| Renuka Chowdhary
Chennai, Nov. 4: Renuka Chowdhary is in the driver’s seat.
The firebrand MP is driving a tractor in an Andhra Pradesh village to preach women’s empowerment.
“Obviously, one cannot wear a saree while driving a tractor and so I have to dress differently to do that. Even the day before yesterday, I drove the tractor in my village, but people after a point accept the changes,” Renuka told a Rotary Club of Madras meet on women’s empowerment today.
In college, she nearly got expelled for riding a motorcycle. But the Congress MP has had better luck this time, with the tribal-dominated village getting over its initial unease and cynicism towards her.
“On sighting me during my tours, women now come running to me to say they have even named their daughters Renuka,” she said.
“That the local village deity of the area is also Goddess Renuka is another matter altogether,” the MP added, as the audience burst out laughing.
The nuns at college did not know what to make of a student who rode a motorcycle, Renuka recalled. Women have to boldly “reach out to make that change”.
Renuka, who had popped up with “I’m humongous” when her Parliament colleagues were stuck for the word’s meaning, joked that the switch to the heavier vehicle was in line with her “added weight”.
This is not her first brush with the tractor either. In the past, she has driven a tractor to Parliament to protest against an increase in fertiliser prices.
One of the toughest messages she was taking to the people — family planning and need for people to accept the two-child norm even if both were girls — was beginning to be driven home, said Renuka.
Peppered with wisecracks, the candid talk lasted an hour and covered a range of subjects from governance to insufficient public toilets for women.
“Do you know we had to battle for toilets (for women MPs) in Parliament'” she asked.
Renuka asserted that good governance was not possible without incorporating women’s needs and perspectives in decision-making, from the panchayat level up to the Parliament level. “Women’s empowerment is not for women alone,” she asserted.
Accusing political parties of “doublespeak” that impeded the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, Renuka warned: “Till we see the clearance of the Bill in Parliament, you (men) are going to be bombarded like this.”