ALWAR & JAIPUR: Ask my husband, he would know. He is educated,” says Asha Rani, carrying a boy on her shoulder and another on her side, at the Kotputli bus stand, about 70 km from Alwar city. For someone who has otherwise been chatty, the reaction came at the mere mention of election, and who she would vote for.
Welcome to Rajasthan, where talking about poll matters is largely an “educated man thing”. And this in a state where Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had said the upcoming polls belong to women, during her October 12 Nari Shakti Sammelan Vijay Sankalp. But do they?
“Invariably, you will see the men deciding who the women should vote for,” says Jaipur-based historian and veteran journalist Sitaram Jhalani. “Even among elected women representatives, their husbands call the shots, so much so that sarpanch pati (husband of sarpanch) and pradhan pati (husband of gram pradhan) have become a designation of sorts.”
For a state that has the highest percentage of women MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha, at 13.5%, some practices in Rajasthan are an eyeopener. It is said women elected representatives in the state allow their husbands to take official decisions. The women MLAs or sarpanchs reportedly let their husbands lead the show. Women like Asha Rani even let their husbands decide who they should vote for. Though the number of women voters is rising — from 723 women per 1,000 men in 1972 to 899 in 2013 — the December 7 assembly election might see a repeat of this syndrome.
“It’s a legacy of the Congress,” claims BJP Mahila Morcha state spokesperson Nimisha Gaur. “Elected women were titular heads during Congress rule and their husbands wielded power. All that has changed under the BJP. We have now set minimum qualification for grassroots elections, like Class X, for contesting sarpanch elections.”
To be sure, the party gave tickets to 26 candidates in 2013 assembly elections and 22 won. The 200 seat Rajasthan assembly has 27 women MLAs. Congress, which is in a direct fight with the BJP in the state, gave 24 women tickets in 2013. Only 1 got elected. The Raje government had announced a slew of schemes to woo women voters. Neha Gupta, a Jaipur-based teacher, sees schemes such as widow pension and Bhamashah (that gives direct financial and non-financial aid to women) as the beginning of an era of women empowerment. “No other government gave such benefits to women.” But are they reaching the beneficiaries?
Not Gindo Devi, 70. Every month, the resident of Shahpur walks 30 minutes to a branch of Baroda Rajasthan Kshetriya Gramin Bank in Alwar city for her widow pension of Rs 750. “I haven’t received the pension for more than a year. Raje may have launched many good schemes but they are yet to reach us,” says the septuagenarian, showing her passbook that has no credit entry since 2017. So who will she vote for? “Whoever our family head will tell us to. He always tell us who to vote.”
“Schemes meant for women are mostly on paper,” says Rehana Rayaz Chisti, women wing president, Rajasthan Congress. “Women need safety, more income and a say in matters familial as well as political. While women are suffering in Rajasthan, Raje is touring the state with ‘Gaurav’ (referring to her 40-day Gaurav Yatra). I want to know, when was ‘Gaurav’ born in Rajasthan?”
“Wife of Dharampal” — that is how she identifies herself — is also unhappy with the state of affairs. The resident of Behroz, 27 km from Alwar city, bought onion seeds at Rs 2,600 a quintal with the hope of reaping a rewarding crop later. “Instead, we earned Rs 1,200 a quintal at the local mandi. There was no procurement from the government. My two sons are unemployed despite completing their BEd courses. Now they are ashamed of working in the field. I wish I had not educated them. What is the point of sending them to a college if they can’t find a job?” But she too says her vote will depend on her husband’s diktat. Dharampal, a BJP fan, says they may not vote for his favourite party this time. “We have not decided. But in all likelihood, we will not vote for the BJP.”
Agrarian woes have also hit Sanjida and her onion crop. “We work all day in the field but at the end of the day, farming is becoming unremunerative,” she says, referring to the low price she gets for her produce. There is a lack of adequate jobs in cities, bemoans Chahat Rajput from Alwar city. “There are good institutions for education. But to get a decent job, one often has to leave the city or the state,” says Rajput, who is a sales executive at mobile maker Vivo.
BJP has clearly let down the women of Rajasthan, says Congress state president Sachin Pilot. “The atrocities and brutality on women are rising by the day.” What can women expect from the Congress if it voted to power? “Whatever it takes to alleviate their woes,” answers Pilot. Chief Minister Raje had recently said there were just two castes in Rajasthan: men and women. But it seems the former caste matter more when it comes to casting votes.