Women in UP need only a slight prod to open up

By Divya Arya

Its mostly smiles, silence, sometimes giggles and if I am able to crack a good one maybe some laughter. But rarely is it conversation. Meeting young women in Uttar Pradesh is like facing an exam. You only pass if you’re able to draw them out. Thinking about our own selves from our perspective – something that we do so effortlessly; is outside their comfort zone. But once they cross that line, their clarity about what they want would put anyone to shame.


Women in village Sampat Kheda in Mohanlalganj, UP. Photo: Divya Arya.

These are somethings women I spoke to told me:

“I want free education even after class Eight, so my parents continue to send me to school with my brothers.” 

“My parents would never let me go out of the village to work, I want some training centre to be opened in our village itself, if we learn stitching, candle-making or some such skill, then I’d be able to work from home and earn our own money.”

“I want to go to Delhi to study journalism, just like boys are allowed to go Bangalore to study Computers.”

“I want dowry to be banned because that is the reason women get beaten up all the time.”

“I never go to the police, its of no use, we only get harassed, now if only the Government could assure me that they would actually do their job…”

“I want an Anganwadi and Asha behen in our village, it is our right and in the absence of caring husbands, our only way to get some care taken of ourselves.”

“My parents would not let me go to another city for work, I want big firms to set up their factories and offices near our town only, so then I’d be able to work and show everyone what I’m worth.”

“I want to become a Sarpanch but not like the ‘dummy sarpanch’ woman in our village right now, instead like the man who controls and exercises real power.”

It is an exam many of my colleagues have taken and I’d encourage every political leader to take. For starters, they’d be able to see the impact that generations of controlling young women has had. And if they do succeed in getting beyond the silence and ‘pass’, they’d be surprised to find out what generations of controlling young women has not been able to dull. It’s these sparks of brilliance that make it all worth it.

Related Links:

Bundelkhand’s Dalit Women Rally Against Government Negligence by Neha Dixit –


No Wells or Toilets, Adivasi Women in Bundelkhand Await Basic Needs by Aradhana Wal – http://www.news18.com/news/india/empty-holes-for-wells-and-toilets-adivasi-women-in-bundelkhand-wait-for-basic-needs-1349173.html

BBC Hindi’s Zubair Ahmed speaks to women, mainly housewives, in Rampur constituency – https://www.facebook.com/bbchindi/videos/1474796269218610/?pnref=story

BBC Hindi’s Nitin Srivastav speaks to men and women in a Dalit basti in Mayawati’s old constituency, Ambedkar Nagar – https://www.facebook.com/bbchindi/videos/1478902148808022/?pnref=story

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Underestimating Mayawati?

By Laxmi Murthy 

Is the Mayawati phenomenon a thing of the past? Or is she still in the reckoning? Given that predictions abound regarding a lack of a decisive outcome to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Shivam Vij sticks his neck out with his list of the “18 things we can say for sure” about one of the most important elections in recent times. “There is no Mayawati wave” he declares, calling her Dalit-Muslim alliance a failure.  He also calls the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) the weakest player, but hedging his bets, concedes that it might be the proverbial “dark horse”. A wave could still come about, he prevaricates.

After Donald Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination, much analysis emerged, pointing out what the media had failed to see, with exhortations to get the ‘real’ picture. Yet, his astounding electoral victory about six months later was as much of a surprise for the media as for the public in general, as indeed for Trump himself.

It is precisely the inadequacies in understanding the electorate, particularly rural voters, that might turn up yet another surprise, says Radhika Ramaseshan in her analysis based on her travels in Western UP. “Largely ignored by the media, TV and print, until quite recently, Mayawati’s voters are speaking up at last. The BSP is in the fight in the rural seats in varying degrees,” she says.

Neha Dixit, in her in-depth profile of the BSP supremo takes us “Inside Mayawati’s battle for Uttar Pradesh” (Caravan February 1, 2017, Cover Story) and glimpse her mission to reclaim power in the state. Coming out of the shadow of her mentor Kanshi Ram, battling caste and gender discrimination by displaying her enormous political acumen, her story is one of sheer grit, determination and keen political sense. It remains to be seen whether her alliance-building skills, organisational prowess and mobilisation of Dalits across all sub-castes will yield results in this high stakes election.


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Women who survive the political jungle

How can representation of women in politics be increased? Its a question we keep asking but is even more pertinent as we are In the midst of elections to five States right now. BBC’s Divya Arya spoke to young women leaders – Shazia Ilmi (Bharatiya Janata Party), Atishi Marlena (Aam Aadmi Party) and Shehla Rashid (All India Students Association) – to find out their experience of entering, surviving and thriving in the male dominated world of politics and how their numbers can grow.

Related links:
Is Mohanlalganj the best place to be a woman politician in India – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38325983

मोहनलालगंज में महिला सांसदों का बोलबाला क्यों – http://www.bbc.com/hindi/india-38046022
ड्राइवर की पत्नी को बना दिया सरपंच – http://www.bbc.com/hindi/india-38058325
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Women’s voices: A faint echo in the distant hills

By Swarna Rajagopalan

As voting gets underway in Uttarakhand, I embark upon an utterly unscientific survey of news reportage on the Assembly election campaign there. My methodology is chosen for its expediency—a simple Google News search for ‘Uttarakhand elections women’ and a review of a few pages of links. What did the English news media cover during this election season in this state?

Women in the elections

The lowest hanging fruit in gender aware reporting of elections has got to be the headcount—how many women were nominated? In a January 31, 2017 report for the Times of India, Shivani Azad however, goes beyond the immediate numbers to provide a great deal of context. She reminds us that most grassroots movements in Uttarakhand were led by women. She tells us that the state has 50 percent reservations at the panchayat level—so there should be a good pipeline for women leaders with experience. Despite this, out of 722 candidates, only 80 are women. Interviews with local women activists and professors explore reasons for this—patriarchal attitudes, discrimination and political violence.

The Times of India carried a report on February 15, 2017 about six constituencies where women voters outnumber men: Kedarnath, Pauri, Chaubattakhal, Dharchula, Didihat and Dwarahat. There are almost an equal number of women and men voters in Devprayag, Karnprayag, Pratap Nagar and Kapkot. In Pauri Garhwal, a Hindustan Times report tells us, that there is a 20 percentage point difference in literacy, but women turn out in larger numbers to vote. (Neither report states why this distinctive demographic ratio exists.) Even in these districts, women are rarely nominated although campaigns have focused on women’s associations like the local Mahila Mangal Dal.

An article on key political figures in Uttarakhand features one woman—Indira Hridayesh, a Congress MLA with clout, referred to as “iron lady.”  A report on Kedarnath places the rivalry between two very similar female candidates in the spotlight. DNA carried a report by Amita Shah on the former Maharani of Tehri, Mala Raja Laxmi Shah, who features on state BJP posters everywhere.

The Times of India carried a report by Seema Sharma on Feb 15, 2017, Uttarakhand polls: Feisty women’s party fights booze, about the Prajamandal Party, founded by women in Maletha, Tehri Garhwal to fight elections on local issues. Virtually all the reports in the English media on this party feature in the Times of India. What happened to everyone else?

The seeds of the party were sown when these women spearheaded a people’s movement and resisted mining in their area. That was in 2014-2015. That drove away stone crushing units causing dust pollution and harming the crops of the villagers, most of them farmers.

Emboldened by their success, they set up their party last year. The foremost problem they identified, says Rameshwari Devi, general secretary, was alcoholism. “Women do all the work -at home and in the fields -and they are beaten up by their drunkard husbands. Youngsters too are getting addicted. The problem has become grave with the state government opening liquor vends on the village outskirts. Prohibition is our top poll promise,” she says.

The women-led party is online—has a website that lists a mobile contact number and a Facebook Page. The website has an ‘about’ page, a media page, a page for donations and contact information. There is also a crystal clear summary of their platform and the intention to contest elections for ten Assembly seats. Despite this, the English media either did not learn about this citizens’ initiative or considered it unimportant.


Another report by Seema Sharma from Devprayag draws attention to the discrepancy between what politicians are talking about in campaign speeches—development and education—and the environmental degradation and water-related issues people are concerned about. Water seepage, river mining and poaching are other contentious issues. In the Tehri area, accessibility is a serious issue and Shivani Azad’s report mentions both the plight of pregnant women and children. Maternal mortality is an issue given the difficult of reaching hospitals and there is a tendency to ignore minor ailments in children. Mobile connectivity is another issue.

The vague term ‘women’s empowerment’ is a standard-issue feature in political manifestos. The Congress here is promising 33% job reservation to women in the government sector. The BJP has promised a cash award to girl children and to expand the scope of the widow’s pension. But it stops there. Liquor is used as a voting incentive, and the strong opposition to it by women across the villages of Uttarakhand is unheeded.

On the whole, in Uttarakhand, Times of India reporters (especially Seema Sharma and Shivani Azad) paid more attention to women and their concerns than did other English sources. Hindustan Times, Firstpost, Scroll and DNA at least carried one story each but where was the rest of the English media? Why are there no gender stories by male reporters? While women were sought out for quotes on ‘women’s’ stories, in general reportages, more quotes came from men—who assume expertise and to whom it is attributed routinely. But women at least feature in a few reports; other genders are completely invisible.

As some write, women have played an important part in the grassroots movements of the region. Come election time, it should have been a no-brainer to look for their presence and voices. The fact that only one paper seems to have reported on the regional party founded by women is shameful. It’s time to sensitise the editors of major Indian newspaper to gender issues.

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How marginalised women are influencing elections

Dhamini Ratnam, a journalist with Mint Lounge, points us towards websites that can help us find out how women, particularly marginalised women, are experiencing and influencing the elections.


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Girl talk, of a completely different kind.

By Editors,

BBC’s Divya Arya meets eight young Muslim women voters in Palda village in Muzaffarnagar district to find out what they want from the next Government. These were women who were forced to flee their villages after riots broke out in September 2013, around six months before the General Elections in 2014. They now live in a colony or rather ghetto of other displaced people like them. They would be voting for the first time on Saturday – when Muzaffarnagar goes to polls.

BBC Hindi – FB LIVE: उत्तर प्रदेश में चुनावी पारा चढ़ने के… | Facebook

Related link: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/02/women-uttar-pradesh-waiting-justice-170205135708921.html

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Misogyny cannot pass off as humour

By Neha Dixit

When a reporter asked SP leader and UP CM Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in a joint press conference addressed by the two, the reason for not including BSP supremo Mayawati in their alliance against BJP in the upcoming UP Assembly elections, Yadav replied ‘Jagah kaise dete unhe, kitni jagah leti hain woh. Unka to chunav chinh hi haathi hai’ (How could we have given her space, she takes a lot of space. Even her election symbol is an elephant).

While the press conference resonated with multiple laughters, the young leader gave little thought to fat shaming a woman politician. Fat shaming in politics, like in life, is exclusively reserved for women politicians. And we thought this was 2017!



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