The period of political inactivity in Jammu and Kashmir has come to an end with the District Development Council (DDC) polls. The polls have been held in eight phases which started on 28 November, and the counting is scheduled to take place on 22 December.
Reportedly, in the sixth phase of the elections, 124 candidates – including 47 women – were in the fray for 14 DDC constituencies in Kashmir division.
Similarly, for the fifth phase, 155 candidates – including 30 females – were in the fray for 17 DDC constituencies in the Valley. Going by the candidature trends, it is quite visible that the number of women candidates participating in the election process is quite less as compared to men.
The same trend was seen in the list of the candidates released by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) for the DDC polls. In the fifth list, it has announced five members for the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth phases of the elections.
Out of the five candidates nominated by the BJP, only one candidate is female. In the fourth list, out of 11 candidates only two were female. A similar trend was followed in the third list in which out of 33 candidates only 14 were female.
48 Years Later, No Improvement In Women’s Political Participation In J&K
In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, only four women from Jammu & Kashmir filed nominations out of which one woman withdrew her nomination and another woman contestant didn’t pay the security deposit. In the end, there were only two women contestants as against 61 male contestants. Similarly, in the Legislative Assembly elections of 2014, out of 831 contestants only 28 were women.
Women entered the J&K assembly for the first time in 1972. Out of six women contestants, four women won, giving the assembly the highest percentage (5.33 percent) of women ever.
Even after 48 years, that record has not been challenged. Since then, the percentage of women in the assembly has not crossed 3 percent.
In the assembly elections of 2014, only two women contenders won out of 28. Later Mehbooba Mufti also got elected in the by-polls in 2016.
The maximum number of women contestants (67) were seen in the 2008 assembly elections but only three were able to win seats.
Reasons For Disproportionate Political Participation Of Women In J&K
According to a study by Shahida Shafi and Dr Mamta Chandrashekhar, women’s participation in elections is almost equal to their male counterparts in J&K but their overall participation and representation in the politics of the state is still not “up to the mark” in the state legislative assembly, parliament and decision-making bodies.
“Historically, women in the Valley have played a significant role, but 13 years of insurgency have ensured that women bear the burden of rebuilding a traumatised society, and their presence in politics, today is almost negligible,” mentions the paper.
“Women in J&K are liberal enough to join other fields like medicine, engineering, media – but when it comes to politics there is a stigma,” says Dr Hina Shafi Bhat, Vice-Chairperson Khadi Village Industries Board. “Politics is the kind of profession in J&K where men are also not spared.”
“It is not just difficult for women to join politics in J&K, but also for men, because of the turmoil,” adds Bhat. She believes that women are the major sufferers of militancy. “As wives, sisters and mothers, women have suffered a lot – this has prevented them from participating in political activities.”
Kashmir has lakhs of ‘half widows’ who are suppressed by the militancy, and they don’t get an opportunity to express themselves freely, said the Vice-Chairperson. “As we move forward, we think that society is becoming broad-minded, but the reality is quite different,” said Dr Hina Shafi Bhat.
‘Society Can’t Digest That A Woman Can Take The Lead In Decision-Making’
Mehbooba Shadab, an independent politician from the Valley, also believes that turmoil has affected the involvement of women in politics. According to her, the majority of women are ‘kept at home’ out of fear, and things get difficult for women when they venture out of those concrete walls.
But senior National Conference leader Sakina Itoo believes that it is not the militancy that is holding women back from joining politics in Kashmir but rather, society itself.
“Even if we look at data before militancy, limited women contested elections,” says the former MLA.
Itoo claims that there are more female ground workers than men, but when it comes to higher positions in politics, it is dominated by men. “People in Kashmir are more interested to send their daughters for competitive exams like Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) and Indian Administrative Services (IAS),” says Itoo.
Safina Baig, a political activist, lawyer and the State President of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) also believes that militancy has no role to play in the disproportionate participation of women in politics. She says that politics has been a male-dominated profession, and society believes that women ‘cannot handle such a challenging role’.
“When it comes to decision-making, it is difficult for society to digest that a woman is taking the lead,” says Baig.
“The political parties may have ‘women empowerment’ in their manifestos, but when it comes to including women in decision-making, they are quite hesitant,” adds the political activist.
Baig suggests that the women’s reservation bill, which reserves 33 percent seats in the Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women, should be passed by the Lok Sabha to provide equal opportunities to women politicians.
Role of Media In Highlighting Women’s Achievements & Role In Decision-Making
Media provides a crucial platform to politicians for public debates, and helps people form an opinion. A study by Shah Alam on the participation of women in Indian politics and the role of media, states that media should highlight women’s achievements so that it encourages more females to be a part of the democratic process.
“Media should recognise women politicians, their voices, their contributions in decision-making and highlight women’s issues and also appreciate the work done by women to increase their inclination towards the political system,” the study states.
When Dr Darakhshan Andrabi, a senior BJP leader and spokesperson, joined politics, she did not get much coverage in Kashmir media.
Speaking to this journalist, Andrabi stressed on the fact that the fourth pillar of democracy has an important role in shaping a politician’s life, and sometimes female politicians are given less coverage than their male counterparts.
Political Backing Needed To Survive J&K Politics
According to Shadaf, an independent political leader from Habbakadal, it is very important to have a political backing to survive in J&K politics. She had the backing of her uncle who was a part of J&K politics.
“Apart from that you need money, and everything will fall in place,” says the independent leader.
While Shadaf says that she will contest in the next legislative election as an Independent, Rashida Mir who contested as an Independent from Kulgam in 2014 has joined hands with the BJP.
Mir believes that it is tough to work as an Independent as you have to work from ground zero. “Political parties provide you members and people are eager to work with you because they already know the party’s agenda,” says the BJP State Secretary from North Kashmir.
Khem Lata Wakhlu, senior Congress leader, says that it is very difficult for a novice to join politics in J&K, especially women. “The party name matters during elections, and it sometimes becomes difficult for an individual to get funding to promote her party,” adds Wakhlu.
‘Wrong Leaders Have Shown Wrong Dreams To The People Of J&K’
The political process in Kashmir came to a halt after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. Many political leaders were detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The environment after the collapse of the PDP-BJP government was quite different as compared to the present day.
After the collapse of the BJP-PDP alliance, political activities in the Valley continued, parties issued statements, organised press conferences – but post-5 August 2019, a vacuum has been created in J&K politics.
Speaking about the resentment amongst people post-abrogation of Article 370, Bhat, Vice-Chairperson, Khadi Village Industries Board, says that the wrong leaders have shown wrong dreams to the people of J&K. “People of J&K are not aware of the merits of the abrogation of Article 370,” adds Bhat.
(Swati Joshi is a freelance journalist based in Dehradun. She has previously worked with Kashmir Observer newspaper. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)