A canvassing announcement can be heard in the background as the women gather at a jagalikatte. This time, Radhakka joins the team and everyone welcomes the Election Officer, Vijaya. Vijaya introduces Priyanka who has come with her to the jagalikatte to represent the Sexual Minorities community.
Vijaya talks about why importance must be given to women, people with special needs, and Nirashitaru. “Usually, women who stay at home may be too busy in their households and they may wait till the last minute to vote. Some women have missed voting because of having reached late and sometimes due to negligence. So, it’s our responsibility to make them understand the importance of voting and make sure that they vote on time. Also, people with special needs should be provided with specific tools to ensure that they, too, vote and on time. ‘Nirashitaru’ refers to persons who don’t have proper houses to stay in, so we should make sure that they know the value of their votes. Even the people who are migrants should be asked to go back to their hometowns to vote; if not, their employers should get the voter ID cards for them and make sure that they vote.”
Priyanka shares that this time, sexual minorities have got the right to vote and the members are raising awareness everywhere to make people register their names. “Voting is everyone’s right.”
In this episode, Dr. Priyanca Mathur also speaks about PWD and the Persons with Disability App. “This app has inbuilt accessibility features and it can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Eligible citizens with disabilities can register as PWD voters. Already registered PWD electors can register as PWD voters and avail a wheelchair and other facilities better. They can also launch their complaints through this app. The idea behind providing such facilities to citizens is to ensure that no eligible and legitimate voter is left behind. A disability should not make you miss your political rights.” Other categories of voters include women, sexual minorities and transgender persons. “If you are living in India but originate from somewhere else, then you need to have a legitimate voter ID card to be able to vote.”
This particular election cycle has been tagged with terms like ‘nari power’, ‘shakti’, and more, and is expected to bring about many changes in terms of inclusion as more and more women are coming out to vote.
In 1980, 51% of the women voted and in 2014, 65.3% of the women voted, which is an all-time high. In 2014, in 22 out of 30 states, the number of women voters was way ahead than male voters. “Many researchers say that this is a kind of self-empowerment. For women, to stop them from feeling disempowered or marginalised, it’s imperative that they be encouraged to come out and vote. The saddest part is that women still don’t have equal representation in the Parliament and the Lok Sabha – they currently make up only 11.42% of the total number of lawmakers in the country despite constituting 47% of the electorate. It’s important to get more women involved in the political process.”
Thankfully, a silent feminisation of the electorate is happening, which means that more and more women are coming out to vote. “In Karnataka, we now know the dates of the elections, so we have to encourage women to vote. In 2014, there was a lower percentage of voting and this time we have to make sure that everyone votes. Women’s votes really matter, which is why we are witnessing a lot of women-specific schemes being rolled out at the central and state levels. Women, apparently, have been the biggest beneficiaries of the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Pradhan Mantri Ujwal Yojana. In Karnataka, subsidised loans were provided to women entrepreneurs. All of these significant policy changes show that women are capable of independent political choices and the factors influencing women’s voting goes way beyond caste and community calculus.”
But, we should remember that though women voters are coming out in more numbers, their representation in legislative bodies and the overall power structure of parties remains abysmally low. A 2017 CSDS report showed that the representation of women in the Lok Sabha is just above the halfway mark of the world average of 22%. “You will be really saddened to know that India ranks as low as 141 amongst 193 countries in women’s representation in the Lower House. Yes, we have 33% reservation for women in PRI, that is the Panchayati Raj Institution, and currently, there are 1.3 million elected women representatives in such institutions across 20 states and union territories, but this has to extend to the upper legislature and to the parliament as well. The election manifesto has promised to reserve 33% seats in the Lok Sabha for women, but unfortunately, it’s silent on its own promises. Its time for all of us to reclaim what we call the shape our Indian Politics.”
Let’s also remember that when we talk about gender, it’s not the binary of men and women we are trying to address – we have other gender and sexual identities and sexual groups as well who must be completely recognised as individual citizens with their own rights and also be given voter IDs.
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