Ms.Pratima Mondal resigned from West Bengal Civil Service to become a Member of Parliament from Jaynagar, West Bengal, India. Women for Politics (WfP) interviewed Ms.Pratima Mondal to explore the political career for women from her lived experiences.
"Men in politics should attack sexism in parties, politics and every arena of the society"
Q. Could you tell us about your background and upbringing as a girl in a politician’s family?
A. I come from a lower-middle-class family in a small village named Gourdaha in Canning, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. My father was a government school teacher and the only earning member of the family. My younger sister and I moved to Kolkata at the age of 7 with our mother in a rented house and I started studying in a nearby government school. In the meantime, inspired by my maternal grandfather, my father joined politics and went on to become the Education and Health Minister from 1971 to 1977. My father was elected as an MLA several times, then part of 15th Lok Sabha. He retired from politics after he had a severe cerebral attack in 2011 and lost his speech partially. Thus, having been through hardships myself, I am passionate towards contributing towards society.
Q. What were your initial thoughts about politics and how did you decide to quit Civil Service and run for Lok Sabha elections?
A. I was a government employee and as part of my work, I used to frequently visit villages and interact with local people. They need a lot of local government assistance, basic needs, and social security. I always used to think if I get a chance to serve my people, I will do something substantial for them. As a government employee, I had a limited scope to serve the vulnerable people of the society. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Mamata Banerjee selected me as the party candidate thus as per government norms, I resigned from West Bengal Civil Services to enter politics. With an opportunity as a politician now, I want to do more for my people and the country.
Q. There are incidents around the world where women politicians are reported to have been asked more questions about their household responsibilities. What do you think about this?
A. It is right that women are asked more questions about their household responsibilities. Not just politicians, but women in all professions be it business, author, celebrity or anything else. Women are asked ‘how do you balance professional and household responsibilities?’.
Even if it’s a developed country, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand was asked similar questions. We cannot bring about a law or regulation that such questions shouldn't be asked. It's a societal construct and we will take many more years to break these stereotypes.
I think it is because we, women are stereotyped under specific roles, under which household responsibilities fall on women. An image is set by society and culture. I believe a child needs his or her mother more than the father that makes her presence at home imperative but that doesn't mean she cannot multi task. Infact without discriminating against men I would say that women are better at multi tasking.
Q. Women politicians around the world have also reported different forms of violence especially while campaigns and afterwards. Such narratives demotivate many women from joining politics. How safe is politics as a career choice for women?
A. I have been among the fortunate one who never had to face that form of violence even during campaigning but, the occurrence of such unfortunate incidents cannot be denied. I believe that the solution to this is to empower women to raise their voice strongly and boldly.
Incidents of torture and violence are de-motivating for future generations. Politics is an unconventional career choice but that should not stop young girls to enter politics and be a part of it. If not now, then, when?
In order to prove the position of women, they have to be a part of the system.
Q. What gives you the strength to overcome the challenges of your political and social life?
A. Actually I didn’t consider politics as a challenge at all. I manage my political and social life in a balanced way. If you take it as a challenge, the situation will become complex.
Q. What would your message be to other women to overcome challenges in their political career?
A. I would like to tell other women that they should raise their voice stronger and even louder. You start enjoying your work and, take politics as an opportunity to do good for the people, society and the country. And start loving the challenges in this work!
Q. Do you feel your work as a woman politician is appreciated as much as that of your men colleagues?
A. Gender bias of this sort is not very evident in our country. Be it parliamentary debates or constituency development works, both men and women are appreciated and criticized equally. My work as a woman politician is appreciated as much as that of my men colleagues.
Q. Would women entering politics get support from other women in politics?
A. Obviously! women entering politics will be very much supported by women politicians. Politicians tend to help each other and maintain the healthy competition that is needed. Even in parliament, men and women parliamentarians support each other. Healthy competition does and must exist which shouldn't be misunderstood as a rivalry.
Q. Are there any special measures in your party which encourage women politicians?
A. Yes, All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) has 33% seats reserved in the Legislative Assembly for women, there were 50% women in Panchayat elections in 2018. 41% women candidates contested in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Trinamool Mahila Congress also plays an active role and promotes women empowerment.
The Kanyashree Prakalpa scheme is introduced by the West Bengal government where the girl child is eligible to get government assistance of 25000 rupees, up to the age of 18 years scheme to encourage education, prevent dropouts, and check early marriages. Our party-led government believes in empowering the women at all levels.
Q. What’s one thing you would change for women?
A. Create a safer environment for women and on the other hand, give them education.
Q. What would you like to tell men politicians about becoming allies of women in politics?
A. I would say to the men politicians to take it upon themselves, move beyond party politics and support the women reservation bill in parliament. Men in politics should attack sexism in parties, politics and every arena of the society. And promote new women parliamentarians and lawmakers to participate actively and not remain as silent partners.
Q. What’s the message you would like to give to aspiring young women who want to venture into political life?
A. My suggestion to young girls is to complete education and become active in politics. Education is the only weapon to help win our battle. It will help us choose focus areas, in decision making and other aspects of politics. Before becoming an MP, I came from a lower-middle-class family but education empowered me.
Also, always remind yourselves of the bigger picture during hardships that you are working towards the greater good for society. Be kind and help as many as possible without expecting anything.
Q. How would you like to support other women politicians and those who are aspiring to enter politics in India?
A. I serve as president of All India Mahila Trinamool Congress of South 24 Parganas district, wh support other women in the party. Education will equip a politician better to deal with a crisis like Covid-19 and Amphan cyclone.
Worth Asking interview series is aimed at having conversations with men and women politicians at all levels about politics as a career choice for women.