Political Participation Of Women In Meghalaya

Kailash Chandra Das


Abstract Women’s Representation In Northeast India
Introduction

Women’s Representation In Meghalaya Legislative Assembly

The Concept Of Political Participation Conclusion And Suggestions
Women’s Representation In Parliaments Of Different Countries In The World  

Abstract:

The present paper is an attempt to analyse the nature and extent of political participation of women in Meghalaya in reference to 2003 and 2008 assembly elections. Meghalaya predominantly a tribal state in northeastern region is found to be the habitat of three main tribes like Khasis, Garos and Jaintias. Being a matrilineal society, a society where the women are highly respected, the right to inheritance of family property goes to daughters, children take the family name of mother as well as resident after marriage . Therefore, it prompts the researcher to investigate about the status of women in political fabric of the state. The researcher, while studying the nature and extent of political participation of women in electoral process, finds that, since the inception of the state the presence of women representatives in the state legislative assembly is very low. This is not consistent with the fact that the society is a matrilineal where women have greater role in the family structure and hence they should also have more involvement in the social and political processes. But the reality is that in all three tribes the women are denied entry into the traditional political institutions (Dorbar or village council), which appears to have its impact on their participation in modern political process. Perhaps, men-folk do not accept happily the political role of women and the latter have tacitly accepted their role to be confined to family matters. This is evident from the number of contestants and winners among women politicians. In a state where women voters outnumber their male counterparts, the number of women contestants is meagre. All political parties, though advocate eloquently about gender equality, are hesitant to concede good number of seats to women candidates. The scenario in the history of state’s Lok Sabha elections is still worse. It seems that political parties are insensitive to the issue of gender inequality.

Keywords: Gender equality, Human person, Political Fabric, Matrilineal society, Political participation.

Introduction:

The issue of political participation has been an important area of research for sociologists and political scientists. Participation in politics has been a prerequisite for proper democratic governance. But one pertinent question in this context hunts the minds of researchers is the issue of participation of women in politics. Political participation by women can ensure the true spirit of democratic system. If women remain the largest excluded category the struggle for gender justice cannot be accomplished. The active participation by women in the political system is the prime need for the better democratic system. Therefore, political participation by women is a major component of empowerment. Through the greater extent of participation the women section can overcome the discrimination against them in the sex-segregated character of the society.

The present paper is an attempt to investigate the nature and extent of political participation of women in Meghalaya. The level of participation by the women mainly during the assembly elections to Meghalaya State Legislative Assembly in both 2003 and 2008 provide some insight it to the aspect of women’s representations in the assembly of 60 seats and also their interest level to get involved in the political system. It is observed that in all most all assembly elections, since the inception of the state, the female voters have outnumbered their male counterpart so far as the turnout is concerned. So what prevent them to contest in the electoral fray and get elected to the state assembly? It is attempted in this paper to provide a comparative picture of the women voters’ turnout, women contestants and women elected members to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly since the first assembly elections till the recent one. The present study reveals that there is a general misperception about the socio-political reality of Meghalaya. As it is a matrilineal society where women have greater role in the family structure, it is expected that they also might have more involvement in the social and political systems. But a very meagre representation of women in the policy making and legislation process of the state gives a different picture.

The Concept Of Political Participation:

The conceptualisation of political participation is not easy task. Political participation may refer to a wide spectrum of political activities and commitments. It refers to those activities by which members of a society have a share in the selection of rulers directly or indirectly and have a role in the formation of public policy. These activities include voting, seeking information, discussion, attending public meetings, contributing financially and communicating with representatives (.Buvaneswaran, 2009). The more active forms of participation include formal enrolment in a political party, canvassing and enrolling voters, speech writing, and speech making, working in campaigns and competing for public and party offices.

The concept of political participation can be better understood if we have some discussion on the determinant of electoral participation in India. As it is evident, the electoral participation of any democratic country in the world is determined by several factors. India is the largest democracy of the world, and factors like caste, religion, language, ideology, party identification, economic benefits such as cash or kind, regional feeling, anti-establishment feeling, ethnicity etc. affect electoral participation. (Ganguly and Ganguly, 1975) For example, the role of caste consideration starts right from the nomination of the candidates to the distribution of portfolios in the ministry.

However, political participation denotes a series of voluntary activities, which have a bearing on the political process that involves issues like the selection of rulers and the various aspects of the formation of public policy. To be more specific, these activities mainly are (1) voting at the polls, (2) supporting pressure groups by being the member of them, (3) personally communicating with legislators, and (4) participation in political party activities.( Mukhopadhyay, 1990). Again Lester Milbrath (1985) brings these activities under the following three activities: “gladiatorial activities, transitional activities, and spectator activities”. Gladiator represent that small number of party activists whose active association with political parties keeps them engaged in a series of direct party activities like holding party office, fighting elections, raising party funds etc; transitional activities include attending party meetings as party supporters or party sympathisers; spectator activities on the other hand include voting and influence others to vote in a particular way, making and joining a political discussion.

Therefore, the present study is an attempt to analyse mostly the significant aspect of electoral participation in the form of voters’ turnout and the involvement of electorate in the two assembly elections 2003 and 2008 to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. The socio-economic variables influencing voting behaviour, votes polled by different political parties and voters’ turnout are main areas analysed in a comparative way between 2003 and 2008 Assembly elections to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly.

Participation in electoral politics is not a fully voluntary act. The rules of suffrage that are enumerated in the fundamental law of the land, i.e., the Constitution, regulate regarding the eligibility for electoral participation. (Dutta, 1986). The increase in electoral participation throughout the world during the past two centuries was largely due to expansion of suffrage.

However, participation by the women in political process and policymaking has been the most important subject of discussion in present time. The complete democracy in its exclusive forms remains unattainable without the participation of women in the political process. Therefore, we should have some discussion on the representation of women in the political ambit of the country.

Women’s Representation In Parliaments Of Different Countries In The World:

India is placed at 111th position out of 189 countries in the list prepared by an international organisation that ranks nations on the number of women representatives in parliament. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) an international organisation said in its annual report in April 2014 that more women than ever before are being elected to parliaments around the world, with gender parity likely to be achieved within less than a generation, if the current trend continues. According to IPU, India’s rank being 111th has 62 women parliamentarians sitting in its Lower House that is only 11.4 per cent of the total 545 MPs. In Upper House there are 28 women and it is also 11.4 per cent of its total members. As per the data, Rwanda led the list of 189 countries surveyed with its lower house recording more than 60 percent women. The data so compiled are based on the information provided by the national parliaments by January 1, 2014. (The Times of India March 6th 2014).

In Latin American countries, particularly in the parliaments of Educator, Greneda, and Argentina more than 30 per cent of the seats are occupied by the women parliamentarians. However, US ranked 83rd and Canada 54th so far the representation of women legislators is concerned. In South Asia, Nepal has the highest percentage of women MPs, which is just below 30 per cent. Of the top 10 performing countries globally, four are in African continent, where representation of women in parliaments is quite impressive. (The Shillong Times, 9th March 2014)

However, it is matter of great concern that the largest democracy of the world, where more than half of the voters are women, still has to go a very long way.

Table 1. Women's Representation In Indian Parliament

Year

Percent of women in the Lok Sabha

1952

4.4

1957

5.4

1962

6.7

1967

5.9

1971

4.2

1977

3.4

1980

5.1

1984

7.9

1989

5.3

1991

7.9

1996

7.3

1998

7.9

1999

8.8

2013

11.4


Source: Inter -Parliamentary Union (IPU)

The above table shows that the representation of women in India is consistently on rise but the increase percentage is not very significant.

Women’s Representation In Northeast India:

In northeast India as far as the women’s representation in the higher political institutions is concerned, the difference amongst the states is quite negligible. For instance in 1972 there was not a single women MLA in Assam assembly.. However, the number had increased over the years. In 2006 about 10 percent MLAs were women. Similarly in Arunachal Pradesh percentage of women MLAs never exceeded 5. In the last 25 years there had been only one Woman MP from the state. In Tripura no Woman MP has yet been elected. However, only one MLA has been elected to the state legislature. Till date Meghalaya has elected only one woman MP to the Lok Sabha. However, the overall fact shows that there has been a huge gender gap in northeastern region so far as the women’s representation in the higher political body is concerned. (Mahanta and Nayak, 2014)

It is interesting to find from the Election Commissions’ data that in 2009 elections percentage of women voters outnumbered that of male counterparts in states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachala Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. But in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, among seven states of northeast region, only Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Tripura had women candidates in fray while Arunachala Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland had no women candidate. The interesting trend to observe is that in almost all these northeast states the women voters outnumber the male voters in participating in electoral activities, their representation in both state and national legislature remains quite negligible.

Women’s Representation In Meghalaya Legislative Assembly:

Table 2. Poll percentage % Ratio (Male and Female) since 1972

Election year

Male

female

Total

1972

28.26

23.32

51.58

1978

35.55

31.63

67.18

1983

37.68

34.90

72.58

1988

39.56

37.14

76.70

1993

40.71

38.82

79.53

1998

37.37

37.14

74.51

2003

34.27

36.36

70.63

2008

44.16

44.88

89.04

Source: Information book on Election: Office of the Chief Electoral Officer Meghalaya

Table 2 reveals that the female polling percentage has been rising faster than the male polling percentage since 1972 to 1993. In 1998 and 2003 elections there was a fall in the percentage of poll participation for both male and female. But it is interesting to find that the fall in case of women polling percentage was slower than that of male polling percentage. It is significant to observe that this trend reversed, and in 2008 election there was increase in both male and female polling percentages with male polling percentage rising faster than the female polling percentage. But it is also significant to observe that till 1998 elections while the male polling percentage always remained higher than the female voting percentage, in 2003 and 2008 elections there was a reversal, the female polling percentage was higher than male polling percentage. This shows that the women participation in poll is not only increasing with every passing election (except 1998 and 2003), it is surging ahead leaving male participation behind. .

Table 3. Numbers of Male and Female contestants, contested and elected since 1972

Election year

Male contested

Male elected

Female contested

Female elected

1972

189

59

9

1

1978

255

59

7

1

1983

309

60

8

0

1988

268

58

3

2

1993

283

59

7

1

1998

294

57

14

3

2003

319

58

14

2

2008

317

59

21

1

2013

345

56

25

4

Source: Calculated from Information book on Election: Office of the Chief Electoral Officer Meghalaya

From Table 3 it is quite clear that in Meghalaya Legislative Assembly elections, since 1972 till the recent one in 2013, the difference between the numbers of male and female contestants continues to be very high. But it is interesting to observe that the ratio of the female contestants to the male contestants, which has been steadily decreasing from 1972 to 1988, turns around and shows a steady increase from 1993 to 2013 except a slight fall in 2003. In 1972, this ratio was 4.762% and in 2013 it is 7.246%, the lowest was 1.119% in 1988 when the number of female contestants was only 3, so far the lowest. But of these three contestants two won, implying 66.6% success rate, which is the highest so far. However it is significant that the number of female contestants relative to male contestants is on rise for the last six elections, though their representation in the Assembly has not yet exceeded 6.66% of the total seats.

Thus it emerges that even if the Meghalaya society is largely a matrilineal society and women within family structure play a much greater role, their involvement in socio-political systems is extremely meagre. It could be due to the fact that women of the major tribes of Meghalaya had never any role, rather denied of any role in their traditional political institutions, which might have brainwashed them to consider political institutions as male bastion, not to be entered by females, though modern political system never denies women such entry. . Yet the number of female contestants remain so low, suggests that possibly male folk do not accept happily the political role of women and the women have ungrudgingly accepted their role to remain confined to family matters.. It is an irony that though the political parties of the state advocate eloquently about gender equality, yet they are hesitant to concede good number of seats to women candidates. The scenario in the history of state’s Lok Sabha elections is still worse. Only one woman has been elected so far since 1972 out of total number of three contestants, and that too the winner happens to be the daughter of P.A. Sangma, a prominent political leader of the state. It seems that political parties are insensitive to the issue of gender inequality. When they can accept the authority of women at home, they disregard their role in public life. Women have also temperamentally reconciled to this position for decades. Otherwise, they could have come forwarded to take part in various social and political activities. It is, therefore, aptly said that individual is the prisoner of his social surroundings including the value system, belief system and cultural moorings. Unless women assert themselves, they will continue to be underrepresented politically.

Conclusion And Suggestions:

The analysis of the women’s representation in the legislature of Meghalaya and their participation in the political activities since the inception of the state leads to the conclusion that, the gender disparity is still very much in evidence. Women in Meghalaya are constrained with many disabilities in spite of the advantage of belonging to the matrilineal society. In the sphere of political activities women’s representation is very negligible. Though the women are found to be very active on the day of election, restricted of course to only casting votes, they keep themselves away from contesting the elections and participating in other electoral activities. The following steps could be taken to empower the women and to do away with gender disparities:

(1) Institutionalisation of structures at the national, state and the local levels to build a comprehensive network on gender related issues. (2) Better social mobilization and political will to introduce the concept of women’s participation in the development policies, plans and programmes. (3) Evolving institutional arrangements to bring about lasting change in the attitude of the people in the society representing the interest of all the people. (4) Setting up of the women studies centre in the universities of the states will help in generating and compiling scholarly and general data, conducting research on priority basis to increase societal awareness towards the problem of the women. (5) Strengthening of the Women Commission of the state to take up issues related to women in the state. Besides all the above steps the most important way towards the empowerment of women is the use of educational tool that can help in breaking the gender discrimination and bring lasting change in the women’s lot in the society. And lastly gender equality must be recognised as a development priority by the United Nations.

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