On Tuesday, the Union Government decided that due to COVID-19, the monsoon session of Parliament would be held without Question Hour – an hour reserved for members of Parliament to ask legislation and administration-oriented questions to the government.
Question Hour is a significant part of Parliamentary sessions, as it allows representatives of citizens to hold the government accountable, which is critical to the government being responsible and responsive towards its citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unusual and unexpected situation for all of us. With unemployment at its highest in 45 years; the crashing economy; with Chinese troops infiltrating the borders; with students in mass protest against the JEE and NEET examinations; with masses losing livelihoods, and with our healthcare system in massive overload, it’s important now more than ever for the government to answer to its citizens and provide us with a sense of security and hope.
This is why the cancellation of Question Hour – the backbone of a healthy democracy – even in such a critical time is interesting: It indicates how deep-rooted the fear of questioning one’s authority is.
The fear of questioning authority is a cultural habit that stems from the values we’ve been taught at home
Think about the phrases you’ve grown up hearing and paying heed to.
Uncle/aunty ke paer chhuo.
Uncle/aunty bura maan jayenge.
Badon ki baat nahi taalte.
Main tumse bada/badi hoon.
Bacche ho, bacche ki tarah raho.
Most of us have heard at least one of these phrases growing up (or as adults) if not all. They might seem benign in nature, and they’re often used in a harmless manner – but the fact that we’ve internalised these as benign and harmless indicates that we’ve always been fed a twisted idea of what authority is. These phrases are used casually, but they establish a sense of authority; a sense of dominance.
Being bada in a household requires the others to give that person respect; no one is encouraged to ask why the person should be given respect.
This is why screaming main tumse bada hoon in an argument inevitably means the end of the argument – it does not diminish the weight or validity of what the opposition is saying; it merely means that there can be no further argument because the bada of the house has the final word.
Our twisted idea of authority comes from our twisted idea of a family – that we must not question the head of the household simply because they’re the head of the household.
And when we grow up in households that don’t treat us as individuals capable of having and developing our own opinions and reasoning, we start to believe that the authority figure can never be wrong.
Our toxic ideas of authority define how we view political leaders as well
This is pretty much how we see authority figures running our country and our relationship with them. India is the world’s youngest democracy, and we have the largest youth population in the world – these two things make us an unstoppable force when it comes to achieving equality and an overall better society.
A democracy entails appointed representatives serving the citizens – but because we’ve been fed with a toxic idea of authority, we feel like it’s the other way around.
We think that we can’t ask the authorities questions, and that every idea that comes from their end is a gem that cannot be countered. This is exactly the opposite of what a democracy is – we should be asking them questions and holding them accountable because they’re representing us.
The Union Government revoked its cancellation after massive backlash
After massive criticism of the move, the union government stated that it would not cancel Question Hour; it would address ‘unstarred’ questions in writing, and there would be no ‘starred’ questions. ‘Unstarred’ questions are questions that are not allowed to be supplemented with more questions from the member of Parliament, and ‘starred’ questions are those that need to be answered orally, and can be supplemented with more questions.
Essentially, this means that questions that warrant detailed answers, and that may call for more counter questions, will not be allowed in Parliament.
Doesn’t this feel a lot like home?
Women are vehemently discouraged from asking questions, because it’s a ‘man’s job’ to interrogate
It’s not surprising that the twisted idea of authority that we are fed from a young age involves a man in a position of power. Look back at every iconic Hindi film you’ve ever watched – for example, Amrish Puri in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge runs the household because he earns, but Farida Jalal, a homemaker who performs emotional labour and forms a wonderful bond with her children, ultimately tells Kajol that she must bend to her father’s will. Wives are, by default, considered second-class citizens in their own families, and this is even more pronounced when the wives don’t earn. Their unpaid labour gives them no authority in the family, because money matters – and money has always been seen as a man’s domain.
It’s a known fact that financial independence gives people more social and political freedom – this is why it’s acceptable for men to ask questions and make decisions.
Women are encouraged to get an education and earn because it can make a remarkable difference in their lives, but even educated women find themselves trapped by their conditioning, in relationships and at the workplace.
They find it harder to speak up and ask questions, for fear of being seen as ‘confrontational’ and ‘aggressive’.
We need to question our relationship with our government just as we do with our families, partners, and bosses – who has the authority over us? What power do we have when it comes to making our lives better? If we need answers about where our money, time, and resources are going, are we sure we’re surrounding ourselves with the right people – or the right representatives? Every time you question authority as a woman, you’re doing right by the thousands of women in the past who have been ostracized for doing so.
After all, asking questions is the hallmark of a healthy democracy, and a democracy empowers women.
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