New Delhi: She never joined any political party, opting instead to form an organisation that she felt would herald real change. Suman Krishan Kant holds the view that it's important for honest and educated men and women to join politics at a young age to root out corruption from the system.
Wife of India's former Vice-President, Krishan Kant, she is president of the United Women's Front (UWF) formed three years ago, an all-women's political party that decided on an electricity pylon as its election symbol. "We decided upon it because it symbolises enlightenment," she said.
Suman, 74, will have nothing to do with the politics of caste and does not hanker after power. Having been at the forefront of active politics because of her in-laws who were staunch followers of Mahatma Gandhi and since having travelled extensively throughout the country with her husband, she says, "I believe in social work and never had any political ambitions."
She speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview at her sprawling Krishna Menon Marg bungalow.
GULF NEWS: You have been a social activist for many decades. What made you launch the non-government organisation (NGO) Mahila Dakshita Samiti (MDS)?
SUMAN KRISHAN KANT: My social activism resulted in a movement, which we began in 1977. We formed MDS with the basic purpose of helping women in distress. Our main focus was those who were harassed and suffered family violence at the hands of their in-laws. We still help women all over the country through various channels.
What have been your major achievements?
Since we came across and were approached by women who were ill-treated by their husbands and families, the initial spotlight was the anti-dowry campaign. This led to the anti-dowry law becoming more stringent and people began to be punished thereafter. Similarly, laws on rape were amended and it made a difference because for the first time the courts started punishing men for this crime. It happened after the Supreme Court had given judgment in a rape case saying the woman was of loose morals. We gathered several hundred women and approached the court. Our struggle in this context resulted in the law on rape getting amended.
Was it for national recognition that you decided to launch a political party?
I have neither been a politically inclined person, nor am power hungry. In 2007, we held a national conference in Delhi in which 26 states had participated. Among the various issues discussed was the 33 per cent reservation for women in parliament, which we have been demanding for the past 17 years. Subsequently, in a meeting with then president of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, he suggested that we form our own party to take the agenda forward.
Shanti Das, a well-known union activist found it very challenging. She began a signature campaign travelling from state-to-state enrolling women to join the forum. Soon, we framed our own constitution. UWF can be termed as an offshoot of the movement that we started 33 years ago. And within a span of three years, it has made a presence in both rural and urban areas.
What are the focus areas of your political party?
Women have not been getting the kind of governance they deserve. A few women in top positions cannot make much of a difference unless we have enough numbers in decision-making. We address issues such as women's illiteracy, early marriage, tokenism in parliament. The basic purpose is to provide equality to women by empowering them. Women should come to power to change the deteriorating system of the country in economic, social and cultural spheres. Also, safety of women is the core issue these days. We need to ensure that the issues of primary concern to half of the country's population remain at the forefront of the pressing issues on India's national agenda.
Though we are a women's party, our agenda includes all the facets of the mainstream Indian political scenario. Along with our concern for women, we are also working towards issues that affect the larger population like poverty, corruption and overall degeneration of politics. I have toured across the country in rural areas spreading awareness against alcoholism. We are not averse to working in co-operation with men, because not all men are crooks.
UWF contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. But why is that it could not make an impact?
It was our first election and we haven't lost hope. It will take time to come to power but we are happy that at least people are beginning to recognise the Front. In the recent local body elections in Uttar Pradesh, 24 out of our 37 candidates won. We hope to soon be successful in urban areas as well.
It's the first time in the history of India that a national political party has been formed by women. In fact, its probably the first of its kind in the world. We have formed branches all over the country including Delhi, Haryana, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Punjab and the eastern states.
You never considered joining any political party? Did any party approach you?
As I said, I have never sought power or fame. My purpose of forming a political party is absolutely different from others. When my husband was governor of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the doors of his office were open to the common man. I was instrumental in getting loans for war widows and helped them get land to become self-sufficient. Now I am aiming to get qualified youngsters to enter politics. Most of them do not want to get into this profession but then, if the water is dirty, it has to be purified. And the only way to do it is to have good people around. Among the new breed of politicians, I find Rahul Gandhi the most promising. People say that there was corruption even during India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's time. But back then few people were corrupt. My husband was among those chosen by Nehru. Even his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv were among the most forward-thinking leaders.
What about Sonia Gandhi?
She is a very honest person. A wise woman, she speaks less and observes more.
Despite India having several hundred NGOs why is it that the country lacks in spreading awareness among the poor?
I agree that a great many NGOs do not work. But then there are also those who do and make a difference to society. The positive aspect that has come about is that awareness has been created by the NGOs. Now women have begun to come out and register complaints against atrocities against them, which was not the case earlier.
I can recall the times when I would go around in a vehicle holding a loud hailer in hand urging women to start fighting for their rights. And years later, the change has been immense.
In your opinion, why does the National Commission for Women fail to take up women's causes?
I can't say anything about it, as it's a government body where the members are appointed by the government.
Profile: Passion of a lifetime for social activism
- Suman Krishna Kant was born on February 16, 1936, about 12km from Jalandhar in Phagwara, Punjab.
- Studied at the Maharaj Kapurthala High School, Jalandhar.
- Graduated from Ramgarhia College, Jalandhar.
- Received her masters degree in political science from Punjab University.
- Got married in 1958 to Krishan Kant, then a senior scientist with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, who went on the become the vice-president of India in 1997. His death in 2002 remains the only instance of a vice-president's death while still in office.
- Married into a family of politicians, she took interest in political activities, but did not join active politics.
- While she launched a non-government organisation, the Mahila Dakshita Samiti in 1977, her husband was elected to the Lok Sabha the same year.
- Launched a political party, the United Women's Front, in 2007.
- UWF recently won 24 out of 37 seats in elections to local bodies in Uttar Pradesh.