Assembly elections: Fewer women candidates, but poll sops galore

  • While one party has promised a direct transfer of up to Rs.2,000 per month, another is offering loan to women to set up smart kitchens.
Senior Assam Congress leader Sushmita Dev said if voted to power, the party would give Rs.2,000 each to housewives as mark of respect for the services to their families and society. (ANI Photo)
Senior Assam Congress leader Sushmita Dev said if voted to power, the party would give Rs.2,000 each to housewives as mark of respect for the services to their families and society. (ANI Photo)
Updated on Mar 23, 2021 06:53 AM IST
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By Chetan Chauhan, Divya Chandrababu, Ramesh Babu, New Delhi/ Chennai/ Thiruvananthapuram

With several key states headed to polls, political parties have promised all kinds of sops to different sections of the population depending on their voter base. But one segment of the society that almost all parties seem unanimous in winning over is that of home-makers, traditionally referred to as housewives.

While one party has promised a direct transfer of up to Rs.2,000 per month, another is offering loan to women to set up smart kitchens. However, activists are terming such measures mere optics, pointing at the paltry representation of women among party candidates in the four states bound for polls this year.

The only exception is Trinamool Congress (TMC), whose 17 % candidates are women. For all other parties, the women candidate representation is less than 10%.

The practice of offering sops to housewives started with actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam in December, 2020 promising a salary for the segment. On January 15, Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac announced a loan scheme in the state’s budget for women to buy smart kitchens, interest of which would be shared by the beneficiary, local government institutions and the state. And then, in the party’s manifesto, home makers were seen as a separate category among women voters for whom several other sop were also announced.

The demand for giving wages for housework was first raised at the third National Women’s Liberation Conference in Manchester, England in 1972, after which women activists across the world have been seeking a salary for housewives. In 2012, then women and child development minister Krishna Tirath announced that the government was considering a mandatory salary for housework from husbands. The proposal never became a reality.

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According to a National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) 2019 survey, only one-fourth of men were engaged in unpaid household work compared to four-fifth of women. Every day, an Indian man spends only 1.5 hours per day in unpaid domestic work as compared to five hours by a woman, the survey found.

In Tamil Nadu, both the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have promised to pay housewives Rs.1,500 and Rs.1,000 respectively as universal basic income. Haasan, who earlier promised to pay housewives a salary, in his party’s manifesto released in first week of March, toned down the sop to say that it would provide skill development to housewives to enable them to earn 10,000 to Rs.15,000 per month.

In Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government announced a pension for housewives whereas the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) went a step further to announce Rs.2,000 monthly dole for all women in the 40-60 age group. Both alliances have special focus on women voters who outnumber men by 8 .27 lakh in the electoral roll of the state.

Senior Assam Congress leader Sushmita Dev said if voted to power, the party would give Rs.2,000 each to housewives as mark of respect for the services to their families and society. This is to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s Orunudoi scheme implemented in 2016, in which Rs.830 per month is transferred to bank accounts of 1.7 million women from economically weaker sections. “We plan to expand the number of beneficiaries under the scheme in future and also increase the monthly pay out to Rs.3,000 per month in a phased manner,” Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in assembly in February.

In West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced monthly basic income of Rs.500 per month for general category and Rs.1,000 for housewives from weaker sections of the society. Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday, in the BJP’s manifesto, announced a monthly assistance of Rs.500 to all women of general category and 1,000 to women of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe categories besides promising 33 % reservation for women in jobs.

Political activists such as Tamil Nadu’s former social welfare minister B Valarmathi say more money in hands of housewives would empower them and provide them financial security while feminist analysts say the sops smack of paternalistic attitude towards women as political parties give poor representation to the community in elections.

A closer look at the numbers bears this out.

For 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly, only 14 tickets have been given to women candidates by AIADMK-led ruling alliance. Opposition DMK, with just 16 tickets, can barely claim to be any better.

In Kerala, for the 140-member assembly, the CPI-M led LDF has given tickets to 15 women while the Congress-led UDF has given that chance to just 11 women.

In Assam, the Congress has given tickets to eight women and the BJP to six. Both parties are contesting in 92 of 126 seats in the state.

For 294-member West Bengal assembly, the ruling TMC has given tickets to 50 women candidates in its list of 291 and the BJP to 35 in its candidates for 283 seats announced so far. The Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front (ISF) alliance has given tickets to 38 women candidates in the list for 250 assembly seats.

“Eyeing women votes, parties are competing among themselves to announce sops but when it comes to proper representation to women in the candidate lists, they all sulk. They don’t consider women as winnable candidates,” said Kerala-based women rights activist K Ajitha.

Swarna Rajagopalan, founder of Chennai-based gender rights based organisation, Prajnya, agreed and said these sops in manifestos depict women as helpless and in need of protection.

“Within this paternalistic view, you can only imagine fathers, brothers and uncles providing all these benevolent perquisites for their womenfolk. They don’t look at nominating women and asking for their time and energy to be compensated as part of a broader framework of workplace rights,” she said.

Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research said women representation in legislative bodies will not increase till 33% reservation is provided to them. “Men in these political parties think that women cannot win elections. There is no way other than reservation to improve gender balance in legislative bodies. But, political parties don’t want it as men would lose their political power,” she said.

(With inputs from Utpal Parashar in Guwahati and Joydeep Thakur in Kolkata)

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Thursday, October 28, 2021