Worth Asking with Ritu Jaiswal
Ms.Ritu Jaiswal is the Mukhiya of Singhwahini in Sitamarhi, Bihar, India. Women for Politics (WfP) interviewed Ms.Ritu Jaiswal to explore the political career for women from her lived experiences.
"To make this world a safer place, you must venture into unsafe places, unchartered territories"
Q. Could you tell us your background? And upbringing as a girl in Bihar? Where did you grow up? Study?
A. One of the biggest issues girls face growing up in Bihar is, that the society doesn’t really let the sense of identity develop among them. Even today, we face a severe crisis in promoting their education, employment, etc. I grew up with a firm mindset that I need to develop my own sense of identity. That was a challenging task, but my family, my husband, children, all have understood that need and have helped me accordingly. I grew up in Hajipur and my education has been completed there itself.
Q. What were your initial thoughts about politics? Take us through how you decided to move from Delhi to Sitamarhi and run for Mukhiya elections in Singhwahini?
A. I went to Sitamarhi during the winters of 2012, to see my husband’s native village as their typical ‘bahu’. I had reserved roles. Wasn’t supposed to mingle with people a lot. Stayed in a single room mostly. But eventually, while I toured around the village, the sight was straight out of a horror movie.
I remember, even on the first day, when we hadn’t even reached the village, our car tyre got stuck in the mud and there was no pucca road in that entire province. We had to take the rest of the journey on a bullock cart. The state of that place was miserable. That was disheartening. When I look back and retrospect, I realize that I have been a compassionate person deep within. Since childhood, I had this small glimpse towards this budding aspect of compassion and empathy in me. I would steal my mother’s sari to donate it to some poor women who would come to us begging for alms. Delhi put a haze on that aspect I guess.
When I saw the state of that village, it all came back to me suddenly. I had to stay and change the picture towards development.
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. Women have always been a victim of that glass ceiling effect. They find it immensely tough to break through that barrier and one of the biggest reasons for that is because there are conflicting roles of them as a housemaker and a career-maker. It’s embedded in the society so deeply, that in today’s scenario when women try to move beyond a particular place of power, they are questioned, frowned upon, etc. This is a huge social problem and the only way we can break this stereotype is, by promoting more women to take such spaces.
Moreover, men don’t have such dual roles. But Women do! The state must make provisions or work towards providing at least minimal provisions for the convenience of a woman.
For example, if she has exceeded her first trimester, and her body is making it tough for her to take social responsibilities as such, the assembly could have made provisions for her to attend the assembly via video conferencing, etc. We can use technology to empower anyone and everyone.
Q. Women politicians around the world have often reported different forms of violence especially while campaigns and afterwards. Such narratives demotivate many women from joining politics. What are your thoughts on it? How safe is politics as a career choice for women?
A. To make this world a safer place, you must venture into unsafe places, unchartered territories. So I believe, the aspect of safety is mostly constructed. If you are actually strong, bold and affirmative, your energy will do its work.
Women’s safety is a big issue anywhere and there is no doubt about it. Seemingly, the value of one’s life is decreasing around the world. And there are many prejudices other than gender too, and many other forms discriminations of individuals and groups. Many of them are violent. Women who end up successfully in politics, do have safety provisions. But those women who are struggling, I can only imagine what they might go through.
Gender equality is something, which we have to internalize as a society. It will take time to bring about equality to eradicate that violence. And everyone has a responsibility to work towards it!
Q. What were the most difficult challenges you have faced? What gives you the strength to overcome the challenges of your political and social life?
A. The biggest motivation for me has been the future of our children. Our children are unsafe, malnourished and lack access to food despite the fact that we have a right to food. India ranks 102 out of 117 in the Global huger index. This is not just a problem of present times.
We need to see a bigger upcoming problem. Malnourishment leads to cognitive impairment in children. Stuns their mental ability, puts their future in a dark spot. It’s only natural that crimes and violence are going to increase. So if I think about it, it’s the fear of the future which pushes me.
Q. What would your message be to other women to overcome such challenges?
A. Single message: Men have failed. Let women take over. The world is on the verge of a catastrophe where the weapons of mass destruction have got the calamitous power to destroy the entire civilization. Only empathy and compassion can save us. These are some of the virtues which come naturally to women. So let us take over!
Q. Do you feel your work as a woman politician is appreciated as much as that of your men colleagues?
A. Yes, sometimes even more than other men colleagues.
Q. Would women entering politics get support from other women in politics?
A. Not always, but if we look towards the greater good of humanity, then we must ensure that we can support the good work no matter who does it. Be it a man or a woman.
Q. What’s one thing you would change for women?
A. I would like them to have equal property rights. If you look, when women get that equal right in property, they would have an equal place in the family. I think most of the violence which are committed by men, against women happen because men have been raised to treat women as unequal or inferior. You give them both equal property, it will have a stronger moral message for the entire society. And this has to be made into a norm.
Q. What would you like to tell men in politics about becoming allies of women in politics?
A. It’s not about gender. Alliances are formed based on vision and good people must form alliance despite their gender. Moreover, there is less feminine representation in politics. Maybe because of the issues which I discussed previously. We have to work on that.
Q. What’s the message you would like to give to aspiring young women who want to venture into political life? How would you like to support other women politicians and those who are aspiring to enter politics in India?
A. That requires the work of a party. So in a way, the only thing we can do is to ask the mainstream political parties to persuade and motivate more and more women to come and occupy a representative space.
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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.