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Bihar’s woman power, from proxies to politicians

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New Delhi: Thirty-five-years-ago, Bhagirathi Devi was a sweeper in the block development office in Narkatiyaganj, a town in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

Picture credit: economictimes.com
Picture credit: economictimes.com

Today, she is a third-term member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), representing the Ramnagar (formerly Shikarpur) constituency in northwestern Bihar, one of 34 female MLAs in the 243-member house.

A Mahadalit – as the Bihar government started calling the poorest of low-caste Dalits in 2007 – Bhagirathi Devi joined politics as a reaction to what she saw around her.

“I was angry at the injustice and cruelty meted out to the poor, especially poor women, who came to the block development officer’s office,” said Bhagirathi Devi, 65.

Us din hum soch liye ki rajneeti mein jayenge aur babu logon ko sabak sikhayenge (That was the day I decided to enter politics and teach the officers a lesson),” she said.

Since 1980, when she quit her job as sweeper, Bhagirathi Devi spent the next several years creating mahila sangathans (women’s groups) in Narkatiyaganj block, organizing women and stirring awareness around issues that included domestic violence, violence against dalits and fair wages.

Gradually, she expanded her political activism to other blocks in the district, going to jail in 1991 for organizing demonstrations.

Bhagirathi Devi’s decision to enter politics was not easy for a poor Mahadalit family with six children (her husband is a railway employee). It was particularly challenging to organize her household before she set off every day, traveling to nearby villages.

Such was the strength of her conviction that Bhagirathi Devi separated from her husband for the next five years, taking him back only when he realized that there was no turning back for her.

It took a decade to consolidate her grounds at the grass root level before she entered party politics, and 10 more years before she got a BJP election ticket.

Today, she is seen in the assembly as an MLA who will not be easily silenced.

Bhagirathi Devi’s political journey, while being one of grit and determination, is also a reminder of the difficult choices that women politicians, especially from marginalized groups, have to make and yet be consigned to the margins of political landscape, always spoken of as “proxies” of a male relative.

It is also a reminder of the restricted spaces for women in Bihar’s – and India’s -political parties, unless they are backed by political lineage.

Why Bihar’s women MLAs are not proxies?

Bhagirathi Devi represents, as IndiaSpend reported, a remarkable surge in female MLAs that otherwise backward Bihar has witnessed over the last decade.

Yet, the question that is often asked is: “Are these women MLAs really empowered or are they proxies for powerful male relatives?”

The term ‘proxy’ was largely used for women in panchayats (village councils), put forward by male relatives to contest seats they had to vacate following the 33 percent reservation for women announced in 1992 under the 73rd amendment of the constitution, or when the men became ineligible after criminal convictions.

The term was further made infamous by Lalu Yadav, who installed his wife Rabri Devi as Bihar’s chief minister after his imprisonment in a fodder scam.

If proxies were defined as women put forward to contest elections because their male relatives had to step down, mostly due to criminal convictions, Bihar data now dispels this widely held myth.

Of Bihar’s 34 female MLAs, only six have contested seats vacated by male relatives, usually husbands, according to data published on Myneta.in, a public-interest website run by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy that tracks political candidates nationwide.

The majority, 82 percent of women MLAs, have won elections of their own merit.

Yet, the term ‘proxy’ is used for women MLAs with its undertones of gender and class bias. Media stories on female political candidates have often furthered this narrative.

The female proxies who shook off their proximity to their men

Leshi Singh,an MLA from Dhamdaha in eastern Bihar and widow of Butan Singh (against whom many criminal cases have been filed), was called his proxy long after his death, while the well-educated, male politicians who stepped in after the death of their fathers are seen as carrying forth their legacy.

Critics also assume that women with poor educational qualifications are almost always akin to puppets, with the real power lying with male relatives.

Like Bhagirathi Devi, a fifth-class pass, Jyothi Devi, the MLA representing Barachatti constituency in Gaya district of Southern Bihar, disproved that assumption.

A battle that has only just been joined

Hum toh zabardasti bolte hain. Hum na Lalu se darte hain na (Chief Minister) Nitish (Kumar) se. Vote janta deta hai. Bus hum sirf usi se darte hain (I insist on speaking. I am neither afraid of Lalu Yadav nor Nitish Kumar. I am only accountable to the electorate that elects me)” said Bhagirathi Devi, when asked about the space for women to speak and intervene in the assembly.

While some female MLAs are indeed fronts for male relatives, they are – as we noted – a minority. Dismissing the rest as “proxies” will not serve the cause of governance.

(By Bhanupriya Rao, IANS)

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Karnataka Polls: BJP On The Way to Win, Congress May Get Hard Defeat

Any party or grouping will need 113 of the total 224 seats to secure a majority in the Assembly. Polling did not take place in two constituencies on Saturday.

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A state of 60 million people, Karnataka is home to the Information Technology hub of Benguluru and was ruled by the BJP once before.
Congress may have to taste defeat in Karnataka, VOA

The BJP was on Tuesday set to return to power in its southern bastion Karnataka as its candidates crossed the half-way mark in vote count, stunning and ousting the ruling Congress and leaving the JD-S at the third spot.

Noisy celebrations broke out in party offices in Bengaluru, New Delhi and across Karnataka as Bharatiya Janata Party nominees were on the victory lap in 118 of the 222 constituencies which voted on Saturday.

This was a dramatic jump from the 40 seats the BJP won five years ago.

The Congress, desperate to retain power in the state amid shrinking appeal nationally, suffered major blows and was ahead only in 62 seats, with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah trailing in both the constituencies he contested: Badami and Chamundeshwari.

The Congress leader was way behind G.T Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal-Secular in Chamundeshwari, Election Commission officials said. And after leading initially, Siddaramaiah fell behind B.R. Sriramulu of the BJP in Badami.

In contrast, the BJP’s Chief Ministerial face B.S. Yeddyurappa was ahead of his Congress rival by more than 11,000 votes in Shikaripura.

Energy Minister and Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar said that the numbers indicated that his party was on the way out after five years in power.

Any party or grouping will need 113 of the total 224 seats to secure a majority in the Assembly. Polling did not take place in two constituencies on Saturday.

The BJP was overjoyed. “We are in a jubilant mood because we have crossed the half-way mark. We are confident of winning,” spokesman S. Shantharam told IANS.

BJP activists and leaders celebrated noisily in both Bengaluru and New Delhi, waving party flags and shouting slogans hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their main vote-getter, and party President Amit Shah.

There were also celebrations outside the residence of Yeddyurappa, who has been Chief Minister earlier too.

Of the 2,654 candidates in the fray for the May 12 Karnataka Assembly elections, at least 883 are crorepatis and 645 have criminal cases against them, said two watchdogs after analysing their affidavits filed with the Election Commission (EC).
Karnataka Polls counting suggests big win for BJP, wikimedia commons

The Janata Dal-Secular of former Prime Minister H.D. Dewe Gowda, which has been expected to play the role of a kingmaker in the event of a hung Assembly, was leading in 40 seats — the same number it won five years ago.

As the vote count progressed, BJP leaders became assertive, saying they were confident of taking power again in Karnataka while Congress leaders began to speak about the possibility of an alliance with the JD-S.

BJP leader and Union Minister Sadanand Gowda said that there was no question of any alliance.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar, who is in charge of Karnataka, met BJP President Amit Shah in New Delhi.

Analysts said the BJP was leading in Lingayat dominated seats and the JD-S in Vokkaliga dominated areas.

Expectations of a BJP victory in Karnataka lifted the key Indian equity indices during the mid-morning trade session on Tuesday.

Modi’s Performance: Survey Reports That Significant Number of People Rate Performance of Modi Government as Below Expectations

According to market observers, broadly subdued Asian indices and disappointing macro-economic inflation data points released on Monday capped some gains.

Sector-wise, healthy buying was witnessed in banking, capital goods, metals, consumer durables and automobile stocks.

The Sensex has so far touched a high of 35,993.53 points and a low of 35,498.83 points during the intra-day trade. (IANS)