Over 11.85 lakh teenagers will be eligible to vote for the first time as Gujarat heads for elections in December. This is lower than the 2012 count not only in percentage terms —from 3.5% of 13.81 crore to 2.7% of 4.33 crore — but also in absolute numbers, down from 13.36 lakh new voters in 2012.
What stands out, additionally, is a skewed gender ratio, with the skew more pronounced with lower age. Among voters in the age group 18-19, only 38% are women in a state where nearly 48% of enrolled voters are female — the gender ratio among voters is 920 women per 1,000 men, up from 910 per 1,000 male voters in 2012, and higher than the state’s overall sex ratio of 918 women per 1,000 men.
In an uneven distribution across various age groups, the proportion of female voters increases successively with age. Women are outnumbered by men at all ages under 60, match them in the age group 60-69, and outnumber them in the senior age groups.
Dr Gaurang Jani, a sociologist at Gujarat University, feels such a trend is along expected lines. “The life expectancy of people living in the state has gone up and it is having a positive impact on the overall gender ratio of voters,” Dr Jani told The Indian Express. “The sex ratio of voters in the age group 45-80 will surely be better than those of the younger age cohorts. I say this, because the child sex ratio (0-6 years) of Gujarat is still at a dismal 886 (compared to 1,000 male children) and people living in the urban centres still do not prefer a girl child.”
Even within the younger age groups, the gender ratio varies widely from district to district. In the age group 30-39, the largest with 1.12 crore voters, women outnumber men in districts such as Dangs (20,767 women to 20,109 men) and Tapi (55,926 to 53,269). Across districts, women account 48% of voters in this age group.
Among first-time voters, the gender ratio is the lowest in the district of Banaskantha at 34%, with 22,155 female teen voters to 42,692 male. In Mehsana, Dev Bhoomi Dwarka and Botad, just 35% of new voters are women. In the tribal-dominated districts of Dangs and Tapi, the proportion of first-time women voters is 46%.
“The sex ratio of the general population definitely reflects on the electoral rolls,” said Gujarat’s Chief Electoral Officer B B Swain. “Districts such as Banaskantha and Mehsana have a traditionally skewed sex ratio. So, despite our attempts to enrol more women voters, the number of female voters remains low in a district such as Banaskantha where there has been an improvement in voter enrolment.”
In absolute numbers, the low-population district of Dangs, besides Porbandar and Botad, have the lowest count of first-time voters, while Ahmedabad, Surat and Banaskantha have the highest. Dangs has 8,458 first-timers — 4,555 men and 3903 women. Porbandar has 11,179 first-time voters, and the newly created district of Botad has 14,432. Ahmedabad leads with 1,19,058 first-time voters, followed by Surat (88,059) and Banaskantha (64,849 voters), which is ahead of urbanised districts Rajkot (52,304 voters) and Vadodara (55,297 voters).
During a visit to a few villages dominated by Maldhari and Rajput communities in Banaskantha district in August, The Indian Express had found that women bound by traditions and customs chose not to get enrolled. Asked if such traditions pose a hurdle to enrolment in some districts with a low gender ratio, CEO Swain said, “The tradition of not allowing women to get enrolled before they get married, or the tradition where married women are not encouraged to vote, poses hurdles. Our job is to find ways to convince such communities. However, despite our efforts, some weak areas do remain.”