Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha | Nov 27, 2018 | 5 min read
Walking through the streets of Mizoram, a common visible trend is that most shops, vegetable and fish markets, and countryside restaurants are mostly run by women. Like other tribal states in the Northeast, women are dominant in Mizoram as well. However, their participation in politics doesn’t reflect this trend, with women comprising only 15 out of 200 candidates contesting this year’s state assembly polls. This number is the highest in Mizoram’s history, where the number of female candidates has never exceeded past eight. The question here is, does this minimal participation in politics reflect women empowerment in the state?
Mizoram goes to polls on November 28, with approximately 7,68,181 eligible voters, out of which 3,93,685 are women, as per the election commission. BJP is contesting 39 out of 40 seats in the state, and have fielded six female candidates. The Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), a regional party in the state, has named two woman candidates, while the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have fielded one woman, each. The Mizo National Front (MNF), a significant regional party in Mizoram, has no women representation in this election. The remaining candidates who are contesting elections are independent.
At present, Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu from the Congress, is the only woman in the state assembly. Vanlalawmpuii won the Hrangturzo constituency by-poll in May 2014, after CM Lal Thanhawla vacated this seat to keep the Serchhip Assembly constituency with him. He had contested and won both the seats in the 2013 polls. Vanlalawmpuii holds the portfolio of fisheries, sericulture and cooperation, and is only the fourth woman ever to be elected as an MLA in Mizoram’s state assembly. She is re-contesting from Hrangturzo constituency this election cycle.
The first woman legislator to be elected in Mizoram was Thanmawii in 1978, followed by K Thansiami in 1984 and then Lalhlimpuii Hmar in 1987. After 1987 until 2014, there were no women who had been elected.
'Cong, MNF ignored women's issues'
Chawngthu believes that women in the state are struggling with several issues like in other parts of the country, but that these can be solved only by equal representation of both genders. “Our government has implemented the Mizo Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance of Property Act to protect the rights of women and uplift their socio-economic status. There was a plan to create a women and child development department in the state. The government has also given certain rights and privileges to women by providing seat reservation in local bodies, like the village council, local council and municipality council. Mizoram is a tribal state where both men and women are deprived of many facilities which people of other parts of the country enjoy. But there is no direct link between development and participation of women in politics.”
Also known as O.Pi by her friends and family, the MoS is an advocate for women empowerment. She is currently the Chairperson of the Mizoram State Commission for Women and previously held the post of President of the Mizoram Pradesh Youth Congress Committee. Her father, C Chawngkunga, is a senior Congress leader and former minister.
Chawnghthu mentioned that apart from government effort, social organizations like Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP) have also been conducting and engaging in activities for the development of women. They fight against atrocities committed against women, extend help to the destitute and on various occasions, provide family counseling to women, all with the support of the government. She adds that the government has taken effort to empower and uplift the status of women in every sphere of life.
According to F Lalremsangi, BJP's candidate from Aizawl S III (ST), the state assembly needs more female representation to bring balance in different sectors. “Women in Mizoram are deprived in each and every sector and we need more women in the assembly to address those issues. When we look at basic sectors like health, employment etc., women are far behind than men. Both Congress and MNF have ignored women’s issues, and the lack of women leaders in both parties is one of the reasons behind this,” she claims.
Women could be more efficient administrators
Talking about the difference between women in Mizoram and other parts of the country, Lalremsangi said “Women here are brave and independent. Six women are contesting from BJP but many more are campaigning for us. We read in newspapers that BJP is against beef, but in Mizoram we eat beef and my party doesn’t have an issue with this. We are free to express ourselves and this is going to reflect in the assembly if we all win.”
Apart from basic development, Mizoram is struggling with severe issues like drug addiction. Social activist and a member of BJP, Vijay Lakshmi Rai believes that these issues can be solved by women more efficiently - “Drug addiction is an international issue and Mizoram is no exception. A large section of youth are getting addicted, they get easy access to drugs because our state shares a border with countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. The lawmakers of Mizoram are busy with other issues, but they aren’t aware of the fact that drug addiction is destroying our backbone.”
President of the National Mahila Congress, Sushmita Dev, blames PM Narendra Modi and the BJP for poor participation of women in Mizoram. She opines that an increase in women’s participation in politics is extremely important, as they have been known to deliver better governance. Dev alleges that since Congress didn’t have a majority in parliament, the Modi-led BJP government didn’t pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, a manifesto promise - “It feels good that more women are contesting this year in Mizoram but with the bill, there would have been a stronger number of women candidates in Mizoram and other parts of the country.”
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