Politicians pay lip service to women’s issues to gain brownie points during elections. But when it comes to brass tacks, women are always overlooked. The Assembly polls in Kerala, slated for May, are proving to be no different.
Political parties of all hues, whether Left, Right or Centre, have denied women adequate representation despite women having proved their administrative skills after winning Panchayat elections, where they have been given 50 per cent representation.
To perceive how women have been given a miss, take a look at these figures. All political parties have announced their list of candidates and women are nowhere to be seen.
The Marxist party is fielding 93 candidates and only 10 of them are women, while the Congress has allotted them seven seats out of 78 seats. The Muslim League, which is the second largest constituent of the United Democratic Front (UDF) after the Congress, has not allotted a single seat to women, despite a politically ambitious female youth wing.
Says Malappuram-based V.P. Suhara, President, NISA (meaning “woman” in Arabic), “The Muslim League does not give women their due. In all these years they have given just one seat to Khamrunnissa Anwar in the last election and that was an unwinnable seat. They do not like women to acquire a political face or clout. Even in the last Panchayat elections, women were given strict instructions not to remain at work after 6 pm and not to go out or do anything independently. It caused a furore then.”
This time the League was expected to give one seat to Noorbina Rashid. She was even asked to cut short her visit to the US where she had gone as a representative of the Vanitha League to participate in an international conference.
The Congress party has similarly failed to give seats to prominent women leaders such as Sobhana George, twice elected from Chengannur. This has provoked her to stand as an independent from here, where she will face the youthful P.C. Vishnunath, a sitting MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly).
The Marxist Party fares no differently. It has denied a seat to Sindhu Joy, the first Students Federation of India (SFI) woman president, a member of the SFI State Secretariat and a champion of many SFI campaigns, who was at the receiving end of police violence when the SFI agitated against self-financing colleges.
Joy has now deserted the CPM and joined the Congress. She is campaigning for Oommen Chandy against whom she had contested in the last election. She has alleged that her contributions for the CPM were ignored while it was choosing its candidates and that not only is the party woman-unfriendly, but the Chief Minister is anti-women as well.
Both the major alliances in this contest – the UDF and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) – have their share of rebel women candidates who are standing as independents with the promised support of the opposing side.
Of course, those women who have been given tickets have been given unwinnable seats. Interestingly, it is women who have been selected to take on the chief ministerial candidates, Achuthanandan and Chandy, both of whom are expected to have easy victories.
Factionalism is also rife on both fronts. The veteran woman political leader K.R. Gowri Amma of the Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy (JSS), a constituent of the UDF, has bargained for four seats and got them. Incidentally, the 92-year-old Gowri Amma is Kerala’s first woman MLA and the first woman minister in the Cabinet.
The Congress is also facing the displeasure of K. Padmaja, daughter of the late leader K. Karunakaran, for having denied her and her faction proper representation. Both Padmaja and her brother Murali had deserted the Congress with their father and had formed their own party.
Ethics seems to have deserted Kerala politics, and it is fast degenerating into drama, with leaders taking blatantly opportunistic positions. Take Chief Minister Achuthanandan. He has carefully cultivated his own image at the cost of justice and fair play.
Forgetting this episode and presuming that people may have forgotten it as well, Achuthanandan hopes to remain in power. He is trying his best to get the support of Kerala’s women voters.
Incidentally, Kerala is one state in India where women voters turn up in numbers that equal men. According to a blog put out by Thiruvananthapuram based social activist, Liby Johnson, 74.11 per cent of male voters and 72.61 per cent of female voters exercised their franchise during the 2009 parliamentary polls. Yet, despite this, women in Kerala are given a shabby deal in terms of representation.
There is no shortage of gender-friendly promises. But Kerala is increasingly becoming a theatre of violence against women. Dowry deaths, sexual harassment and domestic violence are common occurrences here, and the increased trafficking of minor girls is a disturbing trend. Even women police officers are not safe, it seems. R. Sreelekha, a woman Inspector General of Police, was attacked while on her morning walk, by a man who was allegedly mentally deranged.
More equal political representation could be an important step in changing this dismal reality. But it seems unlikely to happen any time soon.