South Asian Politics

NEPAL NEWSFLASH! FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT ELECTED! (+ Other Developments)

Image Source: BBC News, 2015

Image Source: BBC News, 2015

Yesterday, whilst my brother and I were eating at the ‘Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant’ , we noticed a man filming something going on TV. It was a very out of the way place and certainly one of the very few places you’d see Nepali TV on in Thamel (the backpackers’ lair). The on-goings looked vaguely parliamentary, and I saw a woman speaking to take some kind of office. It excited my academic curiosity as part of my doctoral work was on the representation on women in the Indian Parliament.

It felt like a moment. Not the ones you take for granted everyday, but the ones you remember as ‘having been there when it happened’. I’d also had the pleasure of seeing the election of the First Lady Speaker of India’s Lower House from within Parliament itself. This felt like .. another one of those moments I would not forget, courtesy of the Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant. For me, it was a delightful sign to get back to that part of my life, research and work as well. (And my brother took photos me of grinning like a cat who had just had two bowls of cream and tuna)

At first I thought it was a Speaker’s election, and then found myself happily corrected when we had the chance to look at some English-language news. Not a Speaker, but a President!

What makes me even happier is that Nepal has pretty much set a powerful standard for South Asian legislatures (and Western ones too) as it has passed – as part of its new constitution – a law ensuring that at least 33% of all MPs are female and that either the President or Vice President must be a woman.

In India, that particular issue has basically stayed stagnant since its first introduction as – the Women’s Reservation Bill – in 1996. Parliament has been paralyzed on account of the idea of bringing more women into its fold on many an occasion.

But not so in Nepal. I’m overjoyed!

The new President, Mrs. Bidhya Devi Bhandari is the vice-chair of the Ruling Communist Party of Nepal. She was previously the country’s defence minister. As President, she has vowed to address minority & women’s issues. Let’s see what unfolds 😉

Whilst the role of the President is largely ceremonial, what excites me about all of this is the legislative requirement of 33% women as the bare minimum. That is going to create ripples of change, and I hope it will once again fuel India’s political will to tackle the same issue once again (nearly 2 decades later). It’ll be interesting to see how this translates for a greater representation of women in South Asian Politics.

Go Nepal! Wooo!

Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam. PhD

For those of you interested in my research on reservation policies, gender and politics in India, feel free to check out my PhD Thesis, The Dramaturgy of Ritual Performances in The Indian Parliament (2013) .

WHY BANNING ‘INDIA’S DAUGHTER’ PLACED IT AT THE CENTER-STAGE OF INDIAN POLITICAL DISCOURSE

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There’s been a lot of discussions, media coverage and political controversy surrounding the ban of the documentary known as India’s Daughter. Indian feminists have raised a slew of issues with the film, some of which I fully empathize with. However, despite the ban, the film was tweeted over 40,000 times on Youtube – before it was taken down.

You know I tend not to get into political discussions much, but this relates to what I spent 5 years of my doing intensely focused on. Whilst I see so many sides to the debate and argument, as one who knows the context well – I see a few issues that are being completely missed. So, speak up, I must.

Bear in mind that these comments are not coming from someone who stands for values that objectify women, but rather a scholar of the Indian parliamentary system and the way it handles gendered issues….

(1) There is a real constitutional-legal argument which has led to the ban. The decision itself has been heavily politicized by way of interpretation. Here’s the rationale: The verdict has yet to be delivered by the Supreme Court, and so … taking the accused’s testimony in any form raises questions of validity. It has to do with the due procedure of the Indian legal system, and frankly — I understand why. There are those in the Supreme Court who do not agree and want the documentary to be legally released in the interests of the public – but the legal pickle remains. Moreover, the conditions of the interview required Tihar jail (where the accused was detained) to approve the use of the interview material. It was not approved. They wanted the accused’s interview to be deleted, and so the documentary was circulated in a breach of agreement.

(2) Nevertheless, a discussion has been raised in the Parliamentary Chambers (which, in some sense is India’s ‘national theatre’ or ‘national spectacle – focus of my doctorate) — so anyone who hasn’t heard of it in India, will! Rolling 24-7 media channels broadcast, and re-broadcast, and then broadcast some more … the sound-bytes and excerpts of Parliamentary speeches seen to be especially sensational. Discussion on the legality of banning/airing the documentary is no exception.

(3) Political leaders, from socially conservative parties, have begun speaking of how ‘consent’ can never be taken away from a woman, no matter what she’s wearing. Considering parliamentary discourse in 1996, on the subject of women and their political rights .. the statements issued by conservative members of parliament are … in comparison … extraordinary…. Back then (and this actually happened), MPs actually laughed during speeches that spoke of the plight of women who were raped. 2 lone MPs (out of the chamber that can hold over 500 +) walked out in protest. So for them to be speaking of ‘consent’ and how it cannot be taken away from a woman ‘no matter what she is wearing’ … is a tremendous indicator of how attitudes towards sexual violence have shifted.

http://www.thehindu.com/…/indias…/article6959851.ece

That alone is enough grist for the rolling 24-7 media stations to run with. Whether these leaders believe what they’re saying is a different question, but it reflects changes in party attitudes and the perceptions of their electorate. …

In some ways, the ban has actually raised the visibility of the documentary, and, due to the way the media, political parties, parliamentarians create the news cycle in their own ritualistic dance … India’s Daughter will continue to dominate the headlines and public debate.

Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD

bairaveebalasubramaniam.com

Image: Documentary Cover, Fair Use Policy

Text © Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2015