Cabinet concerns

The headlines of practically all news reports on the swearing in of Anandiben Patel as the new Chief Minister of Gujarat highlighted the fact that she is the state’s first woman chief minister.  However, none of them reported on whether there were any women among the ministers sworn in along with her.

The Times of India’s report did go into great deal about the caste composition of her cabinet:  “The leaders from all regions got near-equal representation in the cabinet. Patels dominate her cabinet caste-wise. Her ministry has nine Patels, including the chief minister, four OBCs, one SC and three ST members…  The cabinet does not have a Koli member but the party had balanced this by giving three Lok Sabha tickets to Kolis. One of them may be given a berth in Modi’s cabinet at the Centre.”

From the list of new ministers and ministers of state included in the Mint report it appears that one woman – Vasuben Patel – has been accommodated in the state cabinet (though it is difficult to tell from just the names, with not all of them bringing up images in online searches!).

The report in the Ahmedabad Mirror included a gratuitous reference to some women who attended the swearing in ceremony, under the sub-head ‘The saree gang’:   “Several women, draped in eclectic sarees, remained present to witness the swearing-in of the state’s first woman chief minister. Jayshree Patel, a teacher, said, ‘She has been an inspiration to all of us. With her at helm, we are sure women empowerment in state will improve.’” It’s not clear where that came from and what it was about!

Meanwhile, there has been intense and widespread speculation in the media over the past week about the composition of the new union cabinet scheduled to be sworn in on 26 May.  But the rumours and counter-rumours have been mainly about individuals and their proximity/acceptability to the Prime Minister designate.  There has been little mention of anything related to representation in terms of not only gender, but even caste, language or region (which are customarily crucial factors in such discussions).  The only woman regularly referred to as a likely cabinet member is senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.

An online petition calling for PM-to-be Narendra Modi to appoint women to 50% of posts in the Council of Ministers, which attracted nearly 500 signatures within a week, appears to be the only effort in the public sphere to highlight the issue of diversity in structures of governance.

Ammu Joseph

The glass is always full effect?

“61 women in this Lok Sabha, highest ever” – headline in The Times of India, 17 May 2014.

“The 16th Lok Sabha will have the highest number of women members at 61.  ‘This is the highest number of women members elected to the Lok Sabha in the history of the country, although by a small margin. Fifty-eight (58) women were elected to the 15th Lok Sabha in the 2009 election,’ said PRS.” – report in The Times of India, 17 May 2014, credited to IANS, which neglected to reveal what the consequent percentage of women in the new Lok Sabha is.

The PTI report used by various news outlets began in a similar way:  “The 16th Lok Sabha will have a record number of 61 women leaders as compared to 59 women MPs elected during the previous General Elections.”  But it did refer to the percentage:  just 11% of the total of 543 parliamentarians, and pointed out that this is a far cry from the 33% mark that the Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to achieve.

Interestingly, while NDTV gave a neutral headline to the PTI story published on its website (“Election Results 2014: 61 Women Elected to Lok Sabha”), Rediff was more forthright (“The 16th Lok Sabha will have just 61 women MPs”) and included graphics that drove home the point.

The Hindu’s bylined election analysis, headlined “Fewer Muslims, more women in new House,” made the point that “the 16th Lok Sabha will be under-represented by women as usual,” though the figures quoted in it were slightly different from those cited in the PTI and IANS reports.

On 22 May, DNA carried a story by Krishna Uppuluri, headlined “Will Women’s Reservation Bill see the light of day with highest number of women ever in Lok Sabha?quoting  Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Najma Heptulla.

This was followed by an editorial the next day (23 May), headlined “Parliament of men, by men,” which pointed out that the persistently low number of women MPs “reaffirms the regressive tradition that women will have a limited role to play in nation-building and legislation.”  Quoting prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, who recently said the new government is “dedicated to the poor, millions of youth and mothers and daughters who are striving for their respect and honour,” the editorial pointed out that “women are not just mothers and daughters, or wives and sisters for that matter. They have their own identity. The leitmotif of change must be empowerment and participation.”  If that does not happen,it continued, “it will continue to be to a man’s world — or Parliament if you will.”

Meanwhile, one of the most detailed post-poll analyses of women’s representation in the 16th Lok Sabha appeared in an online publication,  The article by Sabarathinam Selvaraj, headlined “Even India’s neighbours have more women in Parliament,” includes graphics providing historical statistics as well as data on women’s performance in the 2014 elections disaggregated by political party as well as states.

Ammu Joseph

Stoked up stereotypes

A headline in the Times of India of 17 May 2014, a day after the election results, said: ‘Amma and Didi keep home fires burning’. But the papers didn’t say the same about Naveen Patnaik or YSR or Uddhav Thackeray.

Implicit in the use of the term “home fires” is the assumption that it is a woman’s task to tend to the kitchen and home. That is her place. Even when as a seasoned politician she wins a difficult election, the State stands for her “home” where she has done her assigned gendered task. Not only does this belittle the women’s political achievements, it also reinforces the assigning of private space and public space to women and men. Besides, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha are routinely referred to in familial terms: Didi and Amma; their identities as politicians and individuals merge into their family identities and their presumed family roles.

The male politicians who countered the pro-Modi vote and kept their parties afloat or winning in their state, are not referred to in the TOI or the rest of the news media as having kept their “home fires burning.” They are men, with distinct political identities, whose rightful space is in the public domain (so the TOI assumes), which they regained mastery over in the elections.

This is also a reminder of many of the news reports and headlines of the 1970s-early 1980s, when Indira Gandhi’s cabinet of ministers was often called the “kitchen cabinet.”

Sharmila Joshi.

Token women

Forget 33 percent, the women who were in the cabinet didn’t get to hold weighty portfolios. “Except for a few politicians, most elected female representatives have a limited or marginal role in important discussions within their political party or within the national decision-making processes, according to a recent study,Violence against Women in Politics, released by the Centre for Social Research (CSR) and supported by UN Women” says the Mint article.

Women are usually given cultural and social portfolios rather than economic or political ones. This is the same case in state level politics too. Will the new government do differently?

Padmalatha Ravi

Where are the women?

Switching on the television to follow election result coverage, I find myself searching for women panelists. Surfing channels at around 9 a.m., I saw:
  • One on NDTV in a panel of about six people;
  • One on CNN-IBN in a larger panel;
  • Two out of eight on Headlines Today;
  • None I can recall on News X,
  • And on Times Now, four very vocal women.

Where are the women? It is hard to imagine that in New Delhi or Mumbai, TV channels could not identify and invite enough women to have panels of parity. And were that to be the case, there would be no technological reason not to have people participate from elsewhere.

The lack of representation extends to other categories–class, caste, etc. but since this has been an election where we have pretended that gender matters, it is hard to ignore the absence of women on these panels.

And tomorrow, no doubt, on the op-ed pages of major newspapers.

How then, can we expect the media to be gender-sensitive on any other issue?
Swarna Rajagopalan

A tale of two stories

The headline is intriguing:  “No country for women:  no matter who wins the election, India will still be ruled by wealthy men.”  The intro promises a fresh perspective on the mammoth, everlasting election that has, for the most part, been covered as if through a pinhole: “On the eve of the results of the latest national election, the story of a poor woman in Punjab and what it reveals about power in the country.” The article, by Supriya Sharma, begins by presenting data, including disturbing facts such as:  “of the 8,163 candidates in the fray, less than 8% are women.”  It would have been interesting to see where female candidates are placed on the wealth graph, but maybe gender-disaggregated data on candidates’ declared assets is not yet available.  The second section of the article, which tells the story of Sarabjit Kaur, “a Bengali woman in Punjab,” is quite compelling and telling. Unfortunately, the two parts somehow don’t seem to add up to a whole, despite a last paragraph attempting to tie them together. But the moral of the story remains:  “the real measure of a democracy lies in its ability to unsettle the power structures of society and not in faithfully replicating them.”
Ammu Joseph

So women stay away from politicians on Twitter ?

According to this article in The Hoot – Women stay away from Indian politicians online – by Usha Rodrigues, quoting from statistics obtained by, the three main political parties have barely 30 per cent women followers. The figures are around the same for women politicians like Sushma Swaraj or television anchor Barkha Dutt. But perhaps this isn’t so surprising, considering that women online media users in India are around a third of male users in the country.

The article also tells us that none of the big four – Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Uttar Pradesh Bahujan Samaj Party’s leader Mayawati – are on Twitter but alas, one wishes it also examined the figures for younger politicians and political aspirants. Gul Panag, for instance, who is the AAP candidate in Chandigarh, is very active on Twitter. So is Shazia Ilmi, also from AAP.

Geetha Seshu

Priyanka, Rahul or Modi – who uses sunscreen?

Priyanka Gandhi is canvassing for UPA’s probable Prime Ministerial Candidate, Rahul Gandhi. Hema Malini, Smriti Irani and Nagma are candidates in the most watched election in Indian History. And yet when media discusses how they are doing what they are doing it is on whether they wear make up and sunscreen on the campaign trail. We want to know how, just how they manage to look oh so fresh in this scorching heat. Surely a question every voter wants an answer for.

The piece quotes Khushboo Sundar, DMK as saying she doesn’t drink too much water while campaigning. “There are hardly any decent toilets on the outskirts. Hence, I keep my water intake low.” But there are no further questions about that. As if lack of toilets isn’t as big a news as the cucumber she uses to hydrate herself.

To give credit, the piece does close with how Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi manage in this heat. The piece talks about their diet and choice of clothes. But what about sunscreen? Surely the strong men who will probably lead the nation, need some protection from the Indian summer sun? We never find out.

While Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi have been headlined through out the this campaign for the past year and half, this piece generously lets the women take the lead. Giving the men only a passing mention at the end.

Padmalatha Ravi

Who hogged the limelight?


The provenance of the graphic posted here is unknown at the moment (it
was shared on Facebook and online searches haven’t yet revealed where
it originated).  However, it obviously illustrates the latest findings
of researchers at the CMS Media Lab who have been tracking who among
prominent political leaders got what share of prime time on news
television.  If, as
they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, this visual sure tells
a vivid story.  The three women who actually made it to the top of the
pops together accounted for only 5.4 per cent of the time given to
political party leaders on prime time television news.  Yet that story
didn’t make it into a report in The Hindu by Rukmini S. highlighting
the figures released by the CMS Media Lab:  “Modi got most prime-time
coverage: study“.

Interestingly, findings released by the same organisation in mid-April
found that “Arvind Kejriwal bests rivals in TV news coverage“.
Then, too, women political leaders had a marginal presence on prime
time news:  only two, Mamata Banerjee and Shazia Ilmi, figured among
the top ten a week into the elections.  But this fact was not noted in
coverage of the research data.

Ammu Joseph

Not in our names!

I’m not sure whether or not they can be considered part of media coverage of the elections, especially since The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy specifies that it is “not a journalistic resource,” but thought I’d flag two articles on the Centre’s website that are relevant to the theme of this blog:

  •       In an article headlined “Political Discourse on Gender Hits an All-Time Low” (under the slug ‘Gender and Elections’), Kavita Krishnan calls attention to the “deeply disturbing” discourse on gender in the ongoing elections.  According to her, if “in previous years, perhaps women were ignored or taken for granted,” they now “need to worry about how they are being talked about – and what kind of politics is being done in their name.”

“Will political players like Mulayam Singh, Abu Azmi, Amit Shah, Narendra Modi and Baba Ramdev, and the parties they espouse, pay a political cost in this election for their creepy view of women and gender?” she asks. “Or will they be rewarded for it?”

  •      In “Through the Looking Glass: The Rhetoric about Women in the 2014 Election” (under the slug ‘Women as Nation Builders’), Hardeep Dhillon refers to the scramble among leading candidates “to appeal to voters on the basis of their religion, region, and caste (among other identity markers).”  According to her, “Amidst this political landscape, women are increasingly valuable constituents as statistics indicate their growing participation in the voting process; particularly in critical swing-states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Consequently, a renewed vigour to monopolise the votes of women has been made by front-running prime ministerial candidates Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress (Congress).”

Ammu Joseph