Where only men pull the poll strings

first_imgAmit Pandey promises to make Lucknow “the first mosquito-free city in India.” In his appeal for votes, he also defines his “motto,” which says, “Har noto par Subash Chandra Bose ki photo.”While three-fourth of the election pamphlet introduces us to Mr. Pandey’s ideology, his 10-point manifesto and slogan, relegated to the lower end of it is the image of a sari-clad woman with folded hands. There is no detail about her work or profile but her relationship with Mr. Pandey, who runs an outfit called the Azad Hind Mahasangh, is mentioned.That’s Jyotsana Pandey, who is introduced as his “patni” (wife). It may appear that Mr. Pandey is contesting an election. It is not so. The Lucknow Mayor seat is reserved for women. His wife, a home-maker, is the nominated candidate. Mr. Pandey, who is into water trading business, defends the content of the pamphlet, saying his wife, though a home-maker, has been active in his political mission.Ms. Pandey, 41, also thinks it is fine to project her husband more prominently. “The motto is his. The demands are his. He has been the face of the mission though I have been part of it. Women empowerment starts from home. Who better to support you than your husband? Had he been contesting, I would have stood beside him like he stands for me,” says Ms. Pandey.If the seat was open to men, would her husband be the candidate? “Yes,” she says.The reasons may vary but the campaign of women candidates battling it out in the Uttar Pradesh urban body polls invariably cannot escape the imprint of their male family members. Unless the women are popular or politicians in their own right, it is common for their campaign to be run on the face, profile and reputation of the husband, brother, father or son, especially in reserved seats.Even mainstream parties, while releasing their lists, identify a woman candidate by a man —father or husband. The “pradhan-pati” or husband of the pradhan (woman) often enjoys more social recognition and public space than the elected wife.The most visible trait of this trend is the election campaign material, where the male relatives are showcased more prominently than women and, in some cases, the female candidate’s photo or background is missing altogether.  The campaign stickers of Amina Begum, who is the BSP candidate from the Sajoini Nagar Nagar Palika Parishad ward in Lucknow, introduce her as the wife of Mohammad Ismael. The phone numbers listed are also under his name, not hers.Explaining the content, Mr. Ismael, a BSP worker, says his wife, who is a home-maker and illiterate, does not enjoy his popularity in the local circuit. “I have been active in politics for many years. People know me. If I don’t tell them that she is my wife, how will they know her? It is my compulsion,” says Mr. Ismael, adding that it was a practical decision. Ms. Amina was not reachable.Sadhna Singh Sachan, 52, criticises the alleged hijacking of women’s politics by men, saying they cannot be empowered till they are allowed to function according to their own values.However, her own campaign material for the Lucknow Mayor post cannot escape the identity of her husband, who is a retired colonel, although his picture is not displayed on the pamphlet. “Na rajneeti karne ayi hoon. Na farzi wada karne ayi hoon. Fauji ki patni hoon…” (I am not here to do politics, I am not here to make false promises, I am an army man’s wife) reads her appeal, in which she seeks votes with folded hands. Ms. Sachan, a social worker, however, disassociates it from patriarchal norms, stressing that it was a strategy to “appeal” and “unite” in her favour the “votebank” of servicemen who live in Lucknow in good numbers. “I never used my husband’s name to identify myself before this,” says Ms. Sachan.It is this male-dominated trend that Sarita Gautam, a Dalit social worker and Congress candidate from ward 27 in Allahabad, wants to defeat. In her appeal for votes, Ms. Gautam says: “Samarthan samaj sevika ka kare, patniyon se parhez kare (Support a social activist, reject wives).”Ms. Gautam, who works on women empowerment with focus on counselling, domestic violence and security, says the preponderance of “proxy” female candidates negates the efforts of women who are fighting it on their own for real social change. “Those sisters who have nothing to do with social work or politics are fielded by their husbands simply because the seat is reserved. Even if they are elected, they are kept at home and deprived of exercising their rights and duties,” says Ms. Gautam.“I clearly remember that once I had gone to meet an elected woman pradhan but her father-in-law did not allow me to speak to her. He insisted that I narrate my problem to him instead. I was livid at him for his attitude, more so when I found the elected woman rolling chappatis in the kitchen.”In 2012, four out the 12 Mayor seats in U.P., including one each for the OBC and the SC, were reserved for women. This time, as the posts have been increased to 16, six women will be elected as Mayors, including in Varanasi, Lucknow and Allahabad. Sixty-seven out of the 199 Nagar Palika Parishad seats are also reserved for women. Voting for the municipal polls in Uttar Pradesh is scheduled from November 22 in three phases. The counting is on December 1.last_img

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