Women's participation in politics is one way to ensure democratic deepening in a country like India, where women constitute ~ 50% of the population, making them strong enough to be one of the deciding groups in electoral democracy. Women's participation in politics is understood not only as a part of the electorate but also as a representative. However, in most Indian states, including Assam, though women voter turnout is satisfactory, they lag behind candidature in legislative assembly elections. The number of women elected as representatives is even lesser, which is witnessed once more in the recent legislative assembly election in the state.
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The 73rd Amendment was implemented in Assam a long way back but, no considerable rise in participation of women in politics as decision-makers have been witnessed till now, be it at the local level or, as its impact, in the legislative assemblies. This year, women's participation as candidates is lower than in the previous two years and among them, only six women won.
The number of tickets given to women candidates by parties this time was low as usual, and it is one reason for having fewer women on the winners’ list.
Out of 126 winners, 6 or 4.8% are women. All these women have won with 40% and above vote share in their constituencies. With only 6 women elected as MLAs, attaining critical mass in the house or even securing one-third of the seats in the near future seems a far-fetched dream.
The percentage of both women candidates and MLAs are lesser than that of the previous two Assembly elections. The question arises here: do we/parties want women to remain only as party workers?
On the other hand, in 2021, women constituted 49.35% of the electorate, i.e., 1,15,50,403 in Assam. To encourage women voter turnout, the Election Commission has set up women-only polling booths across the state. The voters' turnout of women this time is 82.4%, just 0.1 % less than men. (Source: Chief Electoral Officer, Assam)
In a state like Assam, where the number of women candidates contesting elections is very low, the winners' list also depends on whether the major opposition candidate is a man or a woman. There are a few studies and reports that back this claim about voters choosing men over women. Also, many parties put women candidates in losing seats and men in the winning ones.
Furthermore, socioeconomic factors such as age, education, occupation and income, caste, religion, age, literacy, family background etc., affect women's decision-making capacity and political participation. Their mobility and consciousness depend on such factors and Assamese women are no exception. Let us look at these factors in the context of the 74 women who contested this time to compare the different groups of women and their participation.
10 women got tickets from 8 (out of 16) ST seats and 4 women from 3 (out of 8) SC seats. Similarly, among the women contestants, 15 of them are Muslim.
As the overall number of women contesting elections is low, it affects women’s representation of these communities, making them even lower. An optimistic account is that women are also getting to contest from the ST/SC and Muslim majority constituencies.
There is enough evidence indicating that entering politics and sustaining it is harder for first-generation women in politics. If we look at the political backgrounds of the women candidates this year, the most prominent ones are related to men politicians in Assam. Among such candidates are Ajanta Neog from BJP and Ashima Bordoloi, Angkita Dutta, Sibamoni Bora from INC, and Daisy Roy, who contested as an independent candidate.
Considering these factors, Nandita Garlosa's success story is inspiring for women aspiring to enter politics. Among the six women who won this time, Nandita Garlosa is the first woman from a national party (INC and/or BJP) who has received a ticket to contest the assembly elections in the Dima Hasao district. It was her first assembly election where she secured 67,797 (56.73%) votes, becoming the first woman MLA of the district.
First-generation politician Garlosa was a BJP candidate who entered into politics without any support of dynasty politics. She is a Dimasa woman belonging to Schedule Tribe, aged 43 and is a postgraduate who won the last North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) election working as its executive member. She is also the President of Bharatiya Janata Mahila Morcha, Dima Hasao and in charge of Elementary and Higher Education, Archaeology and IT in the council.
While analysing women's participation in politics, it is essential to analyse the consciousness of the representatives regarding women's issues. Because what is needed for better representation is the correspondence between what the decision-makers represent and the electorates’ concerns. While formulating a policy, it is important to note that there are different groups of women and their identities intersect. Women-specific schemes secured space in party manifestos, but they focused on women as a homogenous group. Some of the schemes and guarantees conform to the existing gender roles and social relations in society, and some are welfarist. For instance, BJP's Orunodoi Scheme kept women as beneficiaries, keeping their 'role as primary caretakers of the family' and INC's Grihini Samman Scheme as 'respect to housewives'. We can not deny the needs of welfarist schemes but can undoubtedly question their outcomes in a patriarchal society like Assam.
Also, women candidates are not raising women’s issues other than those mentioned in their party manifestos. However, there are 79 constituencies where there are no women candidates. Since men heavily dominate the political space, they need to be conscious about the effects of patriarchy on women and stand up for women to break patriarchy, not to reinstate their gender roles as mentioned above.
Despite the formation of an all-women party, Mohilar Dol before the elections, none of the members from the party contested for elections. This re-emphasises that women's political participation not only depends on psychological factors (interest and concern in political affairs) and socio-economic factors, that are both influenced by gender stereotypes, but also the money power and dominance of political parties which restrain women from participating as representatives.
Assam and admittedly the entire country need political parties to create a more gender-inclusive space by sensitising politicians and giving more tickets to women for a better representation of almost half of the voters.
Prayashi Goswami, Advocate, Women for Politics
Prayashi is a Masters student at the Department of Women's Studies, Gauhati University.
She can be reached on LinkedIn here.
This article gives the views of the author, and not necessarily represent the position of Women for Politics.
Also Read this article on Assam titled, "Women’s Political Leadership in Assam: A Primer" here.
Check our our Worth Asking Interview Series where we bring conversations with women in politics about politics as a career choice and with men politicians about their role as allies.