There is a great deal of hype created by the Narendra Modi government related to women and their empowerment. While the myth has got much buildup in the mainstream, the reality ends in a bitter note. The trumpet of the government was to give women their rightful place in the society and transform their lives. But after five years, the reality is otherwise. Neither the women empowered nor could the schemes transform their lives in India. On the other hand, a silent transformation is going on in the otherwise quite state of Odisha. A revolution is taking shape that is going to bring in the real changes in the lives of women. While the standard of living of women has drastically improved, it is slowly going to break the perception that women are second to men.
The Bharatiya Janata Party led central government merely used the women as a medium of publicity and tried to exploit the emotions associated with them. One of the Modi government’s earliest stunts that used women as scapegoat is the Ujjwala Yojana. It promised free cooking gas connections to rural women in BPL households. The realty being there is no subsidy to the poor BPL families who take the connections. They pay up the full bill from the next refills. This is the biggest blatant false propaganda of the Modi government and it was successfully implemented by none other than Dharmendra Pradhan, the minister for petroleum and natural gas.
Compare this with the biggest transformation going on in Odisha. The self-help groups of the state are on the runway to development. More than seventy lakh women associated with the Mission Shakti scheme are getting the benefits provided by the state government. The transformation is taking place in all villages of the state. This is not a fly by scheme of the state government to attract the voters, but a measured action by the government to improve the rural economy and the family income of lakhs of families. The self-help groups are going to add not less than a billion dollar to the state’s economy in the coming days. Another important step taken by the Naveen government is to provide three lakh rupees interest free loan to each of the self-help groups. It will definitely add to the group’s financial strength. Naveen’s commitment to the cause of women can be seen from the fact that he has nominated a grassroots level woman to fight from the Aska constituency. She will definitely create history and bring in the voice of the backward people to the forefront. While the Modi government used biggest hoarding of the Ujjwala scheme to publicise the myth, Naveen was more practical and listening to the causes of women.
While the central government is trying to keep the women in their stereotypical roles such as child bearers and roti makers to the family, the Naveen led Odisha government is slowly breaking conventional thought. They are now at the forefront of the development process. Now they are not only getting involved in the financial planning of the family but also contributing to it.
These are two different paradigms of development. One that is based on the mythical promises of the Modi government and the other based on silent revolution at the grassroots level. The previous one has failed measurably in placing power in the hands of the women. In Odisha, there is a slow increase in the participation of women in the political process also. The 50 percent reservation in the Panchayat level has resulted in the increase in the number of women in the state level politics. Especially, in the last few years, a boost is seen in women participation in political process. In the 2014 elections, women outnumbered men in the voting percentage in Odisha. In the present elections also the trends show they are in the forefront. The Chief Minister’s decision to send 33 percent women to the Parliament is a step that the BJP can never equal. The BJD has nominated 33 percent women candidates to contest from Odisha. Likewise, it has also given a large number of women candidates to the state assembly elections. On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been boasting of women development, has given less that 13 percent tickets to women during the current elections. This shows that Narendra Modi and his government have failed. The Prime Minister has literally understood that the women voters are to be targeted if he needs to come to power again. This demonstrates that Modi looks at women as consumers of his projects and schemes, not a part of the process. The Modi government could have passed the Women Reservation Bill in the parliament, but it did not. It’s because of pure politics. It wanted the issue to linger on and in between garner votes.
Another much hyped trumpet of the Modi government is the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao project. Launched in 2015, the project aimed at improving the sex ratio in the country. The agony is its implementation. The ministry spent Rs. 209 crore between 2015 to 2018 for publicity of the project and only Rs 40 crore has been given to the state governments. Meanwhile, the sex ratio in the country has continued to plummet. A NITI Aayog report shows a decline in the sex ratio at birth in most of the states.
The BJD has also given a slew of promises in its manifesto for the empowerment of women. It has promised free education for girls from KG to PG. Already girl students in the state are getting free education in the schools. The health insurance scheme announced by the state government has been an instant hit in the rural areas. The Biju Swasthya Kalyana Yojana gives health insurance to women upto 7 lakh rupees. Thousands of women have benefitted from the scheme. The Party has promised to enhance the limit to 10 lakh rupees. In contrast to the center’s Ayushman Bharat scheme, the state government scheme is a more pragmatic one.
The government of Odisha has made a policy that the houses and land provided in government schemes will be registered in the names of female members of the family - a welcome step from the point of view of women empowerment.
The difference between the management of Modi and the charismatic leadership of Naveen Patnaik is clearly visible. While the center is beating drums to attract the voters, Naveen is silently transforming the rural landscape. The answer to who really cares about the women can been seen when there is an analysis at the grassroots level.