Tamil Nadu: DMK Women Councillors Used as Proxy by Their Husbands

Despite reservation, very little has changed on the ground level as male relatives of the elected woman member are now acting as de facto representatives.

Science Forum programme honouring women ward members. Image courtesy: TNSF

It is widely reported that the husbands of the newly elected women local body representatives are carrying out the duties of their wives in Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) won a massive majority in both the urban and rural local body polls recently. The party captured most of the corporations, municipalities and panchayats.

After ten long years, the rural and urban local body elections were held in Tamil Nadu in October 2021 and February 2022, respectively. In the 2011 polls, only 33% of the posts were earmarked for women, but it was increased to 50% in the recent polls.

In 2016, under the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) rule, in an effort to further promote women empowerment, the Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously adopted two bills increasing the reservation for women in urban local bodies and village panchayats.

The impact of the increase in reservation for women was felt during the election campaigns when more women participated in the overall political activities.

However, post-election, male relatives, most often the husband of the elected woman member, have taken over the offices and are acting as de facto representatives. The men are found to be sitting on the chairs of the women representatives while the women remained at home.


Soon after the urban local body elections concluded in March this year, the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) unit of Mettupalayam, Coimbatore district, organised a programme to honour the women ward members who were elected in large numbers.

The TNSF programme was titled “thalaimai etra vaa, thozhi”, which translates into “Woman, Take Over the Leadership”. However, the experience of the forum while organising the event throws light on the present scenario.

Mehrunisa of TNSF said, “I got contact numbers of Mettupalayam women ward members from the city council, and gave a ring to all of them. Out of the 45 members, 43 of those who picked up my calls were men, the husbands of the councillors. Only two calls were taken by the women councillors themselves.”

This shows that even the contact numbers provided in the contestant’s application forms were of the male family members and not of the female contestants’.

“I know many of them - both the ward members and their husbands - personally because these are from the local area. I spoke to them and told them about the programme we were organising. We did not raise any concerns or protests about husbands answering the phones. We invited the women to the programme. We wanted to set an example, hold a seminar and honour the women for participating in the political process,” said Mehrunisa.

She further said, “The event we held was finally successful, the women representatives were very enthusiastic. They are ready to show their individuality, but there is domination from the men in their families.”

Mehrunisa is the State Coordinator of Samam (meaning ‘equality’) subcommittee in the Science Forum, which works towards empowering women through spreading scientific temper. 


The DMK swept the recent rural local body and urban civic polls and has been projecting itself as the forerunner of women’s rights and social justice. Out of the total 21 corporations in Tamil Nadu, the DMK allotted Mayor posts of 11 corporations to women.

Soon after the Urban Local Body polls concluded, Kanimozhi, DMK MP and the party's women's secretary, had advised female councillors and mayors not to let any family member interfere with their work.

Earlier this month, Chennai Mayor R. Priya said that the DMK high command will take a decision on action against the relatives of women councillors, including their husbands, who usurp their powers. However, there has been no sign of any actions on such misuse of administrative posts.

The state-level leaders of the DMK, such as Health Minister Ma Subramanian and others, strongly oppose men acting as shadow councillors to the posts of their wives. However, the local DMK activists do not find it problematic to take over the work of their wives. They view their wives as proxies for the posts they think are meant for them but were usurped due to the 50% reservation for women.

Very little has changed on the ground level, and the DMK has a long way to go before its claim of being the forerunner of women’s rights and social justice is fulfilled.

Moreover, many instances of the DMK members engaging in hooliganism and even attacking the police have gone viral on social media. A DMK ward councillor's husband and five others were booked by the police two weeks ago in Chennai for allegedly having heckled and abused police personnel.