Union Minister of Child and development Smt Smriti Zubin Irani’s interaction with the Director of the Centre for Women Studies Dr. Madhurima Goswami at Chandraprabha Saikiani Centre for Women Studies during the virtual programme Tillottama Baruah Memorial Lecture at Tezpur University of Assam on 9th May 2022.
Minister Smriti Irani asked the audience to reflect if there has been any significant change in the society culturally apart from technology. In our ancient civilisation women have always been held equal to men. After many invasions, the agenda of putting women behind the purdah to “protect” them became the mainstream practice.
Today under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi there has been a tectonic shift in governance and policymaking. For many years governments have had the narrative that women need emancipation but Narendra Modi changed this narrative to the society’s need for women-led development. This will be possible when they are equipped with education and financial security in order to have the freedom to contribute holistically to nation-building.
It is important to take note that very few people know about the contributions of women revolutionaries. It is of utmost importance to recognise local heroes and place them in popular history read by the generations to come. While we must find women who have fought for independence we must also celebrate women’s pivotal roles in academic and industrial firms today. To a question raised about the marginalised women the minister promptly pointed out the bias one has while reading the stories of tribal or rural women. She said that these stories must be told to not just girls but also to men and boys to draw inspiration. Inspirational stories of great men are told to everyone but often inspirational stories about great women are only told to women.
The minister spoke extensively on the changes brought about in the New Education Policy with regard to girl students. Regarding the NEP 2020, she quoted the Prime minister‘s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign should become a Jan Andolan. She added that the gender inclusion fund has been added to NEP. Importance is being given to local languages and technical education in local languages which remains a gap in the system, she emphasised there is a need for scientific methodologies, ways of analysis and research to be available in local languages. So that talent is not lost due to a language barrier.
Further, when it comes to changing gender roles people only talk about the need for more women to become teachers but we should think of more women in leadership positions where they can take decisions and change the path of the institution. Women’s study cells should be activated and I was instrumental in developing this when I was the minister of HRD.
On the question of the state of women in India report in 1974, whether the women of this country are still lagging behind she pointed towards the changes, for e.g that had happened in last few decades to small scale enterprises, schemes like Mudra, maternity benefits, startups for women. Breaking the ceiling was not a part of the movement in India. India didn’t need the suffrage movement as India had a universal adult franchise at the time of the independence. India has seen some major changes like 26 weeks of paid leave for pregnant women, under the Mudra scheme 70% of the loans were given to women, similarly to start-up India. 25 cr women now have bank accounts due to Jan Dhan accounts.
Minister threw light on bias in the discipline of sociology as it is only rooted in western philosophy and Indian women are being studied without an Indian perspective. Indians have never been taught to be ‘pro men’ or ‘pro-women’, the Indian philosophy talks about the whole world as one big family. (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam).
Minister’s response to the question on human trafficking was that 9000 cr fund of money was evaluated under the Nirbhaya scheme under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. Before 2014 not even a single penny was spent from the fund. The ministry of WCD and NIMHANS has collaborated to help the women and children who have been victims of violence A rapid transport system in metro cities has been funded, women help desks at all police stations, forensic kits, and trafficking bills have been under work.
She mentioned that 704 districts have one-stop crisis centres, judicious use of the Nirbhaya fund, Anti-human trafficking units in the states, 35 women helplines, and 70 lakh women have been helped. Women’s help desk in police stations. The ministry is also looking at police systems to work fast. Funding and support are provided by the ministry.
With regard to the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, the Minister pointed out that the citizens need to be conscious regarding their protection of rights. The legislature has done its job and the polity cannot be blamed for everything. On the last question of history being silent about women, she emphasized people’s history rather than women’s history.
The minister completed her address by remembering the contribution of Tillotama and Hemalata Baruah to the field of education and expressed that their ideologies and life struggle narratives be disseminated far and wide.