In a first, nine women of Muslim-dominated Mansoor Mafi village in Sambhal district voted on Wednesday to elect a village pradhan — a post reserved for women with 12 contestants in fray. Ironically, only five candidates voted while the remaining seven were not allowed to do so by their families.
Village Mansoor Mafi, with 2,892 voters, including 965 women, is part of Asmoli assembly seat represented by SP legislator Pinky Yadav. Though a prosperous village with 95 per cent Muslim population, the women are not allowed to vote for fear of bogus voting.
“It happened several decades ago. Muslim women observe purdah and it was not possible to check their identity. It led to a clash among candidates blaming each other for using women as a tool for bogus voting. So it was decided to ban women from voting in the village pradhan elections,” outgoing pradhan Javed Akhtar told The Indian Express. The women, however, had cast their vote in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
District administration this time tried to convince the villagers to let the women vote. After day-long deliberations, District Magistrate Sambhal N K S Chauhan visited the village and spoke to the villagers. “What is the use when women can’t vote when they have to elect a woman candidate? There is no good reason to prevent them from voting. The villagers finally relented and some women came out to vote,” Chauhan said.
He himself issued ballot papers and applied ink on the fingers of these women voters. “The number is less but we are happy to have broken the custom. The villagers have assured that they will allow women to vote in the next panchayat polls,” Chauhan added.
The first vote was cast by Gul-e-Rana who is also contesting the polls. Four other candidates — Zahid Ashraf, Mehrunnisan, Mehnaz and Shakir Jahan — voted followed by four other women. Shakir Jahan, who held the post for five years between 2005-10, said: “I am very happy that I voted for the first time, that too, when I am a candidate myself. I will vote in future too.”
Other than the curb on voting, women enjoy freedom in the village.
A co-educational government junior high school and a private intermediate college have both girls and boys as students. Girls even go to Moradabad and Aligarh Muslim University for higher studies.
“I understand the situation of villagers but since they have responded to my request, I will take special care of the village. I will visit often…,” Chauhan said.
The state government also appreciated the effort and issued a statement about nine women voting in panchayat polls for the first time in Sambhal.