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Almost Half The Electors In Assam Were Women, Why Only 7.8% Female Candidates?

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The 126-seat Assam Assembly elections have concluded with the three phases being held on 27 March, 1 April and 6 April.

The BJP had formed an alliance with one of Assam’s biggest regional parties, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).  

The Congress’ Mahagathbandhan or Mahajot consisted of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), the three Communist factions, the Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

A third alliance consisted of the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal. They were being led by jailed activist Akhil Gogoi, arrested in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests in December 2019.

Modi and Priyanka Gandhi
Representative Image.

In the last 3 months, Modi and Amit Shah addressed a combined 18 rallies. Political leaders urged people to vote. Priyanka Gandhi had asked people to vote for a “golden future”. Modi asked people to vote in large numbers. Even Manmohan Singh put out a video before the first phase and asked people to vote for a government that would “uphold the constitution and democracy”.

The first phase saw 246 candidates vying for 47 constituencies. The voter turnout was reported at 79.93%. The BJP contested 39 of the 47 seats while their ally, the AJP, contested in 10. The Congress contested 43, while their allies, the AIUDF, RJD, AGM and CPIML, each contested in one seat. The AJP contested in 41 seats.

Sarbananda Sonowal was one of the biggest names on the ballot in the first phase. He was defending his Majuli seat. In 2016 he won the Assembly Elections by over 18,000 votes. Other big names included Akhil Gogoi from Sivasagar and Assam Congress chief Ripun Borah.

Out of the 47 constituencies, 38 were tea districts. The tea belt areas used to be dominated by the Congress, but the BJP slowly gained ground, winning four seats in the tea-belt area in 2014, following it up by winning 22 in 2016, with their ally AGP picking up four.

The Congress focused a lot on these areas during their campaign rallies, promising an increase in tea workers’ daily wages to ₹365.

The second phase saw 345 candidates vying for 39 constituencies. The voter turnout was recorded at 80.96%. The BJP contested in 34 seats while their ally, the AJP, contested in six. The Congress contested in 24 seats while the AIUDF contested in seven and BPF contested in four. The AJP contested in 19 seats.

The second phase saw a couple of controversies. The first included an EVM being spotted in a BJP candidate’s (Krishnendu Paul) wife’s car. The video of the incident from the Ratabari Assembly seat went viral on social media. The EC had ordered re-polling for the booth.

Another incident saw a bizarre 181 votes being cast at a booth in the Dima Hasao district with 90 registered voters and a 74% voter turnout. A re-poll is also being planned for this booth.

Before the third phase of the elections, Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJPs star campaigner, was banned from campaigning for 48 hours (reduced to 24 hours). He was banned for a speech at a rally held on 28 March.

Sarma had said, “If Hagrama Mohilary does extremism with Batha, he will go to jail. Already got a lot of evidence. This case is being given to NIA. These arms recovery cases will be counted one by one after the election.” This was seen as a threat by the Congress, who filed a complaint, and the EC subsequently banned Sarma.

The third phase saw 337 candidates vying for 40 constituencies covering 12 districts in lower Assam. The voter turnout was recorded at 82.33%. Out of the 40 seats, 20 were in Muslim majority districts while eight were in Bodoland area districts. The AIUDF contested in seven seats while the BPF contested in eight. Sarma contested from Jalukbari.

The Issue of Representation in the Assam Elections

Woman Voter Assam
With almost half the electors being women, only 7.8% (74) of the 946 candidates were females. (Photo by Anuwar Hazarika/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There were a combined 946 candidates vying for 126 seats. The number of electors in the State was 2,33,74,087 including 1,18,23,286 males, 1,15,50,403 females and 398 transgenders.

But with almost half the electors being women, only 7.8% (74) of the 946 candidates were females, with 12 from the Congress and its allies and 9 from the BJP and its allies.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Assam had the highest rate of crimes against women between 2016–2019, with cases of domestic violence, kidnapping and molestation rising. The crime rate per 1,00,000 females in Assam was almost thrice the Indian average in 2019.

According to Census 2011, Assam accounts for less than 3% of India’s female population, but the State accounted for 7.4% of the reported crimes against women in 2019.

Reported cases of cruelty from husband/in-laws, molestation and kidnapping were highest in 2019. Although reported cases have increased between 2005 and 2019, some activists believe the actual numbers are higher.

Data collected in the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) on gender-based violence recorded over 30% of women in Assam reporting spousal violence (24.5% in NFHS-4). It also recorded 8% of young women reporting sexual violence (5.8% in NFHS-4).

According to NCRB data, between 2017–2019, 800 cases of rape/gangrape with murder were recorded in India, 119 of them were from Assam.

Assam Election Watch for Democratic Reforms reported that almost 15% (138) of the 946 candidates had declared criminal cases against themselves and almost 12% (109) had serious criminal charges. Among them, 14 candidates declared they had cases of crimes against women and at least two of them had cases related to rape.

It also reported that 10% (13) of the constituencies had three or more contesting candidates with criminal cases, making them red alert constituencies.

Although representation often amounts to identity politics, with representatives not working for those they represent in the end, it is important in this context with the number of female candidates being less than those with criminal cases against them. It is even more pertinent since candidates with crimes against women have been allowed to contest the elections.

The election results for the Assembly polls are set to be announced on 2 May.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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