Power women

Ramachandra Guha

, by India together

In spite of its gender bias, India has women in leading positions in politics. But this does not herald a new age of gender equality, writes Ramachandra Guha.

A remarkable yet perhaps under-appreciated fact about Indian politics today is the influence, at the very top, of women. The most powerful individual in the country is a woman. The most powerful individual in the country’s largest state is a woman. The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a woman. Within a week’s time, the most powerful individual in the state of West Bengal will certainly be a woman, and the most powerful individual in the state of Tamilnadu will quite possibly be a woman.

This is an extraordinary conjunction, especially when one considers the historic oppression of women in South Asia down the ages. India’s major religions, Hinduism and Islam, are in scriptural and practical terms deeply inhospitable to the emancipation of women, to the emergence of individual women as independent actors who can take their own decisions about how to live their life (rather than having these decisions taken for them by fathers, brothers, or husbands). And yet, here we have the policies of the country as a whole, and of several massive states within it, being shaped by women. Hundreds of millions of Indian men are now having their fate and future determined by those whom they have traditionally regarded as being subservient to them.

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