The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the National Women Legislators’ Conference-2022 in Thiruvananthapuram today (May 26, 2022). The Conference is being hosted by the Kerala Legislative Assembly as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
Addressing the gathering, the President said that it is only appropriate that the National Women Legislators’ Conference is being held when the nation is preparing to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Independence. Under ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, we have been holding memorial events for more than a year now. People’s enthusiastic participation in various functions shows their zeal to connect with the past and rediscover for themselves the foundations of our Republic.
The President said that in the saga of our freedom movement, women played a stellar part. India’s efforts to be freed from the shackles of an exploitative colonial rule began long ago, and 1857 was one of its early manifestations. Even in the middle of the 19th century, while there were only men on the other side, the Indian side included many women. Rani Lakshmibai was the most notable among them, but there were many more like her fighting bravely against the unjust rule. A number of satyagraha campaigns led by Gandhiji, from the Non-Cooperation Movement to Quit India, had widespread participation of women. Among the first women satyagrahis was Kasturba. When Gandhiji was arrested, he chose to pass the mantle of leadership of Salt March to Dandi to Sarojini Naidu. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya was among the first women to contest elections. He also recalled the heroic sacrifices of Madam Bhikaji Cama and of Captain Lakshmi Segal and her associates in the Indian National Army led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He said that when one starts giving examples of women’s participation in our national movement, so many inspiring names come to mind that one is able to mention only a few of them.
Speaking about the India’s accomplishment of offering universal franchise to all its adult citizens, regardless of any distinctions, right at the inception, the President said women in the world’s oldest modern democracy, the United States, had to wait for more than a century after its independence to win the right to vote. Their sisters in the United Kingdom also waited nearly as long. Even after that, many economically advanced nations of Europe refrained from granting voting rights to women. In India, however, there was never a time when men could vote but women could not. This shows two things. Firstly, the framers of the Constitution had deep faith in democracy and in the wisdom of the masses. They considered every citizen as a citizen, and not as a woman or a member of a caste or tribe, and held that each of them must have an equal say in shaping our common destiny. Secondly, from ancient times, this land has seen woman and man as equal – indeed, as incomplete without each other.
The President said that women are shattering the glass ceiling in one domain after another. The latest is their enhanced role in the armed forces. Their numbers are rising in the traditional male bastions of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Management, collectively known as ‘STEMM’. There must have been more women than men among the Corona Warriors who guarded the nation during those months of the crisis. He said that Kerala has always contributed more than its fair share when it comes to healthcare personnel, and women of this state have set an example of selfless care even at a great personal risk during this period of crisis.
The President said that such achievements should have been natural for women who constitute about half of the population. That, unfortunately, has not been the case. We have to admit that they have suffered from deep-rooted social prejudices. Their proportion in the workforce is nowhere near their potential. This sad state of affairs is, of course, a worldwide phenomenon. He said that India has had at least one woman prime minister, and there has been one woman too among his illustrious predecessors in Rashtrapati Bhavan, when several nations are yet to have their first female head of state or government. Putting the matter in the global context helps us realise that the challenge before us is to change the mindset – a task that is never easy. It takes immense patience and time. We can certainly take solace in the fact that the freedom movement laid a solid foundation for gender equality in India, that we had a great beginning and that we have already come a long way.
The President said that the mindset is already changing, and gender sensitivity – including towards the third gender and other gender identities – is advancing rapidly. The government is also doing its best to impart momentum to this trend with focused initiatives like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. He said that over the decades, the state of Kerala too has been a shining example, removing obstacles in the path of women’s progress. Thanks to a higher degree of sensitivity among the population, the state has charted new paths in helping women achieve their potential in the spheres of health, education and employment. This is the land that gave India the first woman judge in the Supreme Court, Justice M. Fathima Beevi. It is in the fitness of things that Kerala is hosting the National Women Legislators’ Conference. He expressed confidence that this national conference under ‘Power of Democracy’ would be a great success. He congratulated the Kerala Legislative Assembly and its Secretariat for organizing this conference.