A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.
~ Diane Mariechild ~
Draped in a low cost printed cotton sari and a small bindi at the middle of forehead Dr.T N Seema, the agile woman Rajya Sabha Member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from Kerala, presents a symbol of simplicity. Born to a communist couple, it was not any hasty decision for her to take up politics a fulltime engagement. The soft-spoken former college teacher is a determined fighter. She is keen on issues concerning the proletariats and spends much of her time working among them. A former student of literature, Dr Seema takes time out of her busy schedule to read and write mostly poems and modern works. Music is her passion.
The young MP is unassuming and accessible. Even after a hectic day with the party secretariat in the state capital appeared unexhausted and greeted visitors at her modest living room with a serene smile. In a candid hour long talk with our editor Suresh Kumar the lady Lawmaker put across her views on issues of importance. Excerpts:
What made you take up politics a fulltime engagement relinquishing a the coveted college teacher’s job?
I am born as the second sibling of a communist couple. So, politics was never an alien subject for me. When I was just three or four (years old) I had the inspiring opportunity to garland our great leader EMS (E M Shankaran Namboothiripad). Both my parents were Central government employees, working with telephones department. My mother, when she was just 20 years, under probation, went to jail for protesting against the government, as part of a nation-wide strike. My father was also a communist activist. In fact, our house was basically acting as a party office and I use to listen to all their political discussions. It was during the university days I became active in politics. I was an active worker of SFI (Students Federation of India)
I bloomed into a full politician in 1988 when I was inducted into local politics. This was during the 13th party Congress that was held here in Trivandrum. I was doing my research at that time, in Malayalam literature. Later in 1992 I became a card holder of the party (CPM) and in 2008 I was chosen as the state president of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
Let me be frank to admit that my real interest was in Malayalam literature. I did my graduation, post graduation and PhD in Malayalam literature and took up teaching. I enjoyed teaching beyond bounds.
Then why you relinquished teaching and opted politics?
It was never a sudden decision. In 1996 I had an opportunity to work with the planning board on deputation. During the course of my tenure in the board I had the opportunity to directly interact with people from different stratum and had the firsthand knowledge of their issues and problems. The five years I spent in the planning board really made me think aloud to fight for their causes. In 2008 I relinquished the job (of a college teacher) to take up fulltime political assignment as state president of AIDWA. In April 2010 I got elected into the Upper House on CPM ticket. Now I as Member of Parliament I am able to fight for the causes of the ‘children of lesser god’.
As fist timer how do you cope with pressures of parliamentary politics?
I am just a year old as a Member of Parliament. I feel as firs timer there is lot to understand. I have taken up this assignment very seriously. As a member I always try to go to the House with enough home work done. I always have in mind that I represent the public of the country and my time and energy should be properly utilized and dedicated to their causes. I am aware of the enormous responsibility assigned to me and I try to do maximum justice.
There are groups of different hues who try to influence the Members for their vested interests.
Yes, there are lobbies trying to influence (MPs) and one has to be extra cautious, vigilant and watchful. I always have the feeling that I should never do anything that could bring disgrace to the party I represent. I, as a member of the august parliament, will never act against the interest of the public to who I am indebted to.
As a Member of Parliament what is your plan of action for the next five years?
There are limitations for any Member (of parliament). But by way of exercising the privilege one can productively help relevant causes or issues of public concern and even those concerning individuals. As a MP I have helped to solve certain issues of importance. Some of them were pending for years together. My feeling is as members of parliament our involvement need not be confined to just the lawmaking process. We should be proactive in solving the issues and helping the public and even the government machinery for the betterment of the public. At times one may need to think above party politics, keeping the larger interest in mind. Our party (CPM) always encourages such attitude.
As a MP what is your priority?
My priority is always the working class and women. So any issue concerning them is of my interest. I give preference to the issues related to women in general and the workingwomen in particular. Total empowerment of women in the country is my dream. Women of all stratums should be empowered in every respect. Their participation in governance has to be promoted in every sector.
What could be the prominent issue that you intend to take up?
The issues are not the same everywhere. It could vary from time to time and place to place. For example the issue that is relevant for the women in Kerala may not hold good for their counterparts in other parts of the country. In Kerala violence against women, particularly domestic violence is a nerve-racking issue. I am seriously concerned of the harassment (of women). In fact, the bill against harassment of women in work place is in progress. But, unfortunately the term workplace has not been vividly defined and groups those need protection like sex workers, domestic workers, and the women working in traditional industries have not been included. So we plan to conduct a seminar involving legal luminaries and constitutional experts to deliberate on defining the ambit (of the bill). All India Democratic Women’s Association is organizing a work shop on this bill shortly in Kochi.
In fact, in Kerala during the last LDF regime government had posted 14 women officials as protection officers for the implementation of domestic violence protection act.
What are the hurdles you find in fighting violence against women in Kerala?
The main impediment in curbing violence against women is that our Judiciary, by and large, is not gender sensitive. Similar is the case of the law and order enforcement agencies like police. Unless they are gender sensitive no considerable progress can be made in protecting women from violence. Unless they are gender sensitive it will not be possible to enforce the law in its proper spirits. Using the available loopholes the culprits will go scot free. AIDWA plans to take up the matter with the Central and state governments so that the law against harassment could be enforced in its letter and spirit. Numerous cases are being reported, but just a miniscule minority gets properly redressed even in the judicial forum.
Is there any notable achievement for your efforts in this front?
In sports we could do effective intervention against harassment (sexual) against women. On the issue of sexual harassment of the members of the women hockey team we had met the concerned minister (M S Gill) as members of AIDWA. The minister, after our meeting issued directions to all the state governments and the sports authority and other related organizations to constitute the cell within six months. This was a notable achievement for AIDWA.
What was the response of states like Kerala to the call against the harassment issue?
As per the direction of the Supreme Court every institution that has more than five women employees need to have an anti-harassment cell. This is applicable for all, whether it is a private or government owned institution. But hardly any institution complies with the Supreme Court directions. Even in Kerala most of the institutions, both in the government and private sectors, do not comply with the Court directions.
Do you plan for nationwide campaign against the violence, uniting the women parliamentarians?
It’s a good thinking ( to have a nationwide campaign), but I am not sure how many forgo political considerations and unite to fight out this issue. However there is nothing wrong in giving a try.
Corruption is a burning issue. Do you believe the Lok Pal legislation will act as an effective deterrent?
I am not of the thinking that passing of legislation like Lok Pal will alone curb corruption which is so deep rooted. Of course, the legislation will provide opportunity to the civil society to intervene (against corruption). But this alone will not be any remedy. Corruption has become part of the system. Like a virus it has infected every segment of the society. It is not that we do not have provisions to contain corruption and punish the guilty. Here also corruption prevents effective implementation of the existing laws. So, just legislation will not be enough. Its effective implementation has to be ensured to eradicate the cancer of corruption.
Do you feel the highest offices in the country like PMO has to be excluded from the ambit of Lok Pal?
No. No one should be kept out of the jurisdiction of the anti-corruption legislation. There are allegations of corruption targeting PMO on different issues like S- Band Spectrum. There are allegations of corruption against many ministries including defense. So it will not be proper to keep any one out of the ambit of the legislation. If anyone is excluded (from the limit of Lok Pal) the very purpose of the l bill is defeated.
Majority of the public feel politicians are by and large corrupt. What’s your experience?
We cannot accuse a particular sect, group or community for corruption. Corruption has become rampant in all segments of the society. In the recent corruption cases like 2G spectrum and CWG (Common Wealth Games) apart from politicians, bureaucrats, corporate and business men are apprehended. I am not trying to give a clean chit to the politicians. There are corrupt politicians. What I wish to stress is corruption is widespread and it has to be contained. Corruption has become the biggest threat to our democracy.
Who according you could be the worst victim of corruption?
Certainly, the women in the country bear the maximum brunt of corruption. It is a fact that corruption is a major cause for inflation. Inflation translates into price hike of essential commodities. In most of the Indian houses women manage the family budget. We all know well that price hike and inflation are the result of market manipulation and other corrupt practices. So we (CPM) plan to awaken the womenfolk against corruption. There is a need to politically enlighten the women so that they will come to the forefront to confront corruption. Total eradication of corruption can be made possible through such a move.