MYRIAD HUES - Aadarshini

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Assam elections will yet again see only a handful of female candidates.
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Promises galore are always made to woo the 49.35 per cent strong women electorate in Assam, but political parties have failed time and again to give them adequate representation by way of tickets in the election process, as is evident from the list of contesting candidates for the ongoing three-phased Assembly polls in the State.

Altogether, 74 women candidates are in the fray for the 2021 elections, comprising a mere 7.8 per cent of the total 946 candidates contesting, registering a decrease from the last two Assembly polls in the State. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the highest of 91 women candidates had contested since 1957, and they still comprised a mere 8.5 per cent of the total 1064 candidates in the fray, while only eight were elected to the Assembly.

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The highest of 14 women candidates out of the 85 contesting were elected to the Assembly in the 2011 Assembly, comprising 8.66 per cent of the total 981 candidates in the fray.

The decline in the number of contesting candidates in this Assembly poll is, indeed, a matter of concern, particularly when the women electorate in the State has registered an increase to 1,14,43,259 in this elections from 95,94,209 in 2016. Moreover, the enthusiasm of the women voters of the State is a matter to cheer with 84.81 per cent of the total registered female voters exercising their franchise in the 2016 Assembly polls. It is, therefore, no surprise that the two principal parties – the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress, have rolled out a plethora of promises to woo this significant slice of the electorate.

The Congress party,  in the five guarantees that it has promised to implement if voted to power, has promised Rs. 2,000 per month to homemakers, who they assert are the foundation of the family and the society, and increasing the daily wages of tea garden workers, comprising mostly women, to Rs. 365.

The ruling BJP, not to be left behind in reaching out to the women, announced that during the last five years, they have taken several measures to empower women, including providing Rs. 25,000 to self-help groups, along with other facilities like micro-credits, ensuring market linkages of their products and supporting them in myriad other ways. They claim that the saffron party’s ‘double-engine’ government at the Centre and the State have also ensured that the women are provided with gas connections, piped water supply, and health and housing facilities under various government schemes.

The tea garden workers, comprising mostly women, are a major chunk of the decision-making electorate that the parties have reached out to in a bid to sway their votes in its favour. The BJP, in its poll campaign, has repeatedly highlighted that the Centre has allocated Rs. 1,000 crore exclusively for the welfare of the tea garden workers in this year’s Union Budget, including mobile medical dispensaries and other health facilities, particularly for pregnant women workers, and proper education of children by ensuring that they do not drop out of schools, and also re-enrollment of those who are out of schools.

Women’s rights activists, however, have their hackles raised with the low representation in the electoral battle and their near-absence in the decision and policy-making process with mere doles being handed out to appease this significant chunk of the electorate.

Five women’s groups had come together and charted out a ‘Women’s Manifesto-2021’, highlighting specific problems related to political participation, security of women, economic empowerment, health, education and environment. A highlight of the Manifesto is that it includes specific problems and demands of the LGBTQIA+ community, women in the tea gardens and the char or the riverine areas.

The political parties, however, do not seem to have paid much heed to the above demands in their own manifestos, with most highlighting the hackneyed route to empowerment, which they usually do election after election, with hardly an intent to implement even half of what they promise.

It remains to be seen how the contesting women fare in the election arena, and how many elected ones from the winning party find a place in the new council of ministers, and whether they can actually make a significant impact in the policy-making process, particularly those related to gender.