The Whole Truth About Women in Gujarat: A Letter to FICCI

Ila Pathak

Dr. Ila Pathak is a founder President of Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG). After seeing media reports and speech of Mr. Narendra Modi CM of Gujarat, as he was addressing 29th session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies’ organisation, FICCI, New Delhi. Dr. Pathak had written a letter to Madams of FICCI.

Dear Madams of FICCI,

From reports in media we have understood that our Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi has impressed you all with his hard-hitting eloquence. On reading and hearing report of the speech, we, the women of Gujarat were wonder-struck ! Was he speaking of women in Gujarat? Was he revealing the whole truth? Certainly not. So we thought that we could enlighten you all about the reality in Gujarat.

In Gujarat’s population the number of women has gone down. In 2001 there were 921 women against 1000 men. In 2011, three more were lost per a thousand, 918 were counted in the census. This is the ten year period during which nine other States recorded increase in the number of women, from 45 in Delhi to 4 in Rajastan. Gujarat kept losing.

Mr. Modi was speaking of female foeticide, an old 18th century practice. In Gujarat the sex ratio in the age group of 0 to 6 years in 2001, was 886 girls as against 1000 boys. In 2011 it was 883 girls as against 1000 boys. Difference of only 3 gained over ten years! It was only in late 2011 that the news of the government having closed 101 sonography clinics was heard; thereafter a few were reported closed in 2012. In 2013, so far, no penal action under PCPNDT Act is reported. That is the Governance in Gujarat! Does the Government care?

patriarchy and IndiaLatest surveys (2006) concerning married women’s health note that 55.5% women were anaemic in the age group of 15 to 49 years of age. In the same age group 60.8% pregnant women were malnourished and anaemic. In 1998-99, 74.5% of dalit and tribal children in the age group of 6 months to 35 months were reported as malnourished. In 2005-2006 the number of such children increased to 79.8%. 49.2% children have not developed to normal height, 41% do not have the weight normally children of their age group could have. During the last election this issue was taken up and the minister in charge had rushed to find out where the fortified food packets had gone! That is Governance in Gujarat! Maternal mortality rate and Infant mortality rate do not come down; mothers and children keep dying in Gujarat or continue to survive as weaklings.

To refer to women as mothers all the time is pretentious. We have noted how young mothers die of malnourishment. Lack of treatment (because no government dispensary, block or district hospital has a gynecologist appointed, large city hospitals provide such facility) is one more obvious reason.. No wonder that many women deliver babies in the ambulance like buses known as 108 service.

Governance of Gujarat’s government does not seem to follow any policy for saving young women’s lives. Even young men’s lives. Very recently, a resident doctor died of Dengue fever in Ahmedabad’s large Civil Hospital and many more are now dying of Swine flu in Gujarat. The deaths seem to argue absence of good governance.

Education for girls was free. In last couple of years the government has stopped encouraging continuation of such schools and colleges. Now girls have to pay hefty fees if they choose to get ‘good’ education. That is the Governance in Gujarat.

Mr. Modi spoke of the Bill for 50% women members in Local-Self Government which, the Governor of Gujarat, Dr. Shrimati Kamalaji, despite being a woman herself did not sign. The Governor of Gujarat did not sign it because the provisions in the Bill were mixed up with another issue, that of compulsory voting. The Bill was returned by the Governor asking the Government to separate the issues, get the Bill for 50% reservation for women passed again and then she would be prepared to sign it. The Governor is found fault with which is emphasised by adding ‘despite being a women herself’. This is Modistyle. The details of why she did not sign it are not spoken of, so the listeners are led to believe that the Governor of Gujarat is insensitive towards women’s rights despite being a woman herself. Half-truth is the hall-mark of Modyism.

Mr Modi had to belittle the Governor of Gujarat because she took steps to appoint the Lokayukta in Gujarat which he did not approve of. So a long drawn battle is being fought in the Supreme Court. If Mr. Modi had only wanted to speak about his contribution for women he could have spoken of village panchayats formed fully by women members. In May, 2012, 422 panchayats were organised through consensus wherein all members were women. Such organising denies democratic election and it is implied that only those who command village level polity can have their say. One of the women attending the State function held to congratulate their becoming important office bearers in their villages, had told a reporter that her husband asked her a few days earlier to be Sarpanch in his place and he asked her to attend the function, so she had come up to Gandhinagar, Gujarat’s capital, Mr. Modi could have proudly spoken of women-headed Panchayats but, unmindful of her status, self-respect or sense of decorum he preferred to take a venomous dig at the woman who holds a high constitutional office in Gujarat. A rabble could greet such comments with claps and laughter, but I believe, that you, Madams of FICCI, did not appreciate such remarks. All said and done Dr. Srimati Kamalaji is an octogenerian who commands such respect that she could be rightfully addressed as ‘Ma’, the mother. But this is how the people are won in Gujarat, by using half-truths and by debunking known persons without caring for their status in public life or without spending a thought on his own personal dignity. As long as the crowds go home laughing he is assured of votes, so why should he care about such silly issues like dignity of the speaker himself.

That is how Gujarat is gained. And it is governed to gain accolades for him who got the votes. As long as that is gained, governance in Gujarat does not seem to matter.
Increase in crimes in Gujarat is phenomenal during last decade. Robberies and murders of old people, including women are reported every other day. 235 rapes were registered in 2001, in 2011 the number is 413. Kidnappings have increased from 731 in 2001 to 1329 in 2011. All other crimes appear to have gone down. The police stations do not want to register crimes because they are reprimanded if the number of crimes increases. Gujarat has to be shown as Crime Free State so less registration is better from governance point of view. We are aware of circulars that ask the policemen down the line not to register women’s complaints in the first instance, they take ‘applications’. Reduced crime rate could vouch for good governance in Gujarat. It is followed by possibilities of less punishment / justice and freedom to commit crimes.

Business is in the blood of Gujarat’s people. Many women run their own business, not only in food items but also as designers, boutique owners etc and are doing very well. Many women are employed as retailers in various markets. But ‘Lijjat’ papads are not produced by tribal women. That is misinformation. Business by women has flourished for a long time in Gujarat, despite Mr. Modi.

Yours sincerely,

Ila Pathak