Women are 47% of Punjab’s electorate, but only six of them have made to the 15th Vidhan Sabha. That’s the lowest representation of women in the last five assemblies since seven in 1997. Among the six women in the 117-member House are four first-timers, three of whom are from the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Though outnumbered, these feisty women are raring to make their voice count in the new House over the next five years. Manraj Grewal Sharma profiles them and finds out their aspirations and agenda for Punjab and the constituency they represent.
A dream come true
Baljinder Kaur, 31, AAP, Talwandi Sabo
A politician. That’s all she wanted to become even as a schoolgirl. “I didn’t know how I would do that, but it was a very deep-seated desire,” smiles Baljinder. Now that her dream has been realised, she says, “I will make sure that har gali, har ghar, har varg di aawaaz Vidhan Sabha tak pahunche (every street, house, section of society must be heard in the assembly).”
No, she doesn’t feel intimidated by the overwhelming majority of men in the house. She has two younger brothers who look up to her. “I won’t say they are scared of me, but they respect me,” she laughs. With an MA in English and MPhil under her belt, Baljnder was teaching at Mata Gujri College, Fatehgarh Sahib, when politics beckoned in the form of AAP, and she quit her job.
Today this workaholic—she says she hates being idle — is happy to play her dream role. “It’s a big responsibility that the people of Talwandi Sabo have given me, I will do my best.” Women, she says, can’t be treated in a silo. Be it corruption, drugs or unemployment, it affects every woman directly or indirectly.
By the way: Loves dancing the giddha
Armed with lessons
Saravjit Kaur Manuke, 44, AAP, Jagraon
It’s been a traumatic run-up to the hustings for this teacher-turned-politician. “I was robbed of the most precious part of my life,” says Saravjit, who lost both her mother and mother-in-law in a span of few days after she met with a serious accident that killed one of her supporters traveling with her late January.
“I was heartbroken but my mission was bigger than me,” says Saravjit, who declares that she has not joined politics but an andolan (movement). “We have given new hope to people and we won’t let them down,” says the feisty teacher. This is why she pooh-poohs any talk about being outnumbered by men or the ruling party in the assembly. “Iraada buland hona chahiye (Your intentions should be strong).”
Saravjit is determined to work for revamping the education system. “Do you know there are no washrooms in 70% of the schools in my constituency? How can you talk of women empowerment when girls drop out of schools due to such reasons?”
This first-time legislator has already launched her Mission Education by shooting off a memo seeking a redressal forum for both parents and teachers, and rollback of the hike in tuition fee.
By the way: Mai Bhago and Mata Gujri are her role models
The power of one
Rupinder Kaur Ruby, 28, AAP, Bathinda Rural
Rupinder Kaur Ruby believes, “Aawaaz uthaan de layee ik banda hi kaafi hai (One person is enough to make a point).” The youngest woman MLA in the Punjab assembly plans to be that one voice. That is why the poor representation of women in the House doesn’t worry her. This law graduate, who was doing her PhD, is a past master at battling obstacles. This first-timer won the Bathinda Rural seat despite having the most meagre bank balance among the contesting candidates.
Ruby, who draws inspiration from her father Malkiat Singh, a retired government servant who is a founding member of the AAP, claims she did not have to spend a paisa “because the people fought the elections for me”. She believes woman emancipation and education are intertwined. “Financial independence is a must for every woman, and for that she needs education. Then she doesn’t need anyone.”
Ruby, former assistant professor at a Bathinda law college, is determined to put her most fierce foot forward in the assembly. “I will make Congress deliver on its promises.”
By the way: Determined to complete her PhD
This mom means business
Satkar Kaur, 37, Congress, Ferozepur Rural
“Hun aa gaye haan, te raula rappa pavange. (Now that I am here, I will make noise).” The soft-spoken woman, who defeated her nearest rival by 21,500 votes, says she means business. Satkar, who lost the 2012 polls by a wafer-thin margin, is all too aware of the responsibility that comes with being the first woman legislator from Ferozepur.
“There has been no development here for the past 10 years. There is no industry here, sewerage stinks, drugs are rampant, and women bear the brunt of it all,” says Satkar, who took the zila parishad route to politics in 2007, six years after she married into a family of politicians. No, she doesn’t think she will be unsettled by a male-dominated assembly. “My husband Jasmel Singh Ladi,” she says, “has always encouraged me. I can handle men.”
With the assembly session few days away, she’s all ready with her to-do list for her constituency. “We need a college for women, sewing centres in 210 villages for women who want to work from home, a functional sewerage, new industry,” Satkar reels on, telling you how she is no rubberstamp. “Vadiya kam karaange (We will do good work),” she signs off.
By the way: Spends at least an hour a day with her 3 children, youngest of whom is in kindergarten
At home in assembly
Aruna Chaudhary , 59, Congress, Dinanagar
The three-time MLA doesn’t think her gender is a handicap in the assembly. “It doesn’t matter,” she shrugs. “You can do a lot to ensure that the issues of your constituency are resolved by approaching the minister concerned,” she declares. What is a handicap is being out of power. “It’s tough when you are in the opposition as the MLAs depend on grants from the government,” Aruna explains.
With her party back in the saddle, she is looking forward to bringing employment to women in Dinanagar. “Jobs are scarce, so we have to train them in other fields,” says the legislator who won by the sixth highest margin. A teacher by training, Aruna says she made sure her two sons focused on education. “Even though ours is a family of politicians, I made it clear that they had to earn their own keep”. Today her elder son is studying dentistry in the US, while the younger is working for an MNC.
Aruna, who did her graduation and BEd from Srinagar, is also concerned about terrorism and drugs. “Look what happened in the Valley, we have to be careful.”
By the way: An expert in Kashmiri cuisine, she paints too
A hopeful homecoming
Razia Sultana, 50, Congress, Malerkotla
The three-time MLA agrees it would have been nicer had there been more women MLAs. “I don’t think there is any bias against women, but people choose who they think is the best for them. The reasons vary from one constituency to another,” she shrugs.
Razia Sultana, daughter of an armyman and wife of a serving cop, is eagerly looking forward to this term. “We’ve promised to make Malerkotla a district. That will transform it completely.” She is also keen on getting a medical college for her constituency. As for women, she says many of them want pension, which she will make sure they get soon.
A mother of two — a daughter and a son — Razia enjoys her role as a homemaker. “No matter what, I take a quick round of the house and make sure everything is spick and span before I do anything else,” she smiles. She also likes to cook for her family.
Coming back to politics, she has just one wish, “Sab theek thaak chale. Hum apne vaade poore kar paayein (Everything should go well. We should be able to keep our promises).”
By the way: Known for her kebabs