Manipur Polls: Women are Civil Society Leaders, but far Behind in Political Representation
Imphal: With just 17 of them contesting in the upcoming Manipur Assembly election out of a total of 265 candidates in the fray, women political leaders in the state say unless there is seat reservation, women will never get a fair political representation.
Despite the fact that the number of Manipuri women voters at more than 10.57 lakh, outnumber males (9.90 lakh) and are known to take the lead when it comes to civil society movements, women find it difficult to rise in electoral politics against the tradition of male dominance.
Among major political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have put up three women candidates each, Nationalist Congress Party and National People's Party two each and Janata Dal (United) just one. The leaders argue that women empowerment cannot be complete without empowering them politically.
"In the North East women play a leading role in other walks of life but when it comes to politics, women are not encouraged as society looks at women entering politics differently and are looked down upon," BJP Manipur Pradesh President A Sharda Devi told PTI.
In Manipur's history, Devi said even when the state was a kingdom there were instances of women taking part in politics but due to the nature of society the number of them taking an active role politically was few and far between.
Things are, however, changing slowly, Sharda Devi asserted, citing the example of her party which has increased the number of women candidates to three this time from two in the last Assembly election.
Yet, she adds, "Women empowerment cannot be complete without empowering them politically."
Expressing similar views, AK Mirabai Devi of Congress, a former minister and two-time MLA said: "It is a male dominated society and it is difficult for aspiring women candidates to wrest seats from them."
Arguing that while she has proven with her performance to contest for the third time in a row on a Congress ticket from Patsoi constituency, Mirabai Devi said, "Until and unless the 33 per cent reservation (of assembly seats) for women is brought in, women representation in the legislature will remain low."
Pukhrambam Sumati Devi (National People's Party), who is contesting for the first time from Lamsang constituency stepping into the shoes of her late husband W Brajabidhu Singh -- a former minister and three-time MLA -- rued that there is no political empowerment in Manipur although women occupy an important position in the state's society.
"No public or family function can succeed without women in Manipur but when it comes into electoral politics we are always discouraged," she said.
Up against four men in the upcoming election, Sumati Devi said, "My rivals in the election even ridicule me in their campaigns, passing disparaging remarks in public, which is a reflection of the state of women when it comes to politics."
According to Sharda Devi, who entered politics way back in 1995 and was elected a Councillor in local municipal elections, one of the main hurdles for women in Manipur entering electoral politics is financial independence, apart from establishing winning credentials.
Agreeing with her, Mirabai Devi said aspiring women need to keep in mind that in order to be in politics and contest elections, first they need to work to gain recognition from society and work towards the welfare of the people they seek to represent.
"However, it's easier said than done as most women in Manipur are not financially independent and they are dependent on their spouses. So they have to work to be financially and economically independent while at the same time work to gain recognition and respect from society," she added.
Acknowledging that it is a long road ahead for women to gain their fair political representation, Sharda Devi sums up saying, "Each and every political party has to support 33% reservation of women then only we will be able to see more women representation in the Assembly."
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