BJP is anti-women and will never bring the Women’s Reservation Bill, says Apsara Reddy, the first transwoman National General Secretary of All India Mahila Congress. She is possibly the first transwoman to hold any important office in a national party. “All of us are fighting battles to be recognised as women and this is recognition from the oldest and the largest party,” says she.
Excerpts of an interview with Apsara Reddy:
You are not very well known in political circles. Could you tell us a bit about yourself ?
I come from a conservative middle-class south Indian agricultural family in Chennai. My grandparents had dabbled in politics many many years ago. I always believed that happiness was important very early on, so despite coming from a strife-ridden family because of my father’s alcoholism, I had a happy childhood. My mother was my biggest hero, she was always supportive of whatever I wanted to do. I have done my Bachelor’sin journalism from Monash University in Australia and Masters in Broadcasting and Developmental Economics from City University in London. I got a scholarship and I went to study abroad.
I did come out to my family very early on. It was a tough phase and I answered all their questions. I wanted to convince them; it is easy to rebel and run away from home and live with other transgender women and do your thing. But I wanted to have my parents,especially my mother with me on my journey.
You were a journalist and now you have moved to politics. You began with the BJP and now you have moved to the Congress. Why?
I really felt having apolitical platform was important for me because you can do greater good for society and politics allows you to be a part of think tanks that shape public policy.
When I was working in the media, I got an offer to join politics. Initially, I was given an award by the BJP and I got to meet Amit Shah over lunch. I joined them in February 2016, but within two weeks, because of differences of opinion, I kind of moved away.Soon, I was invited by Jayalalithaa madam to become the official spokesperson of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. She cleared the way and gave me the huge responsibility of representing the party and later the government on national television.
After Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, there was a lot of internal politics. When I met All India Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev four months ago on the sidelines of a conference we had attended, we had interesting conversations. It culminated in me meeting the Congress President and taking up this position as National General Secretary.
Now that you are the National General Secretary of the Mahila Congress, what are your plans?
My major role will be to build women cadre across blocks and districts at the state level and work toward sensuring financial stability for women. It will be done through workshops and skill-building initiatives. I hope to empower women to speak against policies that affect them. My immediate plans would be to help women find sustainable livelihood and employments for the disadvantaged rural women and transgender women.
What are your thoughts on the Transgender Bill and what are the problems with it?
The concept of gender has evolved from earlier traditional stereotypes. So, it is important that the terms sex and gender be independently defined. The Bill introduced by DMK MP in the Rajya Sabha Thiruchi Siva has many valid points, the Congress also has a few recommendations. All of this should be included in the final Bill
While the Bill, under section 4, clause 2 provides the right to self-identify, the provisions that follow are in absolute contrast with this right and undermine it.Moreover, while the Bill pays lip-service to the right to self-perceived gender identity in Section 4 (2), the provisions of the Bill do not in fact enforce that right in any way. In fact,in Section 5 it takes away the right of the person to self-identify by creating an external committee, that is the District Screening Committee and the District Magistrate to judge a person’s application for issuance of a Certificate of Identification as a transgender person and decide whether or not they qualify.
How has the country performed under BJP since 2014?
I think law and order has deteriorated under the BJP government. The sad part is that the debate in our country is about cows, temples, what to wear and love jihad. It is less about education,economy, industry and infrastructure. Apart from law and order, even the discourse in this country has dropped to an all-time low.
What is your evaluation of PM Modi?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is happy attending celebrity weddings and taking up fitness challenges by sportsmen but does not want to throw his weight behind human beings. We need to save this country from individuals who have a linear vision and put religious identity before human values.
Modi has proved himself to be an anti-Indian Prime Minister. Moreover, he is always travelling and hardly in the country to actively care. Every policy of his has taken India backward– be it demonetisation or the Gabbar Singh Tax, which is his version of the GST,policies on women’s rights and transwomen, in particular his policy decisions concerning Tamil Nadu such as NEET controversy, Sterlite and the eight-lane highway make it seem like he is an anti-Indian Prime Minister. There is no way he is coming back in 2019.
What do you foresee will happen in Tamil Nadu for the Lok Sabha polls?
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance will sweep the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu. There is a lot of infighting within the AIADMK and too much of factionalism. Apart from that, Rahul Gandhi is a strong prime ministerial candidate.
Do you think the BJP will ever pass the Women’s Reservation Bill?
Apart from having an extremely vociferous Raksha Mantri and a few token representatives in the union ministry, BJP is completely anti women. The RSS ideology that influences them is closed to women. There is no way BJP will bring about progressive changes for women and I’m 100% certain that if they wanted to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, they would have done so in these four-and-a-half years. They will not do it now.
As the interview draws to a close, she says, “You remember BJP recently criticised Rahul Gandhi for asking PM Modi to ‘Be a Man’,” she asks. BJP condemned it as a slight to women, I reply.
“You know what? Rahul Gandhi’s track record has been exemplary unlike Narendra Modi when it comes to women…see how he has empowered powerful women at all levels of the party…” she says animatedly.
The full interview will appear in the paper