Assam poll : women are still struggling to find space
Women in Assam are always at the forefront when it comes to their participation in election rallies and public meetings organised by political parties, various pressures groups, identity movements spearheaded by organisations of different tribes and communities, celebration of community festivals and various socio-cultural events. However, when it comes to their representation in elected bodies like the state assembly, the parliament or various autonomous councils, women in this north-eastern are still struggling to find their rightful space.
The two-phase elections to the Assam Assembly slated for April 4 and 11, too is no different with women comprising only 7.98 percent of the total 1064 candidates left in the fray.
Only 85 women candidates have thrown their hats into the male-dominated ring as they dream to get elected to the 126-member Assam Assembly. Of them, two candidates have filed nominations in two constituencies each, making the number of seats contested by women candidates 87. Of these 85 female candidates 12 are sitting members of legislative assembly.
There has been no increase in the number of women candidates as compared to 2011 assembly polls. Only 14 of the total 85 female candidates who contested in 2011 assembly polls were elected. Of them 11 were from Congress, two from Bodoland People’s Front and one from All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). The number of male candidate was 896 in 2011.
In this election, the ruling Congress party, which is contesting in 122 seats, have fielded only 16 women candidates. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is contesting in 89 seats, has given party tickets to only six female candidates. Among the political parties - Asom Gana Parishad, Liberal Democratic Party, and Bodoland Peoples Front have given party tickets to two female candidates each. The AIUDF, the principal opposition party in the state assembly which is contesting in 74 assembly seats, has given party tickets to only five female candidates. There is one female candidate each from CPI-M, CPIM(L), Samajwadi Party, All India Trinamool Congress and the United Peoples Party. The SUCI has fielded three women candidates. This suggests that only 39 women candidates have got the opportunity to file their nominations as party candidates.
The apathy and reluctance of the major political parties to create space for women candidates have resulted in a number of women aspirants to file their nominations as independent candidates. Number of elected women representatives would be definitely less with four women contestants fighting in Kokrajhar West constituency, three women contestants fighting in Dispur, Hajo and Goalpara West and Duliyajan constituencies and at two women contestants fighting in a number of constituencies including Sarbhog, Jalukbari, Batadraba, Nowgong, Jamunamukh, Dergaon, Amguri, Mahmara and Marigaon
However, every cloud has a silver lining and the affidavits of the women candidates, their poor numerical strength notwithstanding, indicate that their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, would make the male- dominated contest interesting one and the rival male candidates should be ready to face tough challenge.
For example, 9 of these 85 female candidates contesting from different assembly seats are either a Law Graduate or Masters of Law. Ajanta Neog (52), the Public Works Department minister is a Masters in Law. Similarly, Mehnaj Sahid Choudhury (26), daughter of late AGP leader of Barak Valley Shahidul Alam Choudhury too, is a Master of Law from Symbiosis. Angkita Dutta (28), daughter of APCC president Anjan Dutta, a graduate of Delhi University, also completed her Bachelors in Law from Faculty of Law of Delhi University. She has also completed her Post Graduation Diploma in Human Rights from Indian Institute of Human Rights. Another candidate Makoni Barman who is contesting from Jalukbari and Hajo is an MSc, LLB.
The BJP candidate Suman Haripriya, who is contesting from Hajo has a Masters degree from Jamiya Milliya University and a diploma in Film and television from AAFI Noida. A film maker of repute, her film Kadam Tale Krishna Nache won the Rajat Kamal award during 2007. Another BJP candidate who is contesting from Janiya, Benajir Arfan holds a Civil Engineering Diploma.
Bodo writer and political activist Anjali Prabha Daimary (51)who is contesting from Udalguri won prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for translation Adra Lirnai Sanreb, The Bodo translation of Adha Lekha Dastabage of Mamoni Raisam Goswami, during 2007. Another candidate Pratibha Brahma(48), the lone UPP candidate, who is contesting from Kokrajhar West against BPF heavyweight and former Agriculture Minister Pramila Rani Brahma(65), is a columnist, who edits the quarterly mouthpiece “Bibunthi-the opinion” is also a successful woman entrepreneur.
Altogether 12 Bodo women candidates have filed their nominations from different constituencies. Of the 12 Bodo women candidates four have completed their Masters Degree, two graduates and another one is a BSc Nursing.
Of the 16 female candidates of Indian National Congress, seven are new faces. Dr. Juri Sharma Bordoloi (39), who is contesting from Guwahari West, is a Doctorate of Philosophy from Jodhpur National University. Bobeeta Sharma (48), who is contesting from Guwahati East, is a television producer, director and actor, and served as the chairperson of the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation. Her book ‘The Moving Image and Assamese Culture: Joymoti, Jyotiprasad Agarwala has been published by Oxford University Press. Another candidate of the party Sumitra Doley Patir (59), completed her M Phil from North East Hills University, in Meghalaya.
Dr. Rumi Nath (36), who is contesting from Barkhola from Indian National Congress, is the only female candidate with a MBBS degree. The BJP candidate Benazir Aktar(30) who is contesting from Janiya has a diploma in Civil Engineering.
The lone candidate of CPI(M) Sangeeta Das(26) is a Master of Science(Zoology) from Gauhat University. Roselina Tirky(34), who is the official candidate of Indian National Congress in Sarupathar constituency completed her Masters of Business Administration from Indian Institute of Planning and Development .
The oldest candidate is Bithika Dev (80) from Indian National Congress, is contesting from Silchar. The youngest candidate is Azmira Aktar, who is contesting as an Independent candidate from Bilasipara west, is 25.
The affidavits has shown that there are six female candidates in the age group 25-30, 20 in the age group 30-40 and 30 candidates in the age group 40-50.
Jyoti Subba, wife of for Congress MP Mani Kumar Subba, who is contesting from Sootea is the wealthiest female candidate with a recorded movable asset worth 26 Crore and immovable asset worth 27 Crore. She also has a loan amounting 9 Crore. Meera Tanti (34) The only CPIM (L) candidate who is contesting from Tingkahng constituency has no formal education and her husband is a daily wage earner. She does not have a bank account or any movable or immovable asset in her name.
Poor women representative in Assam legislative assembly has been a common trend with winning of only 10 women MLAs during 2001 Assam legislative elections which rose to 13 during 2006 legislative assembly elections.
Till ninety’s decade women representatives in Assam assembly hardly touched double digit. Only five women MLAs elected during both 1985 and 1991 assembly elections. The number was six during 1996 assembly elections.
Ratna Bharali Talukdar