Nari Shakti is all set to take center stage in armed forces First Post 06 Feb 2024
The recently concluded Republic Day parade showcased Nari Shakti as never before. Apart from a few marching contingents of the army and a BSF Camel contingent almost all others were women contingents. The armed forces medical corps including the Military Nursing Service participated for the first time in the parade. Most bands, less army, only showcased women musicians. The parade commenced with 100 women artists playing Indian musical instruments.
The motorcycle display was performed by women members from the Central Armed Police Forces for the first time. 1500 women dancers showcased 30 different folkdance styles. There is no doubt that the performance of women in every part of the parade was outstanding and praiseworthy. It showcased levels to which women have risen in different security agencies and services.
This is possibly the first time that any government has given such a level of emphasis to women in a major national event. This could not have been without a reason, especially as elections draw close.
The government had pushed the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023 bill through parliament in Sept this year, which would reserve 33% seats for women in the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies of all states. However, this may need to wait till 2029 as it would need an all-India census and constituency revamp prior to implementation. Currently, representation of women being allotted seats for elections remains low for all political parties.
Women voters have been effective in determining election results. In Dec, addressing his party workers, post victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, PM Modi stated, ‘I kept saying that for me, four castes are important – Nari Shakti, Yuva Shakti, Kisan and Gareeb Parivar.’
Earlier in march, after winning elections in UP, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur the PM stated, ‘Women have played a crucial role in these elections across states. They have blessed us – we have won splendidly in areas where women voters have dominated. Nari Shakti has been our partner in this victory.’ There were reports that the BJP had received maximum votes from women, basically because its cooking gas subsidies and cheaper loans paid dividends at the polling booth.
The Maharashtra government launched the ‘Nari Shakti Doot’ app this month aimed at empowering women. It was released by the PM. The West Bengal government of Mamta Banerjee is banking on support from women voters based on its women centric schemes. A TMC leader mentioned in an interview that the Chief Minister wanted the party to take women-oriented schemes- Rupashree, Kanyashree), Laxmir Bhandar and Sabuj Sathi (free bicycles to school students) to every household.
The Congress has offered free bus service to women in states in which it is/ was in power, Rajasthan, Karnataka and now Telangana, despite financial hurdles, apart from financial doles. It has also increased health insurance limits for women to Rs 10 Lakhs in Telangana. The Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, had already commenced free bus service for women. Kejriwal’s attempt to make the Delhi metro free for women was questioned and blocked by the Supreme Court.
In Madhya Pradesh there is the Laadli Behna Yojana which offers Rs 1,250 per month to women of poor and middle-income households as also 35 percent direct recruitment in government jobs. Prior to the last elections, the BJP promised a 33 per cent quota for women in government jobs in Mizoram. The BJP announced that in Karnataka it would conduct ‘Nari Shakti Vandana’ or a women’s convention at district level prior to this year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Understanding the government’s push to garner women support, the armed forces cannot be far behind. The navy chief, Admiral R Hari Kumar, stated in his pre-navy day press conference, ‘We’re not inducting women separately. They’re being inducted in the same manner as their male counterparts. We’re looking at being a gender-neutral force where we only look at capability of the individual.’
The air chief, Air Chief Marshall VR Chaudhari, stated in his pre-Air Force Day conference ‘IAF has also transcended traditional boundaries by inducting women who undertake all tasks equally with their male counterparts. In doing so, the IAF has become the lead Service in promoting Naari Shakti in its true spirit.’ The army remains the only service which is moving slow in opening all its branches but this too may change soon.
As 2024 elections draw close, political parties would seek to target women voters much more than religion or caste. While men hesitate to vote or in some cases have migrated for work, women come out in large numbers to exercise their franchise. As India Today mentions, ‘Women, by themselves, have become a constituency in their own right.’ This will change political parties playing on religion and caste politics.
The basic reason why targeting women voters is the new norm is because of their increasing voter turnout. An assessment by the Hindu newspaper states that ‘In Rajasthan, the voting percentage of women rose from 41% in 1962 to 74% in 2018. In Madhya Pradesh, it grew from 29% to 78%, while in united Andhra Pradesh, 59% of women came out to vote in 1962, in Telangana alone in 2018, the figure was 73%.’ As per Money Control, a financial and business portal, ‘women turnout (at 67.18 percent) surpassed that of men (at 67.01 percent) for the first time in the general elections of 2019.’
The State Bank of India Economic Research Department stated in a report in Dec last year, ‘Rising participation of women in India’s political arena is one of the most significant stories of the last decade. Women voters are now playing a significantly bigger role in elections than ever before.’ This changing landscape cannot be ignored by governments.
Nari Shakti, on display in this year’s Republic Day, apart from showcasing the rising power of women in India, was also a subtle message to voters that women are present in every government institution, including security forces, in sizeable numbers. As elections draw close, all political parties would begin offering additional sops to women to garner their support.
Considering the changing environment by 2029, when the Women’s Reservation Bill would become effective, there would be added pressure to induct women into branches of the armed forces in which there are still reservations. The army will be compelled to change its policies and overcome its reservations.