WOMEN IN ELECTORAL PROCESS OF INDIA- UNDER REPRESENTATION IN DECISION MAKING PROCESS
India, with a population of around one billion persons is the second most populous country in the world after China. Located in South Asia, the country is spread over an area of 3.2 million square km, which makes it the seventh largest country in terms of area. A federal, republican and democratic form of government based on the ideology and principle of secularism, socialism, justice, equality, liberty, brotherhood has been adopted in the country. As per the Modernization theory, both man and women are the integral parts of the social, economic and political set up of a state. Keeping this theoretical background in mind, this paper seeks to focus on the share of women in the electoral process of India.
India became independent in the year 1947. In all the elections held since independence, women had the voting rights. Women play a dual role in politics – as voters and political representatives. On the voting front, though adult franchise was granted in 1937, it was the progressive spirit that pervaded the making of the constitution that made it a reality. The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to men and women as voters and citizens. Generally, in India, registration and participation of women as contestants is less than that of men (see Table). In recent past, records show that there has been an increase in the percentage of women who vote. Such participation owe a lot to the mobilization efforts for spreading the importance of women exercising their franchise made by political parties, NGOs, Action Groups and the general awareness among the community. Again, a note of caution is required; let it be assumed that political participation always indicates political awareness on the part of the woman voter. Usually, however, countries that do hold regular elections show an improved recognition of women as a political constituency and parties and candidates tend to adopt pro-women stances and appeal specifically to women’s votes, especially at the time of elections. This becomes very evident when we look at consecutive elections in the Indian context, wherein there is a growing consciousness of the need to woo the woman voter and the need to pay attention to the needs and issues of women, in the election manifestos of political parties.
Since Independence, due to exercise of their franchise, Indian women have been exposed to the political processes and are showing increasing awareness about not only lack of rights but also their utility. A majority of illiterate rural women are also politically sensitive and aware of the various issues confronting them. Women get easily mobilized in the political processes by the political parties who approach women very often for party issues and for short-term goals by winning elections, but not for long-term goals of bringing about social changes and gender equality in political power-sharing. In all the elections held since independence, women had the voting rights. The percentage of seats won against the seats contested is showing a declining trend only because the number of women contesting elections has increased sharply. However, it may be seen that voting by women in all tiers of Government has always been a feature of the Indian Polity since 1947. Due to the paternalistic family and male dominated political structures which do not provide space for women in decision-making bodies, women constituted 3.1% of the total contestants in 1996 election and did not occupy more than 6.10% of the total seats in the state legislative assemblies and Parliament. The number of women contestants in Parliamentary elections has not increased significantly over the years. Political parties are still reluctant to field women candidates at national level. In the early days of the Indian republic; the number of women representatives was a mere 22, which was a lowly 4.4% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha. The sixth Loksabha in the year 1977 saw an all time low of just 19 woman representatives. The twelfth Lok Sabha had 44 women i.e. 8.8% of the total.
The pattern of participation by women in the national elections is provided in the following Table
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