'Does My Vote Matter?': Women in Uttar Pradesh's 'Rice Bowl' Voice One Concern This Election Season
Although, several of Chandauli's women are driven to vote with the perception that their ballot matters in electing a good government, others seem jaded by the electoral process.
Conversations on caste are never far away when the Chandauli's women talk about their candidate of choice.
In every election, there are conversations and analysis on various factors that impact the results: caste, money, unemployment and agrarian crisis among others. In all of these factors, women appear as a footnote. Do women vote according to caste? What do they want from the government? Do they feel a woman politician is better for women? This series is an attempt to find out How Women Vote.
Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh: In the village of Bauri in Chandauli district, the inequality is startling. While one side of the village has three floored mansions, the other comprises small huts and incomplete toilets. Dukhi, 37, is ushered into the house of Pappu Singh, a prosperous Rajput landlord. She stops at the staircase and sits waiting for instructions. "I work here as domestic help, but I have to follow the rules," she said. The rules are unwritten though.
Five years ago, Dukhi lost her husband. "The landlord's dog bit him and he died," she said. Since then Dukhi has been waiting -- for widow pension, for a house, for the LPG connection that she was promised, and a toilet.
Surrounded by Ghazipur in the North-East, Sonbhadra in the South, Bihar in South-East and Mirzapur in South-West, Chandauli has over 1 lakh Chouhan votes; Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas almost make up four lakh votes. Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims have close to five lakh votes in the constituency. The rest are non-Yadav OBCs.
In this particular village, though, 40 per cent of the population comprises Brahmins and Rajputs, who own nearly all the land. The rest are mostly landless agricultural labourers.
Rajbhar, a 70-year-old woman from the village, looks a little amused when she's asked about her political preference this election season. "I don't know, I'll vote for the person my son would ask me to," she said. The other women who have gathered around her intervene and tell her to make her own decision.
Although the difference in the turnout of men and women, which was in double digits in the 1960s, dropped to a single digit in the last decade of the twentieth century, women here are still unsure whether their vote matters. In his book 'The Verdict', Prannoy Roy writes that in 1962, the turnout of women was only 47 per cent (of the total female electorate), yet by 2014, it had shot up to 66 per cent—up by nearly 19 percentage. On the other hand, the turnout of males grew by only 5 per cent over the same period. Roy, however, also highlighted that 4.5 per cent of women remain absent in the general elections. This translates to as many as 21 million women who are denied their constitutional right to vote simply because their names are not registered in voter lists across the country.
In the conversations between these women, the one thing that keeps cropping up is "Woh neta kaunsi jaati ke hai? (Which caste does that politician belong to?)"
National President of Janvad Party (Socialist), Dr Sanjay Chauhan is the candidate for SP-BSP combine from the Chandauli seat while Mahendra Pandey is contesting for the BJP. Former Congress Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha's wife Shivkanya Kushwaha is the candidate of the Jana Adhikar party, which has allied with Congress.
"Everything happens here depending on our caste," Asha said. Two of Asha's teenage daughters work on the lands of a Brahmin landlord. "Nothing will change whoever we vote for. We will still remain poor," she added.
It's not difficult to notice that the main attitudinal factor that seems to drive these women to cast their votes is the perception that their vote matters in electing a good government.
In a research paper (Agarwal, 1997; Banerjee, 2003; Gleason, 2001), it is argued that women’s involvement in electoral politics depends upon their societal background and the levels of liberty and freedom they enjoy. "Women who exercise their own discretion in deciding whom to vote for have higher levels of electoral participation as voters in electoral competitions than those governed by family and peer groups. The former had a 6 per cent higher voting rate in the 2009 general elections than women whose choices were influenced by others," the paper notes.
While the biggest fight for Dukhi has been getting her widow pension, Madina just wants her sons to come back home and not travel to different states looking for jobs. Although 70 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture in the district, most of the young men migrate for employment. "If we were from the higher caste, we would be owning lands and our sons wouldn't have to leave. Who cares about who we vote for?" she asked.
This is where Nagwati intervened. "It is because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that we have got a toilet, we have a gas connection too," she said. But Madina doesn't agree. "You got it because you are Bhumihar," she said. No one intervened. Not even Nagwati.
Historically, elections in Chandauli have been fought on the basis of caste, more than development issues. The stronghold of Congress ended in Chandauli in 1989 when Janata Dal candidate Kailash Nath Yadav emerged victorious. the Bharatiya Janata Party bagged the seat in 1991, 1996 and 1998 Parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Maoists emerged as the biggest problem here. The then-Mayawati government considered separating Chandauli from Varanasi as a solution to the problem. Chandauli became a separate district on May 20, 1997.
However, after coming into power, Mulayam Singh Yadav merged it with Varanasi again in 2004.
While Nagwati is sure, who she will vote for, most of the women in the village aren't even sure if they are going to cast a vote. "What happens if we don't vote? Nothing will change," Madina said.
The women here have seen Priyanka Gandhi on their television channels, but they don't know if a woman can solve their troubles. "Mayawati worked only for her community, she didn't do anything for us," Chanda said. The rest of them agreed.
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