In 2013, when Palwinder Kaur started campaigning for a sarpanch election, she says she faced snide remarks about where she was coming from so late at night. Now campaigning as AAP assembly candidate for Shutrana in Patiala, Palwinder says such remarks continue and feels being a woman in politics is a challenge. Women constitute around 47 per cent of Punjab’s 1.98 crore voters but remain underrepresented politically. Of the 1,145 candidates in the fray, 83 or 7 per cent are women. Of the 351 candidates fielded by the mainstream parties, 27 or just over 7 per cent are women.
In 2012, the representation was only slightly better at under 9 per cent — 93 out of 1,078 candidates — and the 14 women who won also marked the only time their strength had reached double figures in the assembly, 12 per cent in a house of 117.
“My opponents are circulating morphed pictures and even an obscene video. If any woman tries to raise her voice, they want questions raised on her character so that she would sit at home,” said Palwinder, while campaigning in Haryau Khurd village where she is incumbent sarpanch.
“There needs to be 50 per cent reservation for women in the assemblies and Lok Sabha. Only then will they get due representation,” said Palwinder, who lost her husband to dengue a few days after she got the ticket.
Palwinder is one of nine women fielded by AAP. The Congress has fielded the most at 11, followed by SAD with five and the BJP with two.
The Congress’s candidate from Sahnewal in district Ludhiana, Satwinder Bitti, too alleges she was the target of a smear campaign. A day before her name was to be announced, a defamatory video went viral, said Bitti, a Punjabi singer.
“Politics is a very dirty game and that is why not many women come forward. People resort to cheap tactics especially where women are involved. At least 33 per cent reservation is a must for women,” she said.
As Bitti campaigned at Chak Sarwan Nath village, a large group of women along with men awaited her. When she arrived, the women came forward to hug and surround her and take up issues such as unemployment and drugs. Bitti said women connect more easily with her.
Many of the women fielded by mainstream parties are related to politicians. Congress candidate Manju Bansal (Muktsar) is the wife of former MLA Sunny Brar. From Sanaur, AAP has fielded Anu Randhawa, daughter of former Congress minister Jasjit Randhawa. SAD women candidates include Mohinder Kaur Josh whose father Arjun Singh was an Akali leader, and Sarabjit Kaur whose husband Capt Kanwaljit Singh is a former SAD minister.
In Shutrana, SAD has renominated sitting MLA Vaninder Kaur Loomba, daughter of former MLA Baldev Singh Loomba. Campaigning at Kalar Bhaini, Vaninder said the system is dominated by men and reservation for women would help.
During an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh had said it was difficult to get girls to attend election meetings. He has held several interactions with girls in colleges through video conferencing.
Said Dr Pam Rajput, professor emeritus, Panjab University who was the chairperson of the committee that prepared a report on “Status of Women in India”, “Women are reluctant to come forward into politics due to the character assassination involved.
Even though they may have the potential, the men in the political parties do not want to give up power and control.