Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Women in Politics – Times of India (blog)

A confession! Yes! I am a self confessed addict of the ‘Game of Thrones’. I realized it when I was scouting through my little agenda book for missing tasks. Seemed more like an involuntary action (You see! The kind caused by brain fog), the ‘to-do-list’ of each day ended with – ’design a sigil today’.

Of late, my family has been gently reminding me that my gestures at the dinner table reminded of some tactical manoeuvres. I ended up writing ‘snow’ instead of ‘illegitimate son’ in a crime memo pertaining to a murder case. I actually heard ‘wildlings’ when Donald Trump was speaking about the people beyond the wall – a sad reflection of the modern day archetypes.

‘You know nothing is an oft-repeated phrase in my conversations (Though, I would love to say ‘winter is coming’ but it would sound absurd as Telangana is reeling under 40 degree Celsius). And my secret fantasy to have a sigil with a soaring eagle and a roaring dragon is short-lived, as Telangana Police has an emblem already.

What intrigues me the most about this HBO’s hit series is the highly-evolved military strategies, biting wits of Tyrion Lannister, Queen Cersei’s subversive tactics, it’s symbolic commentary on the socio-political scene of our times and more importantly its women -valorous, powerful and rising by the day.

Hailed as a cerebral antidote in contemporary media, Game of Thrones renewed my interest in exploring the lives of the ‘warrior queens’. I began my pursuit with the Roman literature. Queen Boadecia was a conscious choice to start with, as contemporary writings have drawn a strong parallel between her and Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi – our symbol of enduring spirit, exemplary valour, and a martyred past.

Much of our initiation into history comes through media. I wasn’t born when Thames Television made a television series ‘Warrior Queen’ for ITV on Boadecia, the Queen of the British celtic Iceni tribe, who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60. The 2003 film with the same title did very little to bring out the essence of the military acumen of the Queen.

Boadecia’s husband was a client – king of the Roman Empire, who paid protection money for retaining the kingdom. He died without a male heir and left the region for his daughters by asking their mother to act as the Queen Regent.

The Romans, however, ignored his will, assaulted the Queen and brutally raped the daughters. Regarded as one of the bloodiest retributive battles against the Romans, the Queen led her people to victory and became a legend.

What is strikingly common between these two remarkable women is that they didn’t represent the norm of the day. They registered the most telling moments in history by breaking gendered identities. In spite of the attempts by the British colonial renditions to limit her military prowess by representing her as a blood thirsty Indian goddess Kali and as someone in a sexual pursuit of British manhood (Ref: The Queen’s Desire by Hume Nesbit – 1893) Rani Lakshmi Bai’s legend still stands strong in questioning the factors limiting women’s participation in public sphere.

(Representative image)

History is full of irrefutable evidences like these to speak of such brave hearts, if we care enough to sift through the different shards of the generations gone by.

Kittur Chennamma, the Queen of a princely state in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824 and became the symbol of native resistance.

Rani Abbakka was the first Tuluva Queen of Ullal, part of a Chowtla dynasty who ruled over coastal Karnataka in the 16th century. Hailed as Abhaya Rani (The fearless Queen), she was one of the earliest Indian women warriors, to have fought the Portughese quite valiantly.

Epitome of the Kannada Women’s valour, Keladi Chennamma reigned over the keladi Nayaka dynasty for 26 years and repelled the advances of Mughal army led by Aurangazeb.

There’s more. Razia Sultana, Rudrama Devi, Rani Mangammal, Rani Velu Natchiyar, Chand Bibi, Ahilya Bai Holkar, Rani Avanti Bai, Rani Durgavati………

The list is endless of the brave women who challenged the masculine spheres of war and politics and left an indelible mark. Their strong presence in popular culture till this day disrupts the historical narratives to modulate their significance. Yet, we are still debating the ability of women to rule and protect.

By delivering on his poll-campaign pledge of a cabinet of parity, France’s new president Emmanuel Macron recently unveiled a gender-balanced cabinet with 11 of 22 posts to be handled by women.

French President Emmanuel Macron (4-L) and PM Edouard Philippe (3-L) pose for a photo after the first cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 18, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Not long ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed 15 women in his 30 member cabinet in November, 2015.
While the French and Canadians are raising a toast to their path to women’s liberation, 21st century India is still battling with the numbers and barely manages to make up a little less than 12% in the 542 – member Lok Sabha and 11% in the 245 – member Rajya Sabha. Gender representation in the cabinet is a mere 18.5% (with only 5 women ministers).

The most disturbing hypocritical binary of our times is that we name our streets on these brave women of India and but we don’t care enough to protect them on those streets. The word ‘Bharat Mata’ often resonates in our political space, but we still have misgivings in letting the ‘matas’ take centre stage.

The current political scenario is that of a bottom-heavy one with more elected women representing at grass roots. Unless women engage in decision-making positions, a more diverse political space will remain a distant dream. The political acumen and the bravery of these women warriors who lived generations ago is a rallying point for us to initiate a change.

If we don’t, no one else will.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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