Women in Assam politics
By Dr Dharmakanta Kumbhakar
Assam has a glorious history about women’s role in politics. Princesses Amritprabha and Rajyamati from ancient Assam exercised their influence in the administration and politics of their royal consorts. Queen Sadhani took active part in politics and acted as an advisor to her husband in the Chutiya Kingdom of Sadiya. In the Ahom reign, women had a remarkable position in politics. The chief queen of the Ahom king Tao-Khamthi (1380-89); Chao-Ching, a very accomplished consort of the Ahom king Suklenmung (1539-52) and ngbakla Gabharu, the wife of Tao-mung Bargohain played important roles in politics. Bar- raja Phuleswari, the chief consort of the Ahom king Siva Singha (1714-44) was the first queen of Assam to govern the kingdom directly. Phuleswari’s successor Ambika and Sarbeswari governed the kingdom one after another. Women like Mula Gabharu, Ramani Gabharu, Jaymati, Rangili and Padumi were politically conscious women and scarified their lives for the cause of the tion. Radha and Rukmini were in the first line of the Mayamariya rebellion against the then Ahom government.
During the British period, many prominent Assamese women leaders came forward. Queen Kamaleswari Devi, widow of King Gaurith Singha (1780-95) met the Governor General of India Lord Wellesley in 1806 arguing for military assistance to restore peace and good governce in Assam. Women leaders like Hemanta Kumari Devi Bardoloi, poet linibala Devi, Bijut Phookan, Sumitra Bhattacharya, Kiranmayee Agarwalla, Snehalata Devi Baruah, Chandra Prabha Saikiani, Shrijuta Rajabala Das, Swarlata Barua, Raj Kumari Mohini Gohain, Basantalata Hazarika etc., along with other Assamese women played remarkable roles in the India’s struggle for freedom. Assamese women like Kaklata Barua, Bhogeswari Phukani, Khahuli th, Rabati Lahon, Abali Kochuni, Golapi Chutiyani, Kon Chutiyani, Thuniki Das etc., sacrificed their lives during the Quit India Movement. Assamese women took active participation in Assam movement also.
Despite having a glorious history, the participation of women in Assam politics today is very low. Women in this state lag behind the men in the political are. Though as voter Assamese women showed a remarkable progress, but still their participation in the active politics is negligible. Women constitute 48.82% of the entire population of the state (Census 2011), but their representation in Assam’s politics hardly reflects their percentage in population. When representation and participation of women in Assam politics itself is a big issue, the issue of participation by Muslim women, tea garden women and tribal women are another dimension of the issue. The state with a considerable percentage of Muslim population (34.2%, Census 2011), tea garden population and tribal population has little women’s representation in active politics. Today, the 33% reservation at the Panchayat level has increased Assamese women’s representation in the local bodies, but due to the low political participation and representation of women in Assam in the last general elections reflects a low representation in both houses of Parliament and State Assembly. Though the average percentage of women’s representation in Parliament, Assemblies and Council of Ministers taken together has been around 15% in India, but it is lesser in case of Assamese women. In the present Lok Sabha out of 14 MPs from Assam, there are only 2 female MPs (14.3%); out of seven MPs from Assam in the Rajya Sabha, there is only 1 female MP (14.3%) and out of 126 MLAs in the present State Assembly, there are only 14 female MLAs (11.1%). But as compared to its neghbouring States, Assam is still in a good position in terms of women’s representation in politics.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the numbers of women candidates were - 1977 (03), 1980 (02), 1984(0), 1989(0), 1991(07), 1996 (09), 1999 (09), 2004 (06), 2009 (11) and 2014 (11). The numbers of female MPs from Assam in the previous Lok Sabhas were - 1977 (02), 1980 (0), 1984(0), 1989(0), 1991(0), 1996 (01), 1999 (02), 2004 (0), 2009 (02) and 2014 (02). The participation of Assamese women in the Rajya Sabha elections is also very minimal. Since its first election, only a few get the opportunity to represent in the Rajya Sabha. In the elections of 1994 and 1996, there was only one female member in the Rajya Sabha.
Assam has 126 Assembly constituencies but the participation of women in the State Assembly compared to its male counterpart is also very low. Late Usha Barthakur was the first woman MLA and woman minister of Assam, who won Assembly election in 1952 from Samaguri constituency. In 1980, Syeda Anwara Taimur created history by becoming the only female Chief Minister of the state from December 6, 1980 to June 30, 1981. The numbers of women candidates who fought in the previous State Assembly elections were – 1952 (02), 1957 (06), 1962 (04), 1967 (06), 1972 (10), 1978 (22), 1983(03), 1985 (29), 1991 (50), 1996 (45), 2001 (55), 2006 (69) and 2011 (85). In 2011 Assembly election out of total 912 candidates, there was only 85 (9.32%) female candidates. The numbers of candidates who actually won the elections were - 1952 (02), 1957 (05), 1962 (04), 1967 (05), 1972 (04), 1978 (01), 1983(02), 1985 (04), 1991 (05), 1996 (06), 2001 (10), 2006 (13) and 2011 (14).
The lack of importance of the political parties, negative attitude of political leaders, lack of opportunity, low women population, low female literacy, low level of information, economic inequality, 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 barred an assamese women to take active part in mainstream politics despite having interest in it. Assamese women have been uble to occupy major positions in the political parties, except one or two. Most of the parties do not groom women towards power. The space has been limited to family connections rather than convictions and commitment. Women are allowed only if there is no altertive choice. Women are considered only if there is a mandatory provision like reservation. The number of successful female politicians in the State also clearly reflects that common people are not in favour to bring women in power. Student politics is an important feature in Assam politics. The major student’s organizations produce about 50% of the future political leaders. Even these bodies pay little attention in women’s participation in politics.
Scanty involvement of the Assamese women in the election process has kept them margilized in power politics. They should be in a greater number in power politics so that they can address the issues concerning women. The Indian Constitution ensures the people’s right to participate in politics without any distinctions. It does not matter whatever the sex is. The channels to enter into Parliament or Assembly are same for both men and women. The election is the instrument of the people 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 or voters, Assamese women can enter into power politics and can bring fair and equal treatment all.