When Ila Arun sang for women’s representation in Lok Sabha

Story by  Saquib Salim | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 01-05-2024
Ila Arun
Ila Arun


Saquib Salim

Not many cinema aficionados would know that Ila Arun, famous for her peppy Hindi song Choli Ke Peechey... and  is also the lyricist, composer, and singer of one of most popular Hindi songs ever produced on women’s political participation.

Close to the end of the 10th Lok Sabha in 1995, Ila Arun's Vote for Ghaghra tuned out to be the most popular Indi-Pop song of the '90s. 

The song had a background. Only a couple of years ago the Parliament of India through 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India introduced 33 percent reservation for women in institutions of local governance. 

In the wake of liberalisation of the economy and the advent of satellite television, women became more vocal for their political rights including their increased political participation.

From the first general elections, the proportion of women in Lok Sabha had never reached 10%. When the song was released, only 7% of the Lok Sabha MPs were women. 

At that time, crimes against women were also on the rise. Tandoor Kand - in which a politician had killed his girlfriend and burnt her body in a tandoor of his restaurant – had sent shockwaves across.

Written in Rajasthani dialect, this rap song narrates a woman’s story.

The song opens up with, “Dehli sehar mai mahro ghaghro jo ghumyo” (When my Ghagra-skirt went for a ride in Delhi city).

Ila Arun sings, “Thi main khet mai khadi, Kha ri thi kakdi, Uki laal pagdi, Jo meri baah pakdi, Maine mukka dikhaya, Unne maari lakdi, Unne mucha ghumayi, Maine akhiya dikhayi”. (I was at my farm eating cucumbers when a man came wearing a red turban and held my wrist. When I showed him a punch, he hit me with a stick. He twirled his mustache and I stared at him in anger.)

The song brings out the intrinsic link between crimes against women and the men in power. In her son, the man who held the hand is reported as saying, “Tu jaane hu kon, Chhora Minister Ko” (Do you know I am the son of a minister?). He calls up the police and the woman is arrested. 

The woman in the song doesn’t submit and makes it a public issue. The song goes on, “Hui mhari charcha, Nikla ghana morcha, Koi press wala, Koi mota lala, Koi ya bole, Koi va bole, Maine uthe le gaya, Maine vathe le gaya, Maine rupaya dikhayo, Miane bada dhamkayo, Main pher bhi na maani, Maine man marji thaani” (People started talking about me and protest marches were organised. Press as well as businessmen talked to me. They tried to bring me to their camps. They tried to bribe me and threatened me but I didn’t relent. I was adamant on my demand.)

The song ends with a clear message for women’s political representation. Ila Arun sings, “Nahi ladki mai aisan, Nahi ladki mai vaisan, Mhari baat pe chale garmi me session, Mhari bata kare T N Seshan, Mhara Kaun hai baap, Mhara kon sa gao, Sari baate jane dilli ka Rao, Election mai mhara naam le Advani, Marda se aage niklegi janani, Inhe ticket dilao, Inhe mantri banao, Chinav Chinh Ghagra ne banao.” (I am not an ordinary woman, If we want parliament will sit in summer session, T N Seshan (the then Chief Election commissioner of India), talks about me, Rao of Delhi also knows about my father and village, Advani talks of me in election, Women will surge ahead of men, They should be given tickets and made ministers and should contest with Ghaghra as election symbol)

The concluding lines of the song represent all the women of this country. Every party talked about women, so how can any woman be called ordinary? They need not tell, like the sons of ministers, about their fathers or connections. P. V. Narasimha Rao, the then PM, and L. K. Advani, the then leader of the opposition, both were asking for votes on women’s issues. T. N. Seshan, the then Election Commissioner, was talking about women. But, were they doing enough?

Ila Arun demanded that the women should be given tickets and ministerial berths. They should contest as women representatives. This was her solution to check the crimes against women.

In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections there was a marginal increase in the number of women parliamentarians. With a total of 40, their proportion rose to 7.4% from 7.0%. In the same Lok Sabha, the bill for the reservation of women in the Parliament was first introduced but could not be passed.

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With a total of 78 women parliamentarians in the last Lok Sabha out of 543, the proportion of women is still less than 15%. So the relevance of this song by Ila Arun has not decreased in any sense.