How the new India went from women’s development to women-led development under Prime Minister Modi

As the tricolor flew in all its glory on the ramparts of Fort Rouge, a nation of over a billion people eagerly listened to the speech of our country’s 4th longest-serving prime minister. In 2014, he came with a promise to offer equal opportunities to his fellow Indians, a proclamation of minimum government and maximum governance and a determination not only to challenge but also to change the status quo.

Since then, for the past 6 years, the Indian Prime Minister has not limited his efforts to public discourse; instead, he diligently dedicated every day of his 6-year run to power fulfilling all expectations, all promises made to Indian citizens. Never before has a prime minister fired the nation’s imagination on large infrastructure projects, espoused economic measures, publicly presented avenues of implementation and evidence-backed success stories, and, to equal extent, highlighted social protection programs that address the basic needs of the ordinary Indian.

Many women politicians and activists who study every government program from a gender justice perspective have found solace in the Prime Minister’s unwavering support for the national goal of women-led development. I remember the Prime Minister’s call to the bugle from the ramparts of Fort Rouge to help build toilets to make life easier for women, especially girls in school.

That our nation has been deprived of a solution to basic human needs during more than 6 decades of democratic churn has come as no surprise; in fact, it was accepted as a way of life if you were born poor. 11 crores of toilets built over the past 6 years have bridged the gap between administrative laxity to meet the needs of the poor and the desire of the multitude to live a life of dignity.

Today I heard the Prime Minister talk about the service rendered by Jan Aushadi Kendras regarding menstrual hygiene products and the sale of 5 crore of sanitary napkins for 1 rupee each. From toilets to sanitary napkins, a public statement of service, support and a pledge that women’s issues should be discussed to the tune, has become the backbone of this government.

Truth be told, if ever a left liberal were asked about the administrative capacity of the right to meet the needs of modern Indian women, he would describe our ability to address gender justice issues with a brush of disdain. Driven by untruths about how the right is in favor of a regressive approach to women, Narendra Modi’s 6-year run as prime minister is an example of the opposite.

The fact that it was under her leadership that the nation’s first-ever menstrual hygiene protocol was shared to aid administrative efforts, finds no mention in accounts that criticize gender issues is not surprising. Her decision to change the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which aligns the reproductive rights of Indian women with 21st century medicine, is also not often discussed.

But this has been the underlying essence of Narendra Modi’s politics, it serves so that he can improve the prospects of our citizens and not for him to be celebrated in the sacred halls of Lutyens. Her government’s approach to meeting the needs of Muslim women in our country is testament to her ability to address challenges that are otherwise seen as a harbinger of political confusion.

For decades, the Indian political regime has stubbornly refused to provide legislative solutions to abandoned married Muslim women under the pretext of Triple Talaq, as the cost of justice was high considering its impact on an electorally profitable vote bank. The law to ban triple talaq injustice from the realms of our democracy is a claim that Narendra Modi can bite the proverbial political bullet regardless of the political cost because he truly believes in justice for all and the appeasement of anybody.

In addition, with a sense of societal and economic justice, today we proudly proclaim that among the 25 crore of MUDRA loans granted, 70% of our beneficiaries are women. Of the 40 crore of Jan-dhan accounts opened, 22 crore belonged to women, only when the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi reviewed an education policy after 3 decades; For the first time, he finds a special effort made under the aegis of the Gender Inclusion Fund to financially support the educational aspirations of our young girls, encapsulating the spirit of cooperative federalism that has manifested itself in favor of our educated girls by building toilets in all public schools in the country in less than a year.

The fact that he not only allowed but celebrated the role of women in combat roles in our armed forces is giving way to a social acceptance that Indian women are no longer seen as less than equal. They are an equal partner, an equal contributor to the development processes that we undertake as a Nation.

Today, as the Prime Minister greeted the young people gathered to celebrate this Independence Day, I saw hope for the future; for the change he inaugurated has contributed to the evolution of a new disposition in our country – the women of our nation will no longer be seen as unhappy counterparts waiting to be saved administratively and socially. A new India has now moved significantly from women’s development to women-led development.

The article was written by Smt. Smriti Irani, Union Cabinet Minister for Textiles and the Development of Women and Children.

Mara R. Wilmoth