Poor Representation of Women in J&K Elections

By Haris Rashid

SINCE 1967, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has sent a total of 82 MPs to Lok Sabha. Women have been represented only five times. Akbar Jahan Begam of J&K National Conference (JKNC) first represented the Srinagar constituency in 1977 and then Anantnag constituency in 1984. Parvati Devi of the Indian National Congress (INC) represented Ladakh in 1977 while Mehbooba Mufti of J&K Peoples Democratic Party (JKPDP) represented Anantnag constituency first in 2004 and then in 2014. In the Jammu region, no constituency has ever been represented by a woman in Lok Sabha. As far as J&K State Legislative Assembly is concerned, there have been a total of 822 members since 1962 and women have been represented only 15 times. In the last three state assembly elections held in 2002, 2008 and 2014, there have been two, three and two women MLAs respectively out of a total of 87 for each assembly. This data paints a dismal picture of women representation in the elected bodies of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Almost half of the population of the state is not represented properly in elected bodies.

Looking at the distribution of tickets by main parties in Jammu and Kashmir, it appears that they give very few tickets to women candidates as a token gesture.  The total number of women that have contested Lok Sabha polls since 1967 from the state is 36. More than half, 19, were independents. Major parties like JKNC, JKPDP, INC and BJP, have given a total of 1-3 tickets to women in all these years. In State Assembly elections, a total of 173 women have contested elections since 1962 of all the 5850 candidates. 59 women were independents. No major party has given more than twenty tickets to women.

In 2008 elections alone, 67 women contested of whom 21 were independent. Three women won in 2008, two from JKNC and one from JKPDP. Only two women from JKNC had contested the election and they both won while JKPDP had fielded 9 women candidates. Meanwhile, all but two women candidates who have ever contested the assembly elections independently lost their deposits. Further, half of the total of JKNC’s (7) and JKPDP’s (5) women candidates have lost their deposits. For JKPDP, all the women who lost deposits are from the Jammu region and none from Kashmir. In the 2008 elections, JKPDP fielded a total of 9 women candidates of whom all the 5 candidates who contested in the Jammu region lost their deposits. In 2014, JKNC fielded 6 women candidates in total, two from Kashmir and four from Jammu. Just like PDP in 2008, all its women candidates who contested in the Jammu region lost their deposits.

According to Inter-Parliamentary Union, the average percentage of women in national parliaments across the globe for the month of January 2021 was 25.5%. For Asia, this figure stood at 20.4%. As far as India is concerned, there are currently 78 elected women MPS in Lok Sabha out of the total of 540 (14.4%) and Rajya Sabha has 27 women members out of the total of 241 (11.2%). This percentage of elected women in parliaments has been steadily rising over the years, globally as well as in India. Unfortunately, for Jammu and Kashmir, it has decreased over the years. The highest number of women its assembly ever saw was in 1972 when 4 women were elected to the state assembly of 75 members. A total of 6 women had contested the elections- two independents and four from INC. All the four INC women candidates had won.

Participation of women in policy-making decisions in parliaments and state assemblies is necessary because it gives women the opportunity to be heard.  This also improves the quality of decision making by bringing different perspectives to the table on the basis of different gendered experiences. Further, several studies prove women tend to legislate differently than men because they focus on and care about different issues than those of their male counterparts. Such issues often include health care, social welfare and services, gender discrimination, and women, family, environment, and children’s issues.

For political institutions to be democratically legitimate and responsive, their composition must mirror the diversity in their societies. They must be inclusive of the plurality of the groups that exist in their populations. Since women make up half of the population, their gendered experiences and voices should not remain unheard and unrepresented in the decision making. It is still unknown as to when the elections will be held to the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory but whenever the elections are held, parties and the general population should make sure that women get proportional representation in the assembly. As a state, we flirted with all-male assemblies and had enough experience with men’s law-making process. It is now time to change for the better and give women’s experience a chance to be represented in elected bodies. Given the complicated nature of politics in J&K, there are several other representations that go beyond elections and legislative bodies. However, this article is limited to the representation of women in elections and elected bodies that have a state sanction.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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