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  Asia-Pacific
Patil in for President's Race Not Only because of Being a Woman
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, nominee of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for Indian presidential election

In 60 years since independence, India might be in for a woman president for the first time. Also Mrs Pratibha Devisingh Patil is the only woman among present state governors in India.

Mrs Patil is the nominee of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and left parties for India's Presidential elections due shortly next month.

It does give a beacon of hope to millions of women in India who are not as fortunate to enjoy access to equal opportunities in life. Although this doesn't imply that Mrs Patil's nomination for the post of President of India is not something to be proud of for Indian men. We must remember that Mrs Patil hasn't been nominated just because of her gender identity – rather her towering political career as well and clean chit political track record spanning 45 years now shouldn't be shadowed by the gender spin many media reports have hinged to.

The multi-faceted gender inequalities women have to live up with are not only a function of women alone and men must be included in all the discourses attempting to address that. India has come to a stage where men relatively don't feel threatened by women-in-power and history is rich with unforgettable examples to substantiate that. Election of first dalit woman as a Chief Minister of UP (Mayawati) is yet another example to support that. However countries like those of US or Western Europe are very unlikely from electing a woman President.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen had said that "over time the same country can move from one type of gender inequality to harbouring other forms of that inequity." Amartya continues to explain that "I must also warn against the smugness of thinking that the United States or Western Europe is free from gender bias simply because some of the empirical generalisations that can be made about the [Indian] subcontinent would not hold in the West. Given the many faces of gender inequality, much would depend on which face we look at. For example, India, along with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has had female heads of governments, which the United States or Japan has not yet had (and does not seem very likely to have in the immediate future, if I am any judge). To take another example, I had a vastly larger proportion of tenured women colleagues when I was a Professor at Delhi University - as early as the 1960s - than I had at Harvard University in the 1990s, or presently have at Trinity College, Cambridge."

Although Amartya Sen gave the above statement six years ago, the spirit of his discourse stands starkly true and all the more relevant even today.

Mrs Pratibha Patil was born on 19 December 1934 in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. She was a practising lawyer before she joined politics in 1962. She began her legislative career in 1962 and remained a member of legislative assembly (MLA) in Maharashtra state till 1985, except during 1978-1982, when she was the leader of the opposition in Maharashtra state assembly. In 1965, she got married to Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat in Rajasthan.

In 1985, she was elected to Rajya Sabha and served as deputy chairman of the Upper House from 1986 to 1988. She was then elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991 and served as the Chairperson of the House committee. Later in 2004, she became the first woman Governor of Rajasthan and continues to occupy this coveted seat.

Mrs Patil being a veteran Congress leader has held many posts of responsibility during her legislative career, including portfolios like urban development, housing, education, tourism, parliamentary affairs, health, social welfare, prohibition, rehabilitation, and cultural affairs.

A leader with spotless record in public service, she has demonstrated special interest in rural economy and welfare of women and is also considered a loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family. She is associated with various cultural, educational and social organisations.

It was an array of factors that had precipitated her Presidential nomination by UPA and left parties putting other people who were being considered in a relatively disadvantaged position. And she happens to be a woman as well.

(Bobby Ramakant is an Indian development Journalist presently based in Northern Thailand. He can be contacted at: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com )



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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