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In Assam, Women’s Political Participation Continues To Show A Worrying Trend

Posted by Basanta Nirola in Politics, Society, Women Empowerment
March 8, 2018

Over the past few years, many articles have been written on women’s participation in politics. But, the scenario, in my opinion, is still unchanged in Assam and the rest of the nation. Ideally, the term ‘political participation’ should not only mean voting or contesting in elections. It has a very wide meaning. The term ‘political participation’ should also include taking part in decision-making, political activism, political consciousness, showing interest in politics, etc.

India is the world’s largest democracy, where a significant number of voters are women. Yet, there are very few women representatives in the Parliament or the state assemblies. The Indian Constitution ensures gender equality and justice for women through its various provisions. The government also promotes women’s rights from time to time. But historically, women’s participation in politics and their representation has remained low in India.

For instance, women’s turnout during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was 65.63%, compared to the 67.09% turnout for men. In 16 out of 29 states of India, more women voted than men. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in the 2014 elections. Despite this, only 11.23% of the total number of Lok Sabha members are women.

Table 1 : Women’s participation in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (Source – Election Commission of India)

Lok Sabha Rajya Sabha
Year No of seats  No of women  MPs  % of women  No of seats  No of women MPs  % of women
1952 449 22 4.41 219 16 7.31
1957 500 27 5.4 237 18 7.59
1962 503 34 6.76 238 18 7.56
1967 523 31 5.93 240 20 8.33
1971 521 22 4.22 243 17 7
1977 544 19 3.49 244 25 10.25
1980 544 28 5.15 244 24 9.84
1984 544 44 8.09 244 28 11.48
1989 517 27 5.22 245 24 9.8
1991 544 39 7.17 245 38 15.51
1996 543 39 7.18 223 19 8.52
1998 543 43 7.92 245 15 6.12
1999 543 49 9.02 245 19 7.76
2004 543 45 8.28 245 DNA DNA
2009 543 59 10.86 245 22 8.98
2014 543 61 11.23 241 28 11.62
Average 530 35 6.59 240 21 9

 

If we look at the past, then we’ll find that Assamese women had played significant roles during  India’s freedom struggle. During the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1921), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and the Quit India Movement (1942), the participation of these women became a common phenomenon. According to a paper by Dr. Dhaneshwar Baishya, “The participation of women of Assam in the Civil Disobedience Movement was so massive that prominent Assamese historian Benudhar Sarma described it as the women’s movement. Women leaders like Chandraprabha Saikiani, Amalprabha Das, Pushpalata Das, etc. had
played dynamic role in the freedom movement. Fifteen women of Assam laid their lives in
the freedom movement to the cause of India’s freedom.”

Women organisations like the Asom Mahila Samity (set up in 1926 and led by Chandraprabha Saikiani, later renamed as the Asom Pradesik Mahila Samity) played an active role in extending women’s education, adult women’s education, mother and child welfare, setting up of khadi and village industries, in restricting child marriages and in the prohibition of untouchability. Furthermore, in 1940, the women’s wing of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee was set up. In 1941, the All Assam Girl Students’ Conference (Sadou Asom Satri Sanmilon) was also set up.

After independence, Assamese women freely and actively took the part in the various civil and political movements of  Assam – the language movement (1960), the refinery movement (1967), the medium movement (1972) and the movement on the foreigner’s issue (1975-1985). Also, women from different tribal communities have been actively participating in the numerous autonomy movements in the state.

However, when it comes to the Assam legislative assembly, the number has never exceeded 11% – from the first to the 14th assembly. In the first assembly, there was only one woman member. It increased to five in the second assembly. The highest number of women members were elected to the 13th legislative assembly constituted in 2011. In this assembly, 11% of the members were women. Since 1991, Promila Rani Brahma has been continuously elected to the Assam legislative assembly for six times. She played a formidable role as a Cabinet minister in the Department of agriculture – and now, she is working as the forest minister in the Assam Cabinet. Anowara Taimur was the first woman chief minister of Assam, who took over the reigns from December 1980 to June 1981.

In contrast, only eight women have been elected to the 14th Assam legislative assembly in 2016 – six less than the number in the previous assembly. Consequently, women representatives comprise only 6.35% of the 126-member house – much lower than the 11.1% in the 13th assembly. However, a higher turnout of women was seen with 84.81% of the 92,09,928 female voters exercising their franchise in the last polls. In the 2014 general elections, only two women were elected to the Lok Sabha out of 16 women candidates from 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam. In Rajya Sabha, there is only one woman MP (Ranee Narah) from Assam out of the total of 27 women members.

Therefore, we can say that while the women of Assam have been taking an active role in various social and political movements, there are only a few of them who have been elected to the Parliament or the state’s legislative assembly. Likewise, only a few women have got the opportunity to successfully perform their responsibilities as ministers in the council of ministers of Assam. Assam has 126 seats at present, but the participation of women in the state’s legislature is very low in comparison to men.

 Table 2: Women in Assam Legislative Assembly, 1957- 2016 (Source- Statistical Report on the Legislative Election: Election Commission of India)

Assembly Total Seats Women Candidates Elected
1952- 1st 108 —– 1
1957- 2nd 94 6 5
1962- 3rd 105 4 4
1964- 4th 125 6 5
1972- 5th 114 12 8
1978- 6th 126 22 1
1983- 7th 109 3 2
1985- 8th 126 29 4
1991- 9th 126 50 5
1996- 10th 122 17 8
2001- 11th 126 55 10
2006- 12th 126 70 13
2011- 13th 126 85 14
2016- 14th 126 91 8

 

Despite the glorious history of women in Assam, they could not occupy a good position in the decision-making process or a leading role in party politics. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats at present, but the chances for women to win elections is quite low.

Table 3: Participation of Assamese women in Lok Sabha elections (Source: Election Commission of India)

Year Participants Winners
1952 2 0
1957 2 2
1962 3 2
1967 2 1
1971 3 1
1977 3 2
1980 2 0
1984 0 0
1989 0 0
1991 7 0
1996 9 1
1999 9 2
2004 4 0
2009 11 2
2014 16 2

 

In conclusion, we can say that while the participation of women in politics is slightly increasing, it is certainly not satisfactory. There are various challenges in the way of the participation of women in politics. The gender inequality, lack of economic rights and political consciousness, sexual violence, illiteracy, government’s negligence are the major obstacles in the path of women’s participation in the political sphere.

The measures to counter these problems should also make women confident and conscious of their own political rights. All national and state level political parties should give chances to women for participating in the electoral process. It is the responsibility of governments and organisations to protect and promote the rights of women. Importance should also be given to women’s education. The proposed reservation policy in the electoral process should also be implemented in the assembly and parliamentary elections to increase the number of women representatives.

The presence of women in decision-making processes will bring different perspectives to the political arena. Therefore, to achieve a healthy democracy, women’s participation in politics is highly needed.

I strongly believe that women’s engagement in politics itself dwells also depends on their psychology – something that’s always been undermined by men. That’s why I wish that women would realise when they are being ensnared by society’s traps so that they can hold on to their most fundamental and most-important sense of identity.

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