Gender representation in Indian politics has been discussed and debated for years. While progress has been made on many fronts, the state of Haryana, located in northern India, stands out as a region where women’s political participation remains dismally low.
Haryana has long been characterized by deeply ingrained patriarchal norms, which have significantly limited women’s political participation. According to Reicha Tanwar, a professor of women’s studies at Kurukshetra University, these norms are deeply rooted in the state’s social fabric. In her chapter in the book “Women in State Politics in India: Missing in the Corridors of Power,” Tanwar attributes the low level of women’s participation in Haryana’s politics to a “lack of knowledge and awareness about elections and the electoral process.”
Tanwar further explains that the electoral process in India has become increasingly complex, marked by violence, corruption, and high costs. These factors often deter women from entering the political arena as they struggle to navigate this challenging landscape. Violence has come to dominate elections in many areas, making it even more daunting for women to consider running for office.
While the patriarchal norms in Haryana have historically limited women’s political involvement, there is evidence of gradual change. Tanwar notes that women in the state are beginning to exercise their powers independently. This shift may be attributed to changing social dynamics and increased awareness about the importance of gender equality in politics.
Former Haryana Cabinet Minister Kavita Jain highlights the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in securing a consensus among political parties on the women’s reservation bill. This landmark legislation, known as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (The Constitution 128th Amendment) Bill, 2021, seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, and the Delhi assembly.
To better understand women’s political representation in Haryana, it is crucial to examine the history of women MPs from the state. Notable women who have served as Lok Sabha MPs from Haryana include Chandrawati, Sudha Yadav, Shruti Choudhry, Kailasho Devi, Sunita Duggal, and Kumari Selja. These women broke barriers and paved the way for future generations, proving that women can excel in politics despite their challenges.
Chandrawati, the first woman Lok Sabha MP from Haryana, made history by defeating Bansi Lal in Bhiwani in 1977. She also served as a minister in the Punjab and Haryana state governments. Sudha Yadav, with an academic background in chemistry and a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, won the Mahendragarh seat on a BJP ticket and is actively involved in party leadership.
Notably, some districts in Haryana, particularly those dominated by the Jat community, have never elected a woman to the Lok Sabha. This is indicative of the deeply entrenched male dominance within the community. These challenges are not unique to Haryana; neighboring Punjab also faces similar issues of gender underrepresentation in politics.
Reicha Tanwar emphasizes the importance of reservation for women in politics, as women bring a unique perspective to policy issues. For example, women’s understanding of everyday challenges, such as access to clean drinking water, can shape policy decisions. Tanwar argues that the lack of gender diversity in legislatures has hindered progress on critical issues that affect women.
Haryana’s struggle with gender representation in politics is mirrored in its neighboring states, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. These states have also seen limited women’s participation in the Lok Sabha.
With 13 Lok Sabha constituencies, Punjab has elected only nine women to the Lower House. Himachal Pradesh has seen no woman elected to the Lok Sabha from two of its four Lok Sabha seats. These statistics reflect the broader challenges faced in the region regarding gender representation.
The passing of the women’s reservation bill is a significant step towards addressing gender disparities in Indian politics. However, the implementation of this law remains a complex process. Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) expresses concerns about the timeline for the bill’s enforcement, given the complexities of conducting a census and delimitation.
Sunita Duggal, a BJP MP from Sirsa, believes that women will be able to benefit from the quota starting in the 2029 Lok Sabha elections, as announced by BJP President J.P. Nadda. She also highlights the BJP’s commitment to women’s representation within the party, with 41 women MPs and 11 women ministers in the Union cabinet.
The underrepresentation of women in Haryana’s political landscape is a multifaceted issue deeply rooted in patriarchal norms and cultural factors. While progress has been made, the gender gap persists. The Women’s Reservation Bill offers hope for a more equitable future, but its effective implementation is crucial. Women like Chandrawati, Sudha Yadav, and others have blazed a trail for future generations, demonstrating that women can and should play a more significant role in shaping India’s political destiny. As the country continues its journey towards gender equality, women’s empowerment in politics is a critical step forward.
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