The world’s largest democracy is in election mode. And this time round, women’s turnout is expected to be equal to if not more than men. Approximately 431 million women will be called to cast their votes. This huge turnout of Indian women voters may well be the game changer.  But who will the women vote for?  Are they aware enough; are they independent enough to exercise their right?

It is a well-known fact that in our country many women exercise their right to vote but seldom is it an expression of their individual political view. Largely they will agree to do what is being told to them by their male family members.

It is a well-known fact that in our country many women exercise their right to vote but seldom is it an expression of their individual political view. Largely they will agree to do what is being told to them by their male family members. And that the women should be only concerned about domestic issues like the price of vegetables, school fee and cooking gas and leave politics to the men. This is the case seen in most parts of India even in states like Rajasthan. When it comes to elected women representatives the scenario is similar. Women representatives are elected but their husbands call the shots. So how can we be sure that women related issues will be dealt with at even the grassroots’ level? But today I am focusing on women voters rather than elected representatives. This is another topic to be discussed on another day.

As a result of women’s unwillingness to take independent decision to vote for candidates who are passionate about women’s issues are side-lined and issues like safety and healthcare for example.

As a result of women’s unwillingness to take independent decision to vote for candidates who are passionate about women’s issues are side-lined and issues like safety and healthcare for example, which matter to women most; often take a backseat when political parties write their manifestos.

Is it still the case? I don’t think so. Take the case of Bihar. When Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was reelected he fulfilled his election promise to the women of his state by bringing in a new anti-alcohol law in 2016. The women whom he had met during the campaign trail had told him that alcoholism was destroying their families and communities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his campaign speeches, speaks about his government’s efforts to improve sanitation, about the education of girls (Through Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign) and the provision of clean cooking fuel (though Ujjwala scheme), for India’s women. This is because women have to shoulder daily household tasks such as gathering water for consumption, or caring for sick children and elders etc. And his party knows that women are a huge vote bank. Even opposition parties have given adequate promises in their manifestos to counter the present government’s claim. This proves that political parties know that the other 50% of the country’s population now has a voice.

What it really means is that women’s vote matters and they are capable of voting independently for the party they think will look out and work for issues that concern them.

What it really means is that women’s vote matters and they are capable of voting independently for the party they think will look out and work for issues that concern them. Isn’t this an ideal state, isn’t this what exercising their democratic right means that women are actually voting for what matters to them most.

So, what has changed?  I would like to think Indian women are gradually becoming more literate, more educated, and economically independent. This has resulted in them becoming more politically aware. And it also means they are not looking to the men in their families when deciding whom to vote for.

Smita Singh is an editor with the SheThePeople team.

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