Tamil Nadu’s Women Leaders Live, Work In The Shadow Of Violence

By Raksha Kumar
India Spend is publishing a three-part series on women in grassroots governance in Tamil Nadu. This is the first story, which looks at how women leaders are intimidated through violence. The article has stories of women who have been killed for being efficient administrators.
The piece takes into account important cross sections of caste and age. “Dalit women leaders are particularly prone to abuse, threats and physical attacks. This is particularly true of those with no wealth or assets and are dependent on employment on farms owned by dominant castes,” it says.
A good precursor to the next piece on why women don’t move up the political ladder in Tamil Nadu, this story has laid down the foundational problems women leaders face at the grassroots. 
Read the full story here:
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Empowering politics, not women?

By She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named

The All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP) has entered the electoral fray in Karnataka. The new party, promising to boost the participation of women in politics, irrespective of their caste and religion, was launched five months ago in New Delhi. At the launch, which was attended by a number of Bollywood stars, the party’s founder, the Hyderabad-based business woman, Nowhera Shaik, announced the party’s intention to contest in the upcoming Karnataka elections.

AIMEP IMG_20180226_142320394

Despite the fact that Shaik is a political newbie with hazy antecedents, the party’s launch was duly covered by most media outlets, including Business Standard, Bangalore Mirror, New Indian Express, Outlook, The Pioneer and other publications.  Judging by the fact that Shaik was widely quoted – on her views on the triple talaq, for example – it would seem that the media was taking her seriously. According to news reports, while supporting the Supreme Court’s August 2017 verdict on instant triple talaq, she praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts towards a ban on the practice and sought a monitoring system to ensure implementation of the SC judgement because, as she put it, “Muslim women are still being divorced under the triple talaq system.”  In her interactions with the media she also spoke on the lack of commitment by political parties to pass the long-pending legislation providing reservation for women in parliament and legislative assemblies even though many state their intention to do so in their election manifestoes. Shaik has also sought the introduction of stern laws to curb crimes against women, particularly rape.

The AIMEP literally made a grand, dramatic entry into Karnataka, with Shaik riding into Mysuru on a chariot. It was impossible not to miss the arrival of this party in the state, what with their full page advertisements in leading newspapers and large hoardings across Benguluru (and possibly elsewhere in the state). However, this ostentatious display of money power fuelled suspicions about the antecedents of the party and its underlying motivation to participate in this election despite the fact that it is not only very new but has no real base within the state.

The media were quick to pick up the thread and constantly cornered her with this refrain: are she and her party BJP’s ‘B team’, a plant by the national party to split Muslim (and possibly women’s) votes, which the Congress is betting on securing in the state? After all, Muslim voters account for 14 per cent of the electorate in Karnataka and will have a significant impact on the poll outcome in at least 45 constituencies, according to newspaper reports. Apparently unfazed by the allegations, Shaik has stoutly denied that she is anybody’s decoy or proxy.  She was quoted in a Deccan Chronicle report saying: “If the Congress or JD (S) loses their secular vote only because we are in the fray that shows their secular credentials are skewed and not genuine.”  (Also see other links below.)

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/mahila-party-not-bjps-b-team-5133798/

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2018/apr/08/i-am-not-an-agent-of-bjp-or-congress-mep-president-nowhera-shaik-1798596.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaLJE7_uZNE) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/karnataka-assembly-elections-mahila-empowerment-party-releases-

Although the AIMEP appears to be gaining traction in the media, with due coverage of the release of the party’s manifesto, and so on, veteran journalist R Poornima is skeptical about Nowhera Shaik. According to her, “Although we welcome a Muslim woman into the electoral fray in Karnataka, which has such a low representation of female political leaders in general, her antecedents are unclear. Becoming a political leader is a process, a movement and an andolan. Nowhera Shaik seems to have sprung up from nowhere.” She added that during every election small entities like the AIMEP, planted by major parties, can be seen indulging in the game of disrupting voting patterns. This time the AIMEP figures prominently in some newspaper reports on fringe parties in Karnataka who are likely to spoil the chances of major parties such as the Congress and the JD(S).  (See links below.)

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/pro-muslim-parties-could-trouble-congress/articleshow/63142158.cms/ 

https://www.bloombergquint.com/politics/2018/04/19/karnataka-elections-smaller-parties-play-spoilsport-for-congress

In all this political skullduggery, however, the representation of women in politics is falling between the cracks. “It is discouraging to see the meagre representation of women in the political discourse in Karnataka today,” says Poornima. “We need affirmative action from political parties on this front. One Shobha Karandlaje in the state is not enough!” 

The AIMEP’s manifesto does not include many novel or concrete steps towards the overall empowerment of women. It does list a ban on alcohol, support for 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies, a separate women’s hospital in every district, and special evening courts for the speedy disposal of cases involving atrocities against women among its poll promises. However, the rest of the document reads like a predictable laundry list of electoral promises, ranging from solving problems like unemployment, erratic power supply and drinking water shortage, and the provision of two-room apartments for people living below the poverty line (BPL), among other things. Shaik also talks extensively about government schools in rural areas being in bad shape and the urgent need to improve them.

AIMEP IMG_20180226_142547074

During her first press conference in Bengaluru, Shaik had promised to field 80 per cent women candidates for the upcoming state elections. However, only 40 per cent of the AIMEP candidates contesting in the Karnataka elections are women. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yl7-jtQx2M)

Nowhera Shaik did condemn the Kathua rape, demanding speedy justice for the little girl and punishment for not only the perpetrators of the heinous crime but also the people supporting them. However, there is little evidence in her interviews or in the party’s manifesto of a serious attempt to identify and address many of the other issues facing women in India today. Her manifesto makes all the right noises about the need for fast track courts to ensure speedy justice for women, a special task force to protect women from exploitation, etc., but it is difficult not to assume that these are just the usual platitudes mouthed by other parties as well. Somehow, nothing about the AIMEP really  explains the name of the party, which suggests that its primary political plank is “women’s empowerment”.

Corinne D’Souza of Vimochana, a well-known women’s rights group in Benguluru, thinks it is time for an all-women political party to emerge and fight for the real issues facing women in the state today. “We have not fielded a woman candidate yet because we don’t want to end up splitting the votes to benefit a particular party,” she says. Nevertheless, she underscores the fact that a strong woman’s party is required in the state. “Ït is about time. We don’t want bogus parties but the real thing,” she added.

27 April 2018

No woman no cry

By Ammu Joseph

It looks as if it’s not just Bengaluru, but Karnataka as a whole, that’s unfriendly towards women in politics.

According to this report in The Economic Times (also published in the Bangalore edition of The Times of India on 17 April, p2), “On an average, only 5% of women who contest elections manage to win in Karnataka, with the 2008 and 2013 elections reporting just 3%.”  The state’s performance on this score is reportedly worse than 11 other major states.  Unfortunately the rest of the report does not shed much light on why this is so, especially in a state that was a front-runner in enabling women’s participation in Panchayat Raj institutions a decade before the 73rd Constitutional amendment extended Panchayat Raj and reservation for women in grassroots politics to the rest of the country.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-17 at 21.16.05

However, cheek by jowl with this report in the TOI was another one which illustrated one of the points made in it:  that contesting as independents or from small parties is generally a handicap.  The second report highlighted the fact that four women who had “courted controversy and taken on political heavyweights” are now all set to “take on politicians in the electoral fray” and, what’s more, “are expected to put up a tough fight.”  At least two of them are apparently likely to contest against their powerful betes noires even though they have been denied tickets by “mainstream” political parties.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-17 at 21.16.05(1)

Looking back into history, The Hindu found that female ministers have been few and far between in Karnataka. A single column report under the slug, “A look back” (Bangalore edition, 17 April, p4), which does not seem to be available online, begins with the first female minister in the state and ends with the fact that “the maximum presence of women in any Ministry was in 1999…when four were in the Cabinet.”

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-17 at 21.16.23

Moving back to the present, a report in the New Indian Express (17 April) revealed that the BJP is gearing up to hold a dozen women-only rallies on a single day in Karnataka in the third week of April “to counter Opposition attempts to portray the BJP as weak on the issue of women’s safety in the wake of the Kathua and Unnao rape cases.”  Top female leaders of the party, including Union ministers, are expected to address the gatherings.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-17 at 21.16.23(1)

It is another matter that almost all of them have been silent on the subject while people across the country have been agitated about it – some seen on camera to be evading questions from the media – while the comment of one was particularly objectionable.

Meenakshi Lekhi quote

Interestingly, Maneka Gandhi, minister for Women and Child Development, who has (expectedly) called for the death penalty for those convicted of raping minors below the age of 12, is not among the listed leaders expected to address the women-only rallies in Karnataka. Mysteriously, however, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is expected to hold a rally on the same day in the state – the report does not mention what she will be talking about.

Ammu Joseph

17 April 2018

 

The low-tech of gender equality in politics

By Ammu Joseph

Just one woman MLA in the past 20 years!  What’s up, Bengaluru?! 

The facts revealed in this timely report by Rakesh Prakash are telling.

Only one woman has been elected from a Bengaluru assembly constituency during the last four elections in Karnataka.  And only one woman preceded her more than 15 years earlier.  No woman was elected to the assembly in the last election, in 2013.  Of the 58 women who contested the polls in the last two state elections (2008 and 2013), only six managed to get their deposits back. 

IMG_20180413_191136471

The report quotes political observers as well as party leaders on possible reasons for the abysmal record of a city often hailed as a dynamic centre of science and technology, enterprise and innovation (with great weather and gridlocked traffic).  Predictably they all seem to zero in on “the winnability factor.” 

The only female politician quoted in the report is the lone former MLA and minister, Shobha Karandlaje, who appears to think reservation is the sole solution to the problem.  She mentions the 50% reservation for women in local bodies, pointing out that there are more women corporators than MLAs, thanks to reservation. 

An important question that neither she nor the reporter addresses is:  what happens to all the women elected to panchayat raj and nagarpalika institutions? 

According to the report, the reasons for the low (at present no) representation of women in the assembly are (a) that not many women wield “the required clout and heft in mainstream parties” and (b) that parties think “women lack the killer instinct that matters at the hustings and defines winnability.”

Who is responsible for this situation if indeed it exists?  What has happened to all the thousands of women who have been elected to and served (some very effectively) in institutions of local self-governance across the state for decades?  Why have political parties not selected, groomed and mentored those who have performed well at that level and are interested in moving to the next level so that they have a good chance of winning assembly elections? 

One Congress leader is reported to have asked: “Where are the women who have the ability to win on their own in Bengaluru?”  Apparently this view is shared by strategists in the BJP as well.  But why should they be left “to win on their own”?  Are the sons and other relatives and close friends of senior politicians from various established parties left to their own devices, to win if they can and lose if they can’t?  Don’t the parties do everything they can to try and ensure that they win?  Why not extend the same support to promising women even if (especially if) they are not related to any heavyweight in the party?  After all, MLAs are supposed to be representatives of the people and the people include men, women and, let’s not forget, trans persons. 

It is particularly galling that Bengaluru’s record in ensuring diversity in politics and governance is so poor at a time when women seem to be coming into their own as voters in the city.  A recent report by Rohith BR revealed that more women than men have registered as fresh voters in the city over the last few months. Of the total of 88 lakh electorate in the 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru district, nearly half (about 42 lakh) comprises female voters.  Across the state, too, the number of women voters has reportedly risen by 13 per cent this year, compared to previous elections years. 

Ammu Joseph

13 April 2018

The low-tech of gender equality in politics

Just one woman MLA in the past 20 years!  What’s up, Bengaluru?! 

The facts revealed in this timely report by Rakesh Prakash are revealing:

Only one woman has been elected from a Bengaluru assembly constituency during the last four elections in Karnataka.  And only one woman preceded her more than 15 years earlier.  No woman was elected to the assembly in the last election, in 2013.  Of the 58 women who contested the polls in the last two state elections (2008 and 2013), only six managed to get their deposits back. 

The report quotes political observers as well as party leaders on possible reasons for the abysmal record of a city often hailed as a dynamic centre of science and technology, enterprise and innovation (with great weather and gridlocked traffic).  Predictably they all seem to zero in on “the winnability factor.” 

The only female politician quoted in the report is the lone former MLA and minister, Shobha Karandlaje, who appears to think reservation is the sole solution to the problem.  She mentions the 50% reservation for women in local bodies, pointing out that there are more women corporators than MLAs, thanks to reservation. 

An important question that neither she nor the reporter addresses is:  what happens to all the women elected to panchayat raj and nagarpalika institutions? 

According to the report, the reasons for the low (at present no) representation of women in the assembly are (a) that not many women wield “the required clout and heft in mainstream parties” and (b) that parties think “women lack the killer instinct that matters at the hustings and defines winnability.”

Who is responsible for this situation if indeed it exists?  What has happened to all the thousands of women who have been elected to and served (some very effectively) in institutions of local self-governance across the state for decades?  Why have political parties not selected, groomed and mentored those who have performed well at that level and are interested in moving to the next level so that they have a good chance of winning assembly elections? 

One Congress leader is reported to have asked: “Where are the women who have the ability to win on their own in Bengaluru?”  Apparently this view is shared by strategists in the BJP as well.  But why should they be left “to win on their own”?  Are the sons and other relatives and close friends of senior politicians from various established parties left to their own devices, to win if they can and lose if they can’t?  Don’t the parties do everything they can to try and ensure that they win?  Why not extend the same support to promising women even if (especially if) they are not related to any heavyweight in the party?  After all, MLAs are supposed to be representatives of the people and the people include men, women and, let’s not forget, trans persons. 

It is particularly galling that Bengaluru’s record in ensuring diversity in politics and governance is so poor at a time when women seem to be coming into their own as voters in the city.  A recent report by Rohith BR revealed that more women than men have registered as fresh voters in the city over the last few months. Of the total of 88 lakh electorate in the 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru district, nearly half (about 42 lakh) comprises female voters.  Across the state, too, the number of women voters has reportedly risen by 13 per cent this year, compared to previous elections years. 

Ammu Joseph

13 April 2018

Election dates announced, but where are the women candidates?

By Preethi Nagaraj

The Election Commission announced today that elections to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly will be held on May 12 In the face of impending elections, the state is standing at the crossroads on many issues.   Till now, the question of women’s participation used to make some noise in the public sphere. However, this time, with less than six weeks to go for the upcoming polls, there isn’t even a small mention or discussion on women’s participation anywhere – neither in the media (barring a few exceptions – see below), nor in the political powerhouses.

 Notable exceptions: 

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/few-tickets-for-women-despite-call-for-equality/articleshow/63101351.cms,

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/give-more-seats-to-women/article22848289.ece,

http://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/women-mlas-karnataka-bangalore-analysis-23102

This, despite the fact that the state had won accolades for achieving almost 50% participation of women in the Panchayat Raj system. Karnataka has the rare distinction of having been not only the first state to institute Panchayati Raj and to reserve seats for women (before the rest of the country followed suit), but also being one of the first states to achieve the 50% milestone.

I remember writing a story about a first generation displaced tribal woman in a tribal settlement near Periyapatna around Mysore fighting Panchayat elections – and, mind you, in the general category. She had rejected the reserved seat and decided to jump into the open pool. And what an impressive victory she tasted!

Till a decade ago, Karnataka seemed to be on the right track towards sharing the political dias with women. However, according to a recent report, women in the state fared better in the 1950s and 60s than they do now. Did we miss the woods for the trees?

With barely five MLAs in the House and a lone woman minister at present, Karnataka faces an uphill task to ensure women’s representation in politics with more efficiency than it has displayed so far. The seats that seem likely to go to women participants are usually the ones that come from the cushy and most proximate comforts of family politics.  The JD(S) is known to have offered tickets to supremo HD Devegowda’s daughters-in-law, Bhavani and Anita. It could only be some sort of an ironic metaphor that although the JD(S) symbol is that of a woman carrying a haystack, the party comprises mostly men, barring a few exceptions.

The Congress and the BJP, the two other major parties in the fray, are currently tight-lipped about their probable candidates and about whether or not there would be any focus at all on increasing women’s participation. Although Congress President Rahul Gandhi did make a recent  appeal to improve women participation in the polling process, CM Siddaramaiah candidly admitted that giving party tickets to women was a tough proposition.

Before this government came into power the number of first-time voters stood at 7.18 lakh across the state. This year the number has more than doubled and nearly 15.42 lakh voters will exercise their franchise for the first time in May.  The final summary of the electoral roll published by the office of Karnataka’s Chief Election Commissioner reveals that women voters are up 13 per cent. It is unfortunate that, at such an opportune moment, women’s representation in the Assembly and governance is worse than dismal.

At another level, the Election Commission has major plans to increase women’s participation in the polls as voters – with plans to set up all-women booths with women polling officers, women agents and female police to guard these facilities.

The Women’s Reservation Bill – or the  Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 – that demands reservation of at least 33% of seats in Parliament for women is yet to be considered feasible by political parties. The legislation has been lying dormant for 14 years and there is little sign of hope about the Bill being passed any time soon.  Of course, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has made passage of the Bill one of his ‘election promises’ – to be fulfilled if his party comes to power in the general elections scheduled to be held in 2019. A young, female Congress politician, who made a lateral entry into the party cadres – former MP Ramya — has been put in charge of the party’s social media cell. One often wonders what this could be called: is it empowerment or privilege at work?  

What is usually held out as an olive branch when the question of women’s representation is brought up is the active participation of women in the Panchayat Raj mechanism. However, what happens after women who make it into grassroots politics complete their term in their villages? Why do we not see them encouraged to grow and enter politics at other levels, at least some eventually becoming full-fledged leaders?  Is it the almost patriarchal set-up of politics that stands in their way?

The coming election is crucial for politics in Karnataka.  The BJP has been casting its net far and wide. The state is the lone and currently the only large citadel with a Congress government. Political strategists see this election as one that will determine not only the survival of the Congress in this state, but also the possibility of its resurrection across the country.  Under the circumstances, the fond hopes for increased representation for women may remain mere dreams, with the Congress adopting a strategy that will allow only the most winnable candidates into the fray, without considering the need to balance the gender equation.

The JD(S) and the BJP do not seem to be very different in this respect. Among the ticket aspirants in the BJP, the very few names of women politicians that spring up are Shakuntala Shetty, Shobha Karandlaje and Malavika Avinash, at least at this stage. The parties are yet to draw up their lists of candidates in this closely pitched match. But whenever electoral politics becomes a boxing ring, with political parties holding their cards close to their chests, women’s empowerment is bound to take a beating. This time, too, it is not going to be any different.

Capable women are less attractive candidates. Why?

By Aheli Moitra
Women braved several social odds to contest polls in a State where women in political leadership are actively discouraged. With political parties doing nothing to encourage women into more holistic roles within their parties, women’s training in political leadership remains marginal in Nagaland State. Here, male candidates with no prior socio-political experience, traditional power nor money attract more votes than women who may be more capable but completely lack institutional support.

Read more: http://morungexpress.com/thumbs-women-political-leadership/

Meet the women who oversaw Naga elections

By Aheli Moitra

A woman with a sling bag across her shoulder, paan across her teeth, stood beside the voters’ queue. Seeing the presence of election observers, she approached them and said, “Please write that election here has been peaceful.” Her hands swayed inward out to stress on how peaceful the polls at the station she was monitoring has been. Thousands of women were mobilised from Naga communities throughout the State to oversee election malpractices by candidates of election to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly. But are they to blame for an election that depends on malpractices?

Read more: http://morungexpress.com/cogs-leaky-cauldron/