Dr. Dharmakanta Kumbhakar
(The Writer can be reached at email@example.com)
It was very interesting to see in the last Assam’s Assembly election that Muslim women crossed their men counterpart by a huge margin in casting their votes. This could be seen mostly in the Muslim population dominated Legislative Assembly Constituencies (LACs) of Assam like Dhubri, Mancachar, Jaleswar, Abhayapuri South, Dalgaon, Barpeta, etc.. Though Muslim women are now in a position to take leading role as voters in the elections of Assam, but still their participation in Assam’s active politics is negligible. Very few Muslim women are playing any important role in Assam’s active politics.
As per Census 2011, Muslim population constitute 34.2% of the entire population of Assam. As women population (48.82%) is almost equal to the men population in Assam, so it may be assumed that half of the total Muslim population of Assam, i.e. 17% of the entire population of Assam would be Muslim women. But, their representation in Assam’s active politics hardly reflects their percentage in the population.
Though the average percentage of women’s representation in both houses of Parliament, Assemblies and Council of Ministers taken together has been around 15% in India, but the representation of Muslim women of Assam in the present Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State Assembly is nil. If the Muslim women were represented according to their proportion of population of Assam, they would have represented at least 21 MLAs in the State Assembly (out of 126 MLAs), 2 MPs in the Lok Sabha (out of 14 MPs) and 1 MP in the Rajya Sabha (out of 7 MPs). Today, the 33% reservation for women at the Panchayat and local body level has increased Assamese women’s representation in the Panchayats and local bodies, but due to low active political participation and representation of Muslim women in Assam, it reflects a low representation of them in the Panchayat and local bodies also.
The representation of Assam’s Muslim women in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State Assembly has always been very low since independence. The first Muslim woman MP from Assam in the Lok Sabha was Begum Mofida Ahmed in 1952 from Jorhat Parliamentary Constituency. Anowara Taimur and Naznin Farooqui became the only Muslim women member from Assam in the Rajya Sabha. Late Begum Aafia Ahmed became the first Muslim woman MLA of Assam in 1967 from Jamunamukh LAC and Anowara Taimur became the second in 1972 from Dalgaon LAC. Taimur continued to be the only female Muslim MLA of Assam till 1996 by wining Assembly elections several times in 1977, 1978, 1983 and 1991. Taimur created history by becoming the only female and Muslim Chief Minister of Assam from December 6, 1980 to June 30, 1981. She again became the Cabinet Minister of Agriculture of Assam in 1991. In 2001, Husnewara Islam became MLA from Mancachar LAC and Sharifa Begum from Rupohihat LAC. Begum Gulakhtara became the only Muslim woman MLA in 2011from East Bilashipara LAC.
Most of the political parties do not groom Muslim women towards power. They feel hesitant towards Muslim women candidature. Muslim women are allowed only if there is no alternative choice. They are considered only if there is a mandatory provision like reservation. The space has been limited to family connections rather than convictions and commitment. Begum Mofida Ahmed and Begum Aafia Ahmed belonged to elite Assamese Muslims of upper Assam and could find their position in political sphere due to family legacy. Anowara Taimur was Begum Mofida Ahmed’s daughter. Husnewara Islam was widow of ex-Congress MLA Zahirul Islam and Sharifa Begum was daughter of ex-Congress MLA Dr. Muhammed Idris. Both the Muslim women could penetrate into the State politics due to the sphere created by their male family members.
Muslim women of Assam have been unable to occupy major positions in the political parties, except one or two. Their participation in informal political activities like demonstrations, mobilizations and other similar activities are much encouraged by every political party in Assam. Though BJP and Congress (I) are the largest national parties, but their Muslim woman affiliation in Assam is negligible. In 2006, AIUDF appeared in the State politics with a new hope of participation in active politics for the Muslim but not for Muslim women. The AIUDF lives on Muslim votes, die for Muslim votes, but shy away from making Muslim women visible in their parties. In 2006, AIUDF contested in 65 LACs and won 10, but they didn’t nominate any Muslim female candidates. In 2011, AIUDF nominated only two Muslim women, Begum Gulakhtara in East Bilashipara LAC and Jahida Sultana Sarkar in Samuguri LAC. In the latest Parliamentary election none of the major political party nominated a single Muslim female candidate in Assam. In the latest Assam’s Assembly election also none of the major political party nominated any Muslim female candidate in any winnable LAC.
Student politics is an important feature in Assam politics. The ASSU produces few Muslim political leaders in Assam. But, All Assam Minority Students Union (AMSU) produces about 50% of the Muslim political leaders in Assam. AMSU plays important role in nurturing Muslim political leaders but not female Muslim political leaders in Assam. It pays little attention in Muslim women’s participation in active politics.
Muslim women are among the poorest, educationally disenfranchised, economically vulnerable, politically marginalized group in Assam. The lack of importance of the political parties, negative attitude of political leaders, lack of opportunity, low literacy rate, low level of information, economic inequality, reinforcement of cultural stereotypes, burden of domestic work, female insecurity, lack of confidence, lack of ability to communicate with public, lack of empowerment among the women and lack of proper training restrict Muslim women of Assam to take active part in mainstream politics despite having interest in it. The less number of successful Muslim female politicians in Assam also clearly reflects that common people are not in favour to bring Muslim women in active politics.
Scanty involvement of the Muslim women in the election process has kept them marginalized in power politics. They should be in a greater number in power politics so that they can address the issues concerning them. The Indian Constitution ensures the people’s right to participate in politics without any distinctions. It does not matter whatever the sex and religion. The channels to enter into Parliament or Assembly are same for all. The election is the instrument of the people’s play in a democratic country through which they can participate in the decision making process of its government. With active participation in the elections as competitors, Muslim women of Assam can enter into power politics and can bring fair and equal treatment for all.