|Rahul Gandhi in Bhopal on Monday. (PTI)
Bhopal, Jan. 20: Rahul Gandhi today interacted with transgenders, sex workers and women’s self-help group representatives who opened up to him and requested him to make them part of the “national mainstream”.
The interaction took place in Bhopal after Rahul termed every woman an “asset for India” and said that since his childhood, he had understood the concept of equality in the status of men and women.
“Let me tell you... in my house... there was a papa (father)... a chacha (father's younger brother)... but the boss of the house was always my dadi,” Rahul said referring to Indira Gandhi, who was his paternal grandmother.
Transgender activist Laxmi Narain Tripathi asked Rahul what he intended to do for eunuchs and transgenders if voted to power. “It is difficult to understand their plight. They (eunuchs) cannot even walk on the street without inviting comments from leering men,” Tripathi said.
A woman delegate said empowerment schemes offered little to sex workers. “Little has changed in spite of tall claims and so-called policy initiatives. Sex workers still find it extremely difficult to get their wards admitted to schools. They do not get ration card and other amenities,” she said.
Sampat Pal Devi, a member of the Gulabi gang, made Rahul smile when she mocked Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s “Save the girl child” campaign. “Shivraj should know that in the hour of crisis, betis (daughters) would save the country’s honour instead of anyone providing them protection,” she said.
In the Bundelkhand region, the Gulabi gang has developed a reputation of striking fear in the hearts of men who abandon their wives or beat them up. This gang is credited with exposing corruption in the distribution of grain to the poor.
Rahul told the group he had come to Bhopal to hear them out so that their views could be incorporated in the Congress manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. “Earlier, the manifestos were being drafted behind closed doors. But the Congress has changed that practice. We want your views on it,” he said.
“Every woman is an asset for India, we need to create opportunities for them.”
Interacting with Mahila Congress delegates from across the country, Rahul said: “Women don’t need anyone’s protection; they need to be given their rights and space.”
Rahul said he had learnt the idea of equality in the status of men and women from his grandmother. “We talk a lot about becoming a superpower in the world, but till the women of our country feel comfortable and secure, our country cannot become a superpower. And to tell you the truth, we don’t want such a superpower status, where women are not empowered.”
He recounted seeing someone in Amethi beat up a woman. “I stopped him and asked him why? He said she hadn’t cooked for him. That man had no idea of equality.”
He said he considered changing the mindset towards women a big challenge. “Such violence can be both physical and mental. Violence comes from an attitude that women are inferior. Yes, we have to fight violence but we must also change attitudes.”
The AICC vice-president said in the last 10 years, the UPA had emphasised on women’s empowerment programmes. “But the big battle is still ahead like (pushing through the) women’s reservation bill in Parliament.”
Congress leaders said Rahul’s interaction today was part of his plan to target specific groups. In the recent past, he has interacted with Dalits, tribals and minority group representatives.