The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women of steel party minus men

Mumbai, Oct. 31: Come on men, this is one party you can’t miss.

A group of brave and very ambitious women has formed India’s first all-women party.

“Don’t get it wrong,” said Varsha Kale, president of the Womanist Party. “This is not a passing fad or a fashionable reaction to male politics, we are out to fight elections, win them and get our candidates in the assemblies, Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and the gram panchayats.”

Politics, hopefully, will never be the same again. India has been ruled by a woman, Indira Gandhi, and another, Sonia Gandhi, is hoping to do so. Jayalalithaa is holding the reins in Tamil Nadu, Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje are in the race in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, up for polls in a month.

Still, there are too few women in Parliament and assemblies. Which is why the much-aborted reservation bill to book a third of the seats in legislatures for women. But so long as the marauding Mulayam Singhs are around, the bill is unlikely ever to come out of the womb of Parliament, despite bachelor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s best wishes.

So, through the Womanist Party, power will now be snatched.

“The representation in political parties till now has been a sham with women’s voice always muffled (Mamata Banerjee may not agree). This is our chance to amend matters and take charge of our lives,” said Kale.

A loud votary of the Left, the 40-something Kale left home at 18 to join the movement for a separate Jharkhand state. She worked in various NGOs until she got fed up and decided to start the Womanist Party.

Kale said the compulsion to form it rose from a lack of faith in both the Marxist and feminist movements. “There has to be an ideology that suits women and speaks for them, and is also abreast of the times.”

Clad in jeans and a spaghetti top, junk jewellery jingling, Anupama, an 18-year-old NIIT student, is excited about joining the Womanist Party. She said her 43-year-old neighbour in an Andheri apartment, Chandrika Choware, too, is mulling changing loyalty from a “mixed but male-dominated party”.

Talking of junk jewellery, the party symbol is kangan (bangle). Not the kind Basanti (Hema Malini) jangles seductively in front of Veeru (Dharmendra) in Sholay.

The Womanist Party’s bangle will be of steel, if not iron. “It is high time that women made this leap in politics,” Kale said, with steel in her voice. “We should be seen as a force to reckon with.”

With claims of over 10,000 members already, party leaders have created a two-pronged political force — one for the seniors and the other for students and youth members. The girls’ wing, called the Indian Girls’ Federation, is headed by Geetanjali Dhavale, a class XII student.

Kale’s call is being heeded. The Womanist Party is receiving loads of enquiries from women, cutting across class and caste. Padma Nikam, the fiery and only woman leading a hawkers’ union in Mumbai, is keen to join.

“The response has been heartening and there are other powerful and well-placed women who are ready to join our movement,” Kale said. She hoped to have five lakh members by the year-end.

Women from Bollywood — who will deny they are well placed' — have been known to join politics. Hema Malini became a Rajya Sabha member recently, completing a long queue of women of her profession who sat among the elders, thanks to the males who have put them there, the Womanist Party would say.

It will not sidle up to any other party — no alliances. “There won’t be any alignments and we will do our own fund-raising from housewives and women professionals,” said its members.

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