Guwahati: Now that Mizoram did not vote a single woman to its state assembly, representation of women in the state politics of Northeast has gone down to 4.2% from the earlier 4.5%. With this, two states of Northeast — Nagaland and Mizoram — share zero representation of women in their 60- and 40-member assemblies, respectively.
Northeast accounts for 498 assembly seats, of which only 21 are women legislators. Within the last four years, each state of Northeast has gone for assembly polls, starting from the seventh assembly election of Sikkim in 2014. Sikkim elected three women legislators in that election.
Experts say, as against the popular image of North-eastern women being in the forefront of social life, they are not seen as strong leaders.
Dr Pinky, a political expert and a professor of political science from Aizawl University in Mizoram, while explaining the negligible representation of women in Northeast, says, “The women in Northeast, though termed as progressive than many states of India, in reality, they are not been encouraged to join politics. You can see many women in the social, health and education sector, but not in politics. I think the main reason behind this is that women in Northeast are not seen as strong leaders as their male counterparts. They are more encouraged to pursue other fields of activities and leave politics for men.”
In Northeast India, despite the Khasi and the Garos following matrilinearity, which means holding of rights to property, in reality, they do not hold any rights in the public spheres. Experts say lack of financial support is a deterrent for woman even in a matrilineal set up. In matrilineal Meghalaya, only 5% state legislators are women.
Patricia Mukhim, a senior journalist from Meghalaya, says, “Northeast India is as patriarchal as any other India society. There are a lot of romantic notion being built around the idea of gender equality but it is all the same. Even in matrilineal Meghalaya, there are only three women legislators and two of them happen to be the wife and daughter of former chief minister Mukul Sangma. So, it is essentially male patronage that allows women to get into politics or keep them out. In Meghalaya, women cannot even be elected to traditional institutions.”
Neighbouring states of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur have only two women legislators each in their 60-member assemblies despite women outvoting men in these states by more than 5%. The state of Nagaland has not elected a single woman to its assembly since the formation of the state in 1963.
Ratnadip Choudhury, a senior journalist from Assam says, “The number of women contesting election as independents shows that the respective political parties are not leaving enough space for the fairer sex within party.”
Of the 15 women candidates contesting in Mizoram, eight were independents. The BJP had fielded six women candidates and the Congress fielded two.
In Assam, although the women voter turnout is higher than their male counterpart, only eight women are there in the 126-member assembly, which makes it only 6.35%. In 2013, the number of women legislator was 14. In 2016, the turnout of women was 82.58% while that of men was 81.84%. In 2013 assembly polls, 77.02% men were voted as against 75% women.