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Indian Women Still Struggle for Representation in World’s Largest Democracy

GAINDAWAS, India – Swati Yadav had lost count of the number of village campaign stops she had made since her morning began.
According to New York times, she was doggedly stumping for a parliamentary seat through 100-degree temperatures in the northern Indian state of Haryana this month. But the biggest struggle in many places for Ms. Yadav, 30, was to get the crowd to focus on her own campaign as much as on the political fortunes of the men at the top of her party, Jannayak Janta.
“I am not asking for your vote because I am young, or because I am a woman,” she would repeat to the crowds after explaining her stand on critical issues. “I have an engineering degree; I have been running a company of thousands of people.”
Still, no speech could begin without explaining that she had the blessing of the party patriarch — though he is in jail with four more years to serve — and his son. And more of the crowd chants of “long live!” featured their names than hers.
For most of the few hundred women running for Parliament — results are due on May 23 — the campaign is a repeated exercise in playing up the protection of male politicians and shouting their names in stop after stop.
Reuters report that, female representation in the Indian Parliament is just over 11 percent now, which is unlikely to increase much this election, if at all. (India’s neighbors fare better: Nepal’s Parliament is 33 percent female; Pakistan’s is 21 percent and Afghanistan’s is 28 percent.)
This year, among the candidates that India’s political parties have fielded, only 8.8 percent have been women — a rise of about one percent over the 2014 elections, according to the Trivedi Center for Political Data.
It is a perplexing reality, as women in India have made it into leadership positions much earlier than in many Western democracies. The country has women in some of the most prominent roles.
Women are key drivers of social movements, thrive in local village governance and are expected to vote in record numbers this year.
Yet they are still struggling to win representation in Parliament.
The imbalance is stirring discontent among women within political parties. Calls for finalizing legislation that would give women a minimum 33 percent quota of seats has picked up in recent weeks.
Shaina N.C., a spokeswoman for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, recently told the local news media she was “upset and appalled” by how parties treat women, which she described as “lip service to our cause, manifesto after manifesto. ”
“There is a male chauvinistic mind-set in political parties, ” she said, “so whenever a woman’s name comes up as a candidate, there are questions about winnability, about funding, unless it is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s daughter-in-law.”
Amrita Basu, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, noted that in the 2009 parliamentary elections, 11 percent of all women who ran won as opposed to 6 percent of male candidates.
“When women are nominated to run for national elections, they actually do well,” Professor Basu said. “The question is why a larger number is not nominated. I think it is some combination of societal prejudice, but also the growing criminalization of politics. To contest parliamentary elections is to be often subject to slander and abuse. Election campaigns have just become more violent, more corrupt, more dangerous. ”
If it were not for women from political dynasties, local or national, the number of women in India’s Parliament would be even worse. Nearly half the women contesting seats in the current election are dynastic candidates, according to initial data from the Trivedi centre.
But not even a prominent family name grants women immunity from attacks.
Shruti Choudhry, one of Ms. Yadav’s main opponents in Haryana and the only other woman out of the 16 candidates contesting the seat, inherited her father’s political fortunes when he died. The party elders put a turban on her as the sign of transfer of power.
Ms. Choudhry said the patriarch of Ms. Yadav’s party, Ajay Singh Chautala, recently claimed at a rally that Ms. Choudhry was “tying a stole around her stomach” as some sort of ploy to look pregnant and get sympathy votes.
Mr. Chautala is serving a 10-year sentence on corruption charges that his party supporters, including Ms. Yadav, say were politically motivated. His sentence ends in 2023, but he was out of jail on a month long furlough and on the campaign trail for his son and scion, Dushyant Chautala, and other party candidates.
“He said all this only because I am a woman,” Ms. Choudhry said. “Talk about my work! Expose me if I am dishonest! ”
Ms. Yadav, center, with her relatives in Bhiwani last week. “Only few step into it, even fewer are taken seriously and even fewer actually make it,” she said of Indian women running for Parliament.
Ms. Yadav, center, with her relatives in Bhiwani last week. “Only few step into it, even fewer are taken seriously and even fewer actually make it,” she said of Indian women running for Parliament.
“It sickened me,” she added.
Asked for comment, an aide to Mr. Chautala said the party leader could not respond because he was back in jail.
If they want to win, women like Ms. Yadav know they have to play the game. For her, the campaign is a mix of tapping into the family wealth (they run a chain of private schools), the backing of the Chautala political dynasty, and her own credentials. Her father is also a local leader of the party and has contested elections before.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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