Arunachal Pradesh’s women voters marginally outnumber the men, but when it comes to contesting elections, very few women are in the fray. The state has 3,77,272 female voters against 3,75,898 males, with several assembly constituencies also having more female voters than males.
As the state goes to simultaneous elections for its 60-member assembly alongside the LS elections on April 9, only nine women have joined the fray. Of them three belong to the Congress, two to the NCP and one to the People’s Party of Arunachal, besides two independents.
“Electoral politics is still a far cry for women in Arunachal Pradesh,” says Jumyir Basar, an assistant professor at Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies under the Rajiv Gandhi University. “The social set-up has been such that traditionally decision-making was almost entirely a male bastion for ages. Thus, though modernity and education have arrived, society is probably not yet ready to accept leaders women,” says Basar, a Galo.
Women in tribal communities in Arunachal Pradesh have no property rights. “Due to a strong patriarchy, women do not have any property right. If you stand in an election you need money. But where do you get money when you don’t even have right to property?” Basar says.
Kesang Degi, a Monpa tribal, feels women here are yet to be empowered in the true sense of the term. “Where is women empowerment? Where is education for women? It is only recently that we have seen girls coming out to enrol in colleges,” says Degi, associate professor of education at RG University. Interestingly, the number of girls in her department is much higher than that for boys.
Taba Nirmali, NCP candidate for Itanagar (assembly), disagrees. “There are few women in active politics. But in teaching, banking, church, self-help groups and NGOs, women are more and are doing better than their male counterparts,” she said. Nirmali, an ENT specialist had recently taken VRS to contest the elections.
In the 2009 assembly elections, two out of nine women candidates won. Even then, Arunachal Pradesh is much better than Mizoram and Nagaland have no woman member.
Itanagar-based lawyer Rosy Taba feels the society here still considers women a shadow of their husbands. “Women have freedom, but no right. Not only men but most women too think they should not become part of the decision-making process. We are trying to change this,” says Rosy, who is campaigning for Taba Nirmali.
Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women chairperson Gumri Ringu is upset with political parties that make so many promises for women during elections. “When it comes to reality, no party wants to make room for women,” said Ringu.