Agartala/Guwahati, North-east India, comprising eight states, is sending three women to the Lok Sabha — one more than the 2014 general election. Of the three women, elected for the 17th Lok Sabha, two are new faces and belong to the BJP: Queen Oja (from Guwahati parliamentary seat) and Pratima Bhowmik (Tripura West).
Former Union Minister and Meghalaya’s ruling National People’s Party (NPP) candidate Agatha Sangma won the Tura Lok Sabha seat defeating her nearest rival and former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma of the Congress by a margin of 64,030 votes.
The 38-year-old Sangma, the younger sister of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and daughter of former Lok Sabha Speaker late Purno Sangma, first was elected to the 14th Lok Sabha in by-elections and re-elected to the 15th Lok Sabha, becoming Union Minister of state for Rural Development in the Congress-led UPA government.
In 2014, of the 25 Lok Sabha seats across eight northeastern states, only two women (8 per cent) — Bijoya Chakravarty (BJP) and Sushmita Dev (Congress) — were elected to the Lok Sabha from Guwahati and Silchar seats of Assam respectively.
Chakravarty did not contest the poll this time while Dev lost her Silchar seat to BJP’s Rajdeep Roy by a margin of 81,596 votes.
The 50-year-old science graduate, Pratima Bhowmik, said: “I would work for the all-round development of the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah’s development mantra and vision are our future course of action for the welfare of the people.”
“To fulfil Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb’s vision to make Tripura a model state, we would all together work to achieve the dream,” Bhowmik, General Secretary of the BJP’s state unit, told IANS.
Bhowmik, securing 5,73,532 votes (51.77 per cent of the valid votes polled) won the Tripura West seat defeating her Congress rival Subal Bhowmik by a margin of 3,05,689 votes, would be the second Lok Sabha member from Tripura after Congress’ Maharani Bibhu Kumari Devi, also former Tripura minister, who won in 1991.
BJP’s Queen Oja, 67, also a former Guwahati mayor (in early 90s) secured 10,08,936 votes, trouncing Congress candidate Bobbeeta Sharma by a margin of 3,45,606 votes. She was elected to the Lok Sabha from the prestigious Guwahati seat for the first time.
“I am born and brought up in Guwahati and associated with public life for the last 35 years. My best endeavour would be to further develop the Assam’s main city and other regions of the state,” Oja said.
The average gender ratio in the electoral lists of the northeastern states is 971 females to 1,000 males against the national gender ratio of 958.
In four northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh (women 4,01,596, men 3,92,566), Manipur (women 9,90,960, men 9,39,926), Meghalaya (women 9,56,135, men 9,36,579), Mizoram (women 4,02,408, men 3,81,991) — women voters outnumber their male counterparts.
“Women in the North-East dominate societal and domestic affairs, but political domination is not in their hands,” said veteran political commentator Sanjib Deb, adding that more women should be given chance to govern the political administration.
“In the just concluded parliamentary polls, women representation from the region to Lok Sabha rose to 12 per cent from the last election’s (2014) eight per cent, but this is very poor from the expected number of women lawmakers.”
All India Women Congress President Sushmita Dev said: “For better and due representation of women in Parliament and in state assemblies, we have been struggling for the women’s reservation Bill.”
Dev, a former member of the Assam Assembly and ex-chairperson of the Silchar Municipal Corporation, told IANS : “The ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Odisha’s (ruling) Biju Janata Dal fielded a large number of women candidates in the 17th Lok Sabha polls. However, this is not possible for big parties like the Congress and the BJP.”
Patricia Mukhim, a teacher-turned-social activist, writer and journalist, said that women are still living in a non-inclusive, unequal, violence-ridden, gender-discriminating world.
“Women are discriminated against at the workplace and even their homes – the domestic space,” Mukhim, the editor of leading English daily Shillong Times in Meghalaya, told IANS.
“Coming to other aspects of women’s welfare which is essentially their health, the absence of gender sensitivity and gender nuanced health indicators is a problematic factor,” said Mukhim, a recipient of the Padma Shri.