Sumalatha during her campaign (@SumalathaA/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • A skewed gender ratio in our legislative assembly and our parliament does not reflect well on us. So much for the rhetoric on women empowerment that party’s peddle come elections!

The fate of the state of Karnataka has been at the mercy of the whims and fancies of its elected representatives, most of whom seem to be taking the electorate for a ride. In all the recent drama, one thing that stands out is the skewed gender ratio of the political setup in the state.

Given the defections and the drama, it is not really easy to remember who owes loyalties to which party but then all parties seem united in their bias against women. There are no women MLAs who are involved in any of this drama because they form less than 5 per cent of the assembly.

The 15th assembly elections that gave the state this broken mandate has only seven women elected to the house. The recent Lok Sabha elections too saw only two women MPs from Karnataka of the total 28, Shobha Karandlaje from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and independent candidate, Sumalatha Ambareesh. This raises the count by one as the 2009 ( J. Shantha) and 2014 (Shobha Karandlaje) election saw just one woman MP each from the state.

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As far as the state assembly is concerned, of the seven women MLAs, Indian National Congress’s (INC’s) Laxmi Hebbalkar who won from Belagavi Rural, has the backing of trouble-shooter and power wielding D K Shivakumar, while Nippani’s incumbent Shashikala Annasaheb Jolle (BJP), is the wife of BJP MLA, Annasaheb Jolle. Roopakala who won from Kolar Gold Fields is the daughter of former Congress MP, K H Muniyappa. She contested against the daughter of former BJP MLA, Y Sampangi, Ashwini Sampangi. And in the re-election held for the Jayanagar assembly constituency in Bengaluru, Sowmya Reddy (INC), the daughter of MLA Ramalinga Reddy, won the seat.

Despite 49 per cent of the voter population of Karnataka being women, the state has till date only seen eight MPs.

  1. Sarojini Bindurao Mahishi - Dharwad - 1962,1971, 1977 - INC
  2. Taradevi - Udupi - 1984, 1991 - INC
  3. Margaret Alva - Uttara Kannada - 1999 - INC
  4. Chandraprabha Urs - Mysore - 1991 - INC
  5. Manorama Madhwaraj - Udupi - 2004 - BJP
  6. Tejaswini Gowda - 2004 - INC
  7. Shobha Karandlaje - Udupi - 2014, 2019 - BJP
  8. Sumalatha Ambareesh - 2019 - Independent

One can easily observe the dismal representation of women in the last two decades, with Udupi being the sole constituency that has seen a repeat woman MP.

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The Congress that way has fared better, at least in the past, as far as Lok Sabha representation is concerned. It had 15 women candidates this election against six of the BJP and four from the JD(S). Many a constituencies have never had any women representatives. For instance, Dakshina Kannada, which is the hub of education and had more women voters (8.46 lakh) than men (8.2 lakh), has never had a woman MP nor women MLAs in the last two decades across its eight constituencies, except in Puttur. Both undivided Dakshina Kannada and Bengaluru have only seen 6 women MLAs in the last six decades.

Women in the state, irrespective of the party, have not been given due representation either in the state assembly or in the parliament.

From lobbying, to low resource mobilisation power, to patriarchy --- the battles for women are far too many. “Women cannot go on lobbying to the extent that male ticket aspirants can,” opines Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee’s Women’s Wing president, Laxmi Hebbalkar, as quoted by the Economic Times. “Patriarchal attitude and unwillingness of men to share power are the reasons why women are unable to contest and win elections,” opined activist Cynthia Stephen, who sought to contest from Bengaluru North. Her nomination was rejected on the grounds of an error in the nomination paper.

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Of the two demons of voter and party bias, the former can be handled by the absence of the latter. For voter bias is malleable and exposure may lead to a decline in the bias, if not a complete erasure of the bias. But if a party chooses to not field women candidates, it only strengthens stereotypes of women being ineffective in public life. Fielding women as sacrificial lambs in unwinnable seats too is yet another form of malice towards them.

Why do parties not throw their weight behind their women candidates?

Reservation To The Rescue

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The glass ceiling is clearly there and stands unbroken for decades now as the state has never had a woman chief minister or even a Deputy Chief Minister, nor do any of the parties have a women as a party president. If not for 50 per cent reservation at the local level that was introduced by Ramakrishna Hegde in the state way back in the early 1980s the state would not have seen even such representation of women that it does today.

The Women’s Reservation Bill could have helped women break this glass ceiling as the patriarchal setup doesn’t allow many women to rise politically if not backed by equal or more powerful leaders in their respective parties. But the Women’s Reservation Bill hit a roadblock with the dissolution of the previous parliament. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9 March 2010 but the bill is still pending in the Lok Sabha.

If winnability is the criteria for selection of candidates and women are seen as being less effective and if there is no electoral incentive for nominating a woman, then party nominations and reservation could help plug this gap. As it is lack of party nominations is denying opportunities to those women who can easily be on a par with men but do not have either resource mobilisation power or the social support to make it independently. In such cases, a party-level reservation for women would be a welcome move.

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So much for the rhetoric on women empowerment that party’s peddle come elections! Some concrete action in this direction would surely be more productive in changing the skewed gender ratio of our legislature.

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