Women of a village 150 km from Lucknow cannot vote in the panchayat elections as part of a bizarre tradition though they dutifully exercise their franchise in the assembly and parliamentary polls.
Ironically, the post of pradhan, or village chief, is reserved for a woman this time in Katiya Kammu village that falls under Bhawanlkhera development block of Shahjhanpur district. Electing her, however, will remain an exclusively male preserve.
“Women have never voted in the pradhan polls in this Muslim-dominated village with around 3,000 voters,” says Shalini Vishwakarma, a villager and booth-level officer.
A Khan, another local, adds, “I am 40 years old but do not remember women having ever cast their vote in the pradhan elections.” Khan, however, claims women are not forcibly stopped from using their right to vote.
“We have, in fact evolved a tradition of women not voting in the pradhan polls,” he says and claims that women have no problem with this arrangement.
Ask him why the tradition is followed and he, like many others, has no real answers. “This is done to avoid any controversy during the local polls,” he says without being able to elaborate. “Why ask women to vote when the results can be obtained from the men voting?” argues Iliyas Khan, another villager.
As for the paradox of the pradhan’s post being reserved for a woman this time, another villager Girish Kumar says, “Around half a dozen women candidates are expected to be in the fray.”
“This only means that male voters will be electing a woman pradhan. There is no possibility of women voters exercising their franchise this time as well,” he adds.
Raj Kumari, a woman voter and anganwadi worker, says that no pressure is exerted on anyone to desist from voting. “Actually, there is a consensus in the village that women will not vote in the local pradhan polls. Women have no objection to it since they do exercise their franchise in all other elections,” she explains.
Prodded further, she says the consensus was said to have been arrived at after burqa-clad women were often accused of resorting to bogus voting, leading to disputes between local contestants.
“So, we happily accept it for the sake of the larger cause of peace in the village,” she says and Iliyas Khan agrees.
According to Girish Kumar, the administration did try to persuade the men to allow women to participate in voting the last time but in vain.
Hindus constitute only 200-250 of the nearly 3,000 voters in the village and the pradhan always belongs to the Muslim community, he says.