By - Paritosh Chakma
With the handsome win of the Congress party in the 2009 General Elections and the support the principal opposition in the parliament, Bharatiya Janata Party is extending to the Women Reservation Bill, India is expected to achieve yet another milestone in empowerment of women. We have just elected Meira Kumar as Speaker of Lok Sabha, a position which a woman has occupied for the first time in independent India.
Observers say now India is actually governed by three women – President of India Mrs Pratibha Patil, President of ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Lok Sabha Speaker Mrs Meira Kumar.
However, the Women Reservation Bill will face stiff opposition from several male politicians. Recently, the Yadav trio – Sharad Yadav of Janata Dal (United), Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Lalu Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal have sharply opposed the bill. While the last two Yadavs suggested alternatives (likely increasing the seats in the Parliament to accomodate women MPs and compulsory requirement by political parties to field women in elections), Sharad Yadav threatened to kill himself by consuming poison if the Women Reservation Bill was passed. His ridiculous threat only shows that for some politicians it is the death of parliamentary debates. This explains why our Parliamentarians find nothing worthy to debate inside the House and the House sittings are met with frequent disruptions by unruly members and the 14th Lok Sabha saw the least number of sittings.
Vulnerable sections are always neglected and exploited. I fear that even if the Women Reservation Bill is passed and women are given the 33% reservations in Parliament as well as in the Panchayats, it is most likely that this benefit would be misused by male chauvinists. Many politicians who have no chance to win will simply field their wives or daughters as proxy candidates. For the convicted criminals who have been barred by the court from contesting elections, the law will be a boon. The elected wives will just be puppets at the hands of their criminal husbands who will (mis)use the powers. Hence, the Women Reservation Bill doesn't address these fears.
In the village level, the men will continue to remain at the helm of affairs as their wives as elected Panches and Sarpanches will meekly follow whatever their husbands say. For some males, it will be easy to capture powers through their wives or female members of the household. The very purpose of women empowerment will be defeated.
While women clamour for reservations it is interesting to note that even in states where women voters are majority, women candidates fail to garner people’s (women’s) votes. Why is the question which needs a credible answer.
Women of Mizoram are active in social life, and social engineering. But when it comes to politics they are unwilling to take up the job. A few who have dared to jump into the electoral fray faced defeat which has further demoralized the women.
The defeat of all nine women candidates who contested in the last 2 December 2008 assembly polls is surprising and heart breaking given the fact that women voters outnumber men in Mizoram by 6,644. Of the total 6,11,124 voters, 3,08,884 were women and 3,02,240 men, according to the latest electoral rolls. This should have been an indication of political prowess and empowerment of women in this hilly state where women are treated at par with their male counterparts. But when it is an electoral matter, it ain’t be so.
Look at the statistics. Women had even outnumbered men voters by 3,816 in the 2003 Assembly polls but none of the six women candidates who contested could win. The only good thing last year was the slight increase in the number of women candidates (nine) from six in 2003. But still nine out of total 206 candidates is not very encouraging.
Since Mizoram became a Union Territory in 1972, there have been only three women legislators - Thanmawii of People's Conference (1978 and 1979), K. Thansiami of People's Conference (1979) and Lalhlimpui of MNF (1987). Of them, only Lalhlimpui became a minister (minister of state for social welfare in Laldenga ministry). Since then no woman could occupy a seat in the state legislature.
In 2008, Lalhlimpui – the only woman who became a minister - was nominated by the MNF from Hrangturzo constituency in Serchhip district but she lost. She came third (3,222 votes) behind Lalthansanga of Mizoram People's Conference who won the seat with 4,431 votes and Ronald Sapatlau of Congress (3,979 votes).
Zothankimi was the only woman candidate fielded by the Congress party. She was pitted against political heavyweights like Brig. T. Sailo, a former chief minister and Laruatkima of the then ruling Mizo National Front from Aizawl West- II Assembly constituency. In Aizawl West-II, women voters outnumbered their male counterparts but yet Zothankimi lost the election.
Hence, it is matter of great concern as to why women candidates do not get the mandate. The defeat of women candidates even in constituencies where women voters are more than men, poses serious questions which haven’t been answered. The Women Reservation Bill will come handy for the women aspirants in Mizoram but I am sad that women in Mizoram have not been able to take advantage of their numerical strength at the ballot box, which is the most potential weapon in a democracy.