As the historic Naari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam was introduced in the Parliament, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi aptly called its passage an Agni Pareeksha for the MPs. An Agni Pareeksha indeed is: an Agni Pareeksha to restore the traditional glory of Bharat, which stood for equality and balance; an Agni Pareeksha to reclaim the highest pedestal that women have enjoyed since time immemorial; and an Agni Pareeksha to rise above political misgivings and stand together for the Naari Shakti. Parliament, a temple of modern democratic Bharat, must embody the spirit of Ardhnaareshwar, a symbol of equality and perfect balance brought about by the co-equal feminine.
In a world grappling with gender inequality and injustice, Bharat stands as a beacon of historical reverence for women. For centuries, Bharatiya culture has celebrated women as embodiments of Shakti, recognising their immense potential as scholars, warriors, queens, and leaders. Be it the spiritual realm, where women are revered as Tridevi, manifesting strength, wisdom, and prosperity; ancient texts like the Vedas and Upanishads with hymns composed by women scholars; or early civilisations, where warrior queens led their kingdoms to victory and prosperity. Women in ancient Bharat were not only educated but also actively participated in philosophical discussions and religious ceremonies. India celebrated renowned philosophers and scholars like Gargi, Lopamudra, and Maitreyi, the valorous Rani Padmini, Rani Durgavati, Rani Rudrammadevi, Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, and many such legendary women, centuries before the modern world even granted voting rights to them.
Importance of Shakti Tradition
The Ramayana and Mahabharata portray strong and influential women like Sita Mata, Draupadi, and Kunti, who played crucial roles in shaping the narratives and events of these epic sagas. The reverence for women extends to their roles in family settings as well. She is the Sah Dharmachaarini, which means she is an equal partner in Grihastha Dharma, where she, along with her husband, leads the household and by extension, the civilisation onto the path of righteousness and Dharma. Uniquely, within Sanatan Dharma, the Shakti tradition is distinctive in its exclusive devotion to the divine feminine, represented as Shakti or the divine mother.
Echoing these cultural values, a Sanskrit quote beautifully articulates the role of women as architects of society: Nārī Samājasya Kuśalavāstukārā
Needless to say, Bharatiya Naari held positions of great reverence and respect, a tradition that spanned countless generations. However, over the years, repeated assaults overshadowed this feminine significance ingrained in our cultural values and traditions. Consequently, in modern-day India, women’s representation in legislatures (both Union and State) glaringly lagged owing to a lack of political commitment and initiative.
Since 2014, Modiji has taken it upon himself to recalibrate the gender equality compass of India. It all began with changing the narrative from women’s development to the mission of women-led development. Naari Shakti has been placed at the core of Bharat’s development journey. Be it supporting women to overcome socio-economic barriers to their empowerment or ensuring they grow from strength to strength, an ecosystem is being developed where women, 50 per cent of India’s population, have equal opportunities to realise their potential to the fullest.
While departing from the past practices of adopting piecemeal welfare measures, the government, post-2014, adopted a strategic lifecycle approach by designing policy interventions at several stages of a woman’s life cycle and needs. The most fundamental of those is ensuring that women lead lives of dignity and safety. The 9.6 crore smoke-free kitchens under the Ujjawala Yojana, which has not only provided millions of women with ease of living but has also saved them from chronic respiratory ailments; the 12 crore toilets under the Swachh Bharat Yojana, which enabled women to have safe and dignified access to toilets in their own homes, eliminating concerns about safety and preserving their dignity; or even the 12 crore tap water connections under the Jal Jeevan mission—all these measures have all uplifted women from a life of drudgery and disentitlement.
On the other side of the spectrum, age-old societal shackles were broken to bring about a social transformation not seen in decades. Be it raising the marriageable age of women from 18 years to 21 years, increasing the paid maternity leave period from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, or banning the unfair practice of Triple Talaq, similarly, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao mission launched a full-throttle campaign against heinous social practices against girls, and as a result, the NFHS-5 reported a positive sex ratio of 1,020 women (per 1,000 males). Indeed, Modiji’s has stood by the Naari Shakti as she rises to claim her eminence as an embodiment of Shakti. As evident, PM Modi’s vision of women’s empowerment is adopted as a multi-pronged approach to address challenges right from birth: nutrition, health, schooling, career and employment, familial and maternal life, serving the nation, and assuming leadership roles. The Women’s Reservation Bill is the seal of power given to those intentions, a Shankhnaad that Shakti has risen and is ready to take the reins of our great nation. The Women’s Reservation Bill emerges as a modern-day talisman that reverberates with the ancient respect and equality accorded to women in this civilisation. With this amendment bill and several other initiatives under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi, we are taking a historical course correction, a journey that realigns our footsteps to the original glory of Bharat—a land where women’s voices were heard, their roles celebrated, and their contributions valued.
Empowering Bharatiya Women
The Women’s Reservation Bill, introduced by Modiji on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, won a near unanimous vote, a blessing by Vighnaharta himself, who paid obeisance to Mata Paarvati for creating him, nourishing him and protecting him, by removing all obstacles facing the bill for 22 years! With this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook yet another massive step towards gender equality and empowering Maa Bharti, and the popular sentiment of 150 crore Bhartiyas. Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai resonates in my mind yet again!