While the term ‘political participation’ doesn’t confine to just exercising the right to vote or contesting an election; it also means having a wider deliberation on decision making, political activism, political consciousness, showing interest in politics etc.
India is the world’s largest democracy with half of the total number of voters being women. But the participation of women in politics is very low. Historically, women’s political participation has remained low in India. Women turnout during India’s 2014 Lok Sabha elections was 65.63 per cent, compared to 67.09 per cent turnout for men. In 16 out of 29 states, women voted more than men but they failed to elect women candidates. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in April–May 2014 elections for India’s parliament. But, the present Lok Sabha comprised of only 11.23 per cent women members.
If one looks back at the past, women in Assam played a significant role in the Indian freedom struggle. Participation of Assam women during the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1921), Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and in the Quit India Movement (1942) is well documented.
The participation of Assam women in the Civil Disobedience Movement was so massive that prominent Assamese historian Benudhar Sarma described it as the women’s movement. Women leaders like Chandra Prabha Saikia, Amalprabha Das, Pushpalata Das, etc. had played dynamic roles in the freedom movement. It is said that as many as 15 women of Assam laid their lives in the freedom movement (Barman et.al 2002:70-76). The women organizations like ‘Asom Mahila Samity’, later renamed as ‘Asom Pradesik Mahila Samity’ set up in 1926 and led by Chandra Prabha Saikiani, had played an active role in extending women’s education, adult women education, mother and child welfare, setting up of khadi and village industries, in restricting child marriages and in prohibiting untouchability etc.
In 1940, the women wing of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, and in 1941 the ‘All Assam Girls Student conference’ (Sadou Asom Satri Sanmilon) was also set up. After independence, Assamese women freely and actively took part in various civil and political movements in Assam. Movements like state language movement, 1960; refinery movement, 1967; medium movement, 1972 and Assam movement on the foreigner’s issue, 1975-1985 saw active participation of women.
Women of different tribal communities like Karbi, Bodo, Missing and Rabha etc. have been actively participating in the autonomy movements of the respective communities.
But, in spite of all these, the number of elected women to the Assam Legislative Assembly has never exceeded 11% from the first Assembly to the 14th assembly. In the first Assembly there was only one woman member. It increased to five in the second assembly. The highest number of women members were elected to the 13th Legislative Assembly constituted in 2011. In this Assembly, 11 per cent of the members were women.
Current minister Promila Rani Brahma has been continuously elected to the Assam Legislative Assembly since 1991 for six times. She played formidable role as cabinet minister in the department of agriculture and now she is working as forest minister of Assam cabinet. Anowara Taimur is the first woman chief minister, who took the responsibility of chief minister of Assam from December, 1980 to June, 1981. (Political Participation of Women of Assam with Special Reference to Nalbari District –Dr Dhaneswar Baishya ,http://www.irjims.com)
There are only 8 women candidates who have been elected to the 14th Assam Legislative Assembly in 2016. Women representatives thus comprise only 6.35 per cent of the 126-member house. During the election, a higher turn-out of women voters was witnessed with 84.81 per cent of the total 92,09,928 female voters exercising their franchise. Before this, in 2014’s General Election, only 2 women were elected to the LokSabha out of 16 women candidates from 14 Loksabha seats of Assam. In Rajya Sabha, there is only one women MP (Ranee Narah) from Assam out of total 27 women members of the Upper house.
If figures are considered, we can see that the women of Assam have been taking active role in various social and political movements but there are still only a few who are elected to represent the assembly and parliament constituencies. Likewise, only a few women members have got opportunity to successfully perform their responsibility as minister in the council of ministers of Assam. The state has 126 seats at present, but the participation of women in state’s legislature election comparison to men is very low.
Despite the having the glorious history of women of Assam, they could not occupy good position in decision making process and leadership role in party politics.
No doubt the participation of women in politics is increasing, but it is not satisfactory. Presence of women in decision making levels will bring a different thought perspective. The need is to achieve a healthy democratic spare where each woman is represented.