At 86%, Delhi is the ninth most literate state in the country. But the list of women candidates fighting the municipal elections tells a different story altogether.
An analysis of the 204 affidavits of the total 277 women candidates fielded by major parties such as the Congress and the BJP shows that eight nominees are illiterate and 73 have only studied till anywhere between Class 1 and 10. Fifty-two women candidates have studied till the higher secondary level.
All put together, the numbers suggest that 65% of women candidates have not completed their schooling, raising serious questions on their capabilities to run the three municipal corporations.
The stakes are higher this year, as for the first time in Delhi, 50% seats have been reserved for women.
Running from south Delhi areas such as Chirag Dilli, East of Kailash and Kotla Mubarakpur (south extension), Congress candidates Sarla Gulaiya and BJP’s Urmila have not completed school education. In Vasant Kunj, Congress candidate Om Wati has registered herself as illiterate. Kavita Malhotra, a Congress candidate from Lajpat Nagar, has studied up to the higher secondary level.
Vani Tripathi, national secretary of the BJP, says since it is the first time that the 50% reservation has been implemented, a number of women in the fray may not be academically sound, “but change takes time. One must look at the glass as half full.”
“We still live in a feudal society where change, especially in terms of women education, does not happen overnight. It is a slow process. In the future, we will have more academically sound women,” she said.
“At the same time, having lesser number of school years behind her does not make a woman weak. We have witnessed many cases of women working with dedication and getting re-elected, despite them having a degree or not or coming from a rich background,” she said.
Activist Ranjana Kumari said that in an ideal situation, an educated and informed candidate was preferable, “but since we live in a discriminatory society” equal opportunities had to be provided to all.
“In the first Lok Sabha elections, several male candidates were illiterate, but they turned out to be good leaders. In a democracy, a leader needs to be more connected to the people and able to articulate their issues. Women are good at that. So while their educational qualifications may not be much, their experience compensates for it,” she said.
The women contenders — some from political families — say they will take lessons from party leaders to dispense their duties.
“I have been working for my party for the past 15 years and I know how the MCD functions. I will learn,” said Sarla Gulaiya from Chirag Delhi who has studied up to Class 7.
The BJP and Congress have been criticised by their own party workers for selecting spouses and relatives of leaders, who otherwise do not deserve tickets on ‘merit’.
One such criticism has come in the way of Kotla Mubarakpur’s BJP representative Satyan Devi, who belongs to a politically active family and has studied up to Class 5. She however, said she could give competition to her opponents.
But not all women are unqualified. There are many who are doctors, bankers, and MA and PhD degree holders.