What’s Stopping Over 21 Mn Eligible Indian Women from Voting?
(Excerpted, with permission, from the book 'The Verdict: Decoding India's Elections', by Dr Prannoy Roy and Dorab R. Sopariwala, published by Penguin Random House.)
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of our current election system is that millions of women in India have not been registered to vote even though they are over eighteen years old and eligible.
The data points towards a major problem: the most reliable measure of population, the 2011 census, suggests that by 2019 the total population of women (aged 18 and above) in India will be 97.2 percent of the total men’s population.
However, the Election Commission data for 2019 states that women voters are only 92.7 percent of male voters. This difference between what it should be, 97.2 percent, and what it is in reality, 92.7 per cent, indicates that there is a 4.5 percent shortfall of women voters.
It is now clear from past census and Election Commission data that this under-representation of women has occurred election after election, decade after decade.
What 4.5% Missing Women Actually Means
In fact, while 4.5 percent may seem a small percentage, when converted into actual numbers of women, the scenario is staggering.
An indication of how large this figure of 21 million missing women is that it is equivalent to every single woman in any one of the following states not being allowed to vote: Jharkhand, Haryana, Telangana, Kerala or Chhattisgarh!
The estimate of 21 million missing women voters is based on the percentage/ratio of women to men in the electoral rolls compared with the percentage/ratio in the census. Alternatively, if we do not use ratios but compute the absolute numbers of women according to the census compared with the absolute numbers in the electoral rolls, the number of missing women is even higher, at a staggering 28 million missing women voters.
The Election Commission cannot be blamed for this massive failure. On the contrary it is in spite of the huge effort that they make year after year to enrol women voters, with a range of outreach programmes targeted specially at women.
It is a result of a combination of social and political factors, and what is worrying is that it is worsening over time.
Disenfranchisement: Regional Differences
There are major biases in the extent of missing women between regions with some states having a much higher level of disenfranchised women than others.
These three states will account for over 10 million of the 21 million missing women voters in 2019.
It is shocking that in Uttar Pradesh, 85,000 women voters on average will be deprived of the right to vote in every single constituency. Moreover, among the bigger states, those which have the best record with the lowest under-representation of women are from the south of India: Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Even among the small states of India, the two worst offenders are from the Hindi belt: Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Moving on from absolute numbers of missing women, even if we analyse the percentage of women without their legitimate voting rights, once again the Hindi-belt states are the worst: in UP above 10 percent of women will be denied the right to vote, in Rajasthan and Maharashtra it is over 5 percent.
These are unacceptably high percentages of disenfranchised women.
But there is a silver lining: Many of the smaller states have more registered women voters than men voters. Perhaps these variations reflect the bigger picture of the vastly different cultural and political attitudes to women in the many regions of our country.
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