In the run up to the 17th Lok Sabha Elections 2019, India’s major political parties have released their manifestos to woo the Indian electorates. This blog post critically explores the pledges committed by national political parties for the upliftment of marginalized groups, which routinely confronts deprivations and indignities. As Shiv Vishvanathan has rightly put: “Manifestos are acts of communication. They seek to inspire with rhetoric”. What is it that political parties are promising to the most marginalised populations being persons with disabilities, Dalits and Schedule tribes, women and LGBTI persons?
The incumbent BJP in its Sankalp Patra promises to empower women, SC/ST groups ‘divyang’ and transgender persons to bring them into the mainstream by providing assistance in obtaining loans for self-employment. The manifesto however does not provide any clear cut strategy to fulfil these promises. The BJP manifesto promises 33% reservation for women in Parliament. It further aims to provide reproductive and menstrual health services to women and sanitary aids at Rs. 1. The BJP Manifesto further commits to provide constitutional protection to SC/ST persons and support enterpreneurial ventures by persons from SC/ST communities. For persons with disabilities, the BJP promises to conduct accessibility audits, provide accessible housing and higher interest rates on fixed deposits by persons with disabilities. For transgender persons it ensures self-employment and skill development.
The Indian National Congress promises to bring a constitutional amendment ensuring 33% representation of women in the national legislature and in the state assemblies. It aims to enforce the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 effectively, promising to provide night shelters for women workers and review the sexual harassment law. It further promises to establish an Equal Opportunity Commission which will recommend affirmative action strategies to achieve equality in education, employment and in economic opportunities. The Congress promises equal protection of the laws to LGBTQI persons, that it will withdraw the Transgender Bill, 2018 and draft a new Bill in consultation with the LGBTQIA+ community. For persons with disabilities the Congress is the only party that promises that Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution be amended to prohibit discrimination on the ground of ‘disability’. This is a huge step forward and should be something that all parties should take up irrespective of the outcome of the elections. It further promises to recognise Braille and sign language. It mandates that it will make all public services and public spaces accessible, and to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) has come up with its manifesto in audio and sign language. This initiative by the CPI(M) should inspire other political parties to look into accessibility concerns of the persons with disabilities while preparing their vision documents. The CPI(M) in its manifesto, aims to enact a law against honour crimes, strengthen the law for maintenance of women and children, grant allowances for deserted women, single women, widows and female headed households. It also promises to make public spaces safer for women and increase punishment for caste based crimes against SC/ST women. The CPI(M) promises implementation of the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 supported by adequate budgetary allocations. The CPI(M) specifically addresses the rights of LGBTI+ persons and ensures that it would pass the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, provide legal recognition to same sex couples similar to marriage such as ‘civil union’ / ’same-sex-partnerships’ and pass legislation so that the partner can be listed as a dependent, for inheritance etc., and also pass a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill. Both the Congress and CPI(M) promise to enact a central legislation to provide reservations in the private sector for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and a law to prevent and punish “hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The CPI(M) manifesto is one of the most progressive. The party however is at its historical low in terms of seats it represents.
While these promises are significant, they are not enough. Persons with disabilities, women, LGBTI+ persons, SC/ST communities and religious minorities are some of the most marginalised, especially those at the intersections and their fight for dignity remains a perpetual struggle. It is time that political parties start addressing their concerns if they want their votes.