especially poor women, who came to the block development officer’s office,” said Bhagirathi Devi, 65.

Us din hum soch liye ki rajneeti mein jayenge aur babu logon ko sabak sikhayenge (That was the day I decided to enter politics and teach the officers a lesson),” she said.

Since 1980, when she quit her job as sweeper, Bhagirathi Devi spent the next several years creating mahila sangathans (women’s groups) in Narkatiyaganj block, organizing women and stirring awareness around issues that included domestic violence, violence against dalits and fair wages.

Gradually, she expanded her political activism to other blocks in the district, going to jail in 1991 for organizing demonstrations.

Bhagirathi Devi’s decision to enter politics was not easy for a poor Mahadalit family with six children (her husband is a railway employee). It was particularly challenging to organize her household before she set off every day, traveling to nearby villages.

Such was the strength of her conviction that Bhagirathi Devi separated from her husband for the next five years, taking him back only when he realized that there was no turning back for her.

It took a decade to consolidate her grounds at the grass root level before she entered party politics, and 10 more years before she got a BJP election ticket.

Today, she is seen in the assembly as an MLA who will not be easily silenced.

Bhagirathi Devi’s political journey, while being one of grit and determination, is also a reminder of the difficult choices that women politicians, especially from marginalized groups, have to make and yet be consigned to the margins of political landscape, always spoken of as “proxies” of a male relative.

It is also a reminder of the restricted spaces for women in Bihar’s – and India’s -political parties, unless they are backed by political lineage.

Why Bihar’s women MLAs are not proxies?

Bhagirathi Devi represents, as IndiaSpend reported, a remarkable surge in female MLAs that otherwise backward Bihar has witnessed over the last decade.

Yet, the question that is often asked is: “Are these women MLAs really empowered or are they proxies for powerful male relatives?”

The term ‘proxy’ was largely used for women in panchayats (village councils), put forward by male relatives to contest seats they had to vacate following the 33 percent reservation for women announced in 1992 under the 73rd amendment of the constitution, or when the men became ineligible after criminal convictions.

The term was further made infamous by Lalu Yadav, who installed his wife Rabri Devi as Bihar’s chief minister after his imprisonment in a fodder scam.

If proxies were defined as women put forward to contest elections because their male relatives had to step down, mostly due to criminal convictions, Bihar data now dispels this widely held myth.

Of Bihar’s 34 female MLAs, only six have contested seats vacated by male relatives, usually husbands, according to data published on Myneta.in, a public-interest website run by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy that tracks political candidates nationwide.

The majority, 82 percent of women MLAs, have won elections of their own merit.

Yet, the term ‘proxy’ is used for women MLAs with its undertones of gender and class bias. Media stories on female political candidates have often furthered this narrative.

The female proxies who shook off their proximity to their men

Leshi Singh,an MLA from Dhamdaha in eastern Bihar and widow of Butan Singh (against whom many criminal cases have been filed), was called his proxy long after his death, while the well-educated, male politicians who stepped in after the death of their fathers are seen as carrying forth their legacy.

Critics also assume that women with poor educational qualifications are almost always akin to puppets, with the real power lying with male relatives.

Like Bhagirathi Devi, a fifth-class pass, Jyothi Devi, the MLA representing Barachatti constituency in Gaya district of Southern Bihar, disproved that assumption.

A battle that has only just been joined

Hum toh zabardasti bolte hain. Hum na Lalu se darte hain na (Chief Minister) Nitish (Kumar) se. Vote janta deta hai. Bus hum sirf usi se darte hain (I insist on speaking. I am neither afraid of Lalu Yadav nor Nitish Kumar. I am only accountable to the electorate that elects me)” said Bhagirathi Devi, when asked about the space for women to speak and intervene in the assembly.

While some female MLAs are indeed fronts for male relatives, they are – as we noted – a minority. Dismissing the rest as “proxies” will not serve the cause of governance.

(By Bhanupriya Rao, IANS)

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Surajpal Singh Amu: A case of Fatwa by Hindus?

BJP's Surajpal Singh Amu announced a reward roughly equivalent to $1.5 million to anyone who would behead Deepika Padukone and the film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

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Padmavati Banner
A man signs a banner during a signature campaign as part of a protest against the release of Bollywood movie "Padmavati" in Kolkata, India, Nov. 22, 2017. VOA

A leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that he would pay a reward roughly equivalent to $1.5 million to anyone who would behead an Indian actress and a film director.

Surajpal Singh Amu, a member of the BJP in northern Haryana state, is apparently upset about an upcoming movie, Padmavati, starring actress Deepika Padukone as the 14th-century Hindu queen Padmini.

The movie is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Amu alleged that the movie is misleading, not based on truth and offends Hindu sentiments in the country.

FILE - Actress Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali attend the opening of the 13th annual Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Nov. 29, 2013.
FILE – Actress Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali attend the opening of the 13th annual Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Nov. 29, 2013. VOA

“We will reward the ones beheading them, with 10 crore rupees, and also take care of their family’s needs,” Amu said in an interview with India’s Asia’s Premier News (ANI) earlier this week.

Threats against movie

Amu also vowed not to allow the release of the movie and warned movie theaters to avoid playing the movie or risk being torched.

The movie was set to be released during the first week of December.

Rights activists have reacted strongly to the threats and urged the government to take action.

“This is pretty outrageous that you announce publicly and no action takes place at a time when people are being arrested for most trivial reasons in this country,” Gotum Naulakha, an Indian-based civil liberties activist, told VOA.

A security guard walks past a poster of the upcoming Bollywood movie "Padmavati" outside a theater in Mumbai, India, Nov. 21, 2017.
A security guard walks past a poster of the upcoming Bollywood movie “Padmavati” outside a theater in Mumbai, India, Nov. 21, 2017. VOA

An official complaint has been registered against Amu, but many are criticizing the stance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — which controls the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — on the matter.

“I’ve not heard any official stance from the central government or the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” Vinod Sharma, an Indian-based analyst, told VOA.

Anil Jain, a local BJP spokesperson, told ANI that the law applies to everyone in the state of Haryana and no one can threaten others. The central government has yet to react, however.

Bollywood actress Padukone stood her ground and said the movie would be released despite the threats.

“Where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed. The only people we are answerable to is the censor board, and I know and I believe that nothing can stop the release of this film,” Padukone told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) last week.

Controversy

Padmavati was controversial right from the start. Opponents of the movie stormed the filming of one scene and destroyed the film sets. They were upset that the director of the movie was distorting facts by alleging romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji.

Film director Bhansali, however, denies the allegations and maintains the story is based on a Sufi and medieval-era poem written about the Hindu queen. In the poem, the Hindu queen chooses death before the Muslim conqueror could capture her.

Some experts say the poem is centuries old and there is a possibility the Hindu queen might be purely a fictional character found only in folklore.

“There’s a lot of debate in India whether Padmavati was actually a living being many, many years ago or whether she was just an imagined person in a poem,” analyst Sharma said.

Rights activists maintain that if government fails to draw clear lines around the threat made by the politician, and discourage a growing sense of impunity for some, incidents like this will only increase and threaten the freedom of expression in the world’s biggest democracy.

“By letting loose and giving [a] sense of impunity to the goons of the ruling party or people who’re connected or close to the ruling party, we’re paving the ground for much bigger and [worse] things to happen in the near future,” Naulakha told VOA.

The movie is awaiting approval from India’s Central Board of Film Certification.

Written by Madeeha Anwar of VOA.

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The Fall of the poster boy of Indian politics – Nitish Kumar

How Nitish Kumar gave his career a downfall drift

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Chief Minister of Bihar
Nitish Kumar

Amulya Ganguly

At one time, he was the poster boy of Indian politics. Not only did he slay the villain of Bihar’s “jungle raj” in 2005 by rounding up lawless elements after winning an election and launching social and economic development projects, he also scored another resounding electoral victory in the company of a new set of friends, including the “villain”, in 2015.

It appeared at the time that he could do no wrong. So much so that he was seen as a possible prime ministerial candidate of the “secular” front.

But, then, the rise and rise of Nitish Kumar came to an abrupt halt. He remains Bihar’s Chief Minister, but the halo round his head has frayed.

The reason is not only his switching of friends in what is seen as an exercise in crass opportunism, but also his pursuit of policies which are out of sync with the modern world and threatens to reinforce Bihar’s reputation for backwardness by turning the entire state into a virtual dehat or village.

The first step in this bucolic direction was the imposition of prohibition which has robbed Bihar’s clubs, hotels and intellectual watering holes of cosmopolitanism. Now, Nitish Kumar has taken yet another step backwards by demanding 50 per cent reservations for the backward castes in the private sector.

To begin with the second step, it is obvious that by threatening to take the quota system to such an absurd level, the Chief Minister has scotched any hope of industrial growth in a state which is crying out for investment.

In 2012, Bihar received investment proposals worth Rs 24,000 crore. In the post-liquor ban period, they have dropped to Rs 6,500 crore.

If his new ally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had any hope, therefore, of making Bihar the beneficiary of his Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas goals, he can bid it goodbye.

Nitish Kumar’s latest pitch in favour of the backward castes is all the more strange because he cannot seriously expect that his proposal will pass muster at the judicial level.

Like most Indian politicians, he is more interested in posing as a champion of whichever group he is courting at a given moment than in adopting measures which have a reasonable chance of success.

He merely wants to impress his targeted audience by showing that he did make an honest effort, but was stymied by the “system”.

Whether it is prohibition or reservations, Nitish Kumar’s ploys tend to underline crafty political manoeuvres rather than any genuine intention of acting in the state’s interest.

Unfortunately for the Janata Dal (United) leader, his gambits are too palpable to deceive anyone. In the case of the reservations, it is clear that Nitish Kumar is still battling his old adversary-cum-ally-cum-adversary, Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Since Nitish Kumar belongs to a numerically small and politically less influential caste — the Kurmis — than the RJD’s powerful Yadavs, he has never been at ease in Lalu Prasad’s company whether at the time of their camaraderie during Jayaprakash Narayan’s anti-Congress movement or when they were a part of the state government after the 2015 election victory.

The focal point of Nitish Kumar’s political career has been to establish himself as the foremost leader in the state. Lalu Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam case enabled Nitish Kumar to be the No. 1 in the Janata Dal (United)-RJD-Congress government.

But he appeared to be forever looking over his shoulder to check whether he was being undermined by the RJD which has more MLAs than the Janata Dal (United).

Prohibition was the policy which he embraced to win over the lower middle class and rural women to his side. But, predictably, the liquor ban has led to an increase in drug abuse with 25 per cent of the cases in de-addiction centres now dealing with the users of cannabis, inhalants and sedatives.

Unlike prohibition which is not aimed at any caste, the demand for the 50 per cent reservations is intended by Nitish Kumar to bolster his position vis-a-vis Lalu Prasad since both are intent on playing the backward caste card.

It is also a message to his partner in the government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), about the importance of the quota system for the Chief Minister, especially when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, is in favour of doing away with reservations altogether.

Nitish Kumar's self demolition
Bihar’s chief minister gave his political career a U-turn.

When Bhagwat expressed his views during the 2015 election campaign, the BJP quickly distanced itself from them for fear of losing the backward caste and Dalit votes. Even then, the BJP’s reputation as a brahmin-bania party remains intact. Besides, it is now more focused on playing the nationalist card than on wooing the backward castes.

Nitish Kumar must have thought, therefore, that the time was ripe for him to up the ante on the caste issue if only to let the BJP know that he cannot be marginalised as the BJP has been tending to do since tying the knot with the Janata Dal (United).

But, whatever his intention, Nitish Kumar cannot but be aware that his position is much weaker now than when he was in the “secular” camp. Nor is there any chance that he will regain his earlier status any time in the near future.(IANS)

 

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Delhi government’s liquor license scam exposed

AAP has turned Delhi into liquor den.

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Delhi government's liquor license scam exposed
Arvind Kejriwaal,Delhi CM.Flickr
 • Illegal liquor licenses granted in shopping malls
 
• Swaraj India protests against illegal vends at Cross River Mall
 
• Illegal vends have turned the mall into a liquor den
 
• Liquor license scam, a perfect example of unholy collusion between AAP & BJP
 
• Arvind Kejriwal, who came to power on the promise of making Delhi addiction free, has today become the Badal of Delhi and Manish Sisodia another Majithia.
New Delhi, Nov 5: Newly formed political party, the Swaraj India has exposed a major scandal in the distribution of liquor licenses by the Delhi government. Party’s Chief National Spokesperson and Delhi State President, Anupam, said that the Delhi government is illegally distributing L10 category liquor licenses enabling dealers to open vends in shopping malls of the city.
The Delhi government offers licenses in the L-10 category to liquor vends in shopping malls of the city. Definition of shops operating from within a mall is clearly stated in the law and the rule mandates that all shops operating from within a mall should be opening up within the building only and cannot have an entrance towards the exterior side of the mall. But Delhi government and the mall management have created these liquor shops against the approved map of the mall. Every week, the Excise officials of Delhi Government are supposed to inspect liquor vends existing in the city, but not a single objection has been raised against these vends that are blatantly violating rules every single day.
And this has resulted in around a dozen liquor vends springing up in just the ground floor of the Cross River Mall. This has turned the shopping mall into a den of liquor vends leaving people living in nearby residential areas helpless. Neither the Delhi government nor the MCD and nor the Delhi police are even taking note of this broad daylight scam. “Is this not a direct sign that all the levels of the government and administration are complicit in letting this illegal trade grow?” Anupam asked.
Everyone in Delhi is well aware of how the employees of MCD don’t lose a moment to demand their share when any construction work begins anywhere. But when illegal constructions are done at such a large scale in a big mall, the MCD doesn’t even blink an eye.
Cross River mall is located in an area from where the Councillor, the MLA as well as the MP are from the BJP. The illegal license is being granted by AAP led Delhi government. It is surprising to see such a harmonious blend between the Aam Aadmi Party and BJP. Promoting liquor trade in Delhi seems to be such a profitable business for both the BJP as well as the AAP that it has brought together the two parties that are otherwise always at loggerheads. Are the black transactions involved in such liquor business the real reason why not a single question has yet been raised by anyone or any party?
Earlier in the last, the Delhi government has eased rules for granting the license to new liquor vends by reducing the minimum carpet area required from 1000 to 500 square feet. And now, in clear dereliction of rules, even vends are being run in the shopping malls.
 On Sunday, Swaraj India’s Mahila Swaraj Morcha protested against the numerous liquor vends in Cross River Mall of Delhi and demanded that the liquor shops be closed down. And in this mall in Shahdara, around a dozen liquor shops have been opened up by granting illegal licenses of the L10 category. And outside this mall, that has been turned into a den of liquor vends, a crowd of drunkards creating an atmosphere of hooliganism has become a daily affair. There has been a continuous increase in crime in the drunken state, where eve-teasing & snatching have become a regular affair.
Sarvesh Verma, President of the party’s Mahila Morcha, said that Arvind Kejriwal who rode to power on the promise of making Delhi an addiction-free city has today become the Badal of Delhi with Sisodia as another Majithia.
Anupam said that though the Delhi government’s anti-women policies will result in the promotion of alcohol addiction but Swaraj India will not let these nefarious plans succeed. The party has earlier as well launched mass agitations against the granting of liquor licenses in residential areas of Delhi, because of which the Delhi government was compelled to announce a ban on the distribution of new licenses. If the government does not immediately order an investigation into the illegal L10 vends and stop this unholy collusion, the Mahila Swaraj Morcha of Swaraj India will take this agitation ahead for the betterment of Delhi.