Women farmers protesting at the Delhi-Haryana border in Tikri, west of the national capital/SanskritiTalwar

How Women Farmers in Punjab Mobilised Against The Farm Laws

“These capitalists will ruin us,” thundered Charanjeet Kaur, a thirty nine year old farmer with a medium landholding of 12 acres (4 hectares) from Wara Bhaika village in Faridkot district of Punjab. “Instead of bridging the gap between the rich and poor, government is trying to get rid of the poor altogether,” she told BehanBox on a mid December morning at Tikri on the Delhi-Haryana border–one of the two sites of the groundswell of protests against the new farm laws legislated by the Government of India.Sat beside her, Manjeet Kaur (40), a small farmer with 2 acres (0.8 hectares) landholding

Women cane cutters in Maharashtra, who work for 12-14 hours a day and suffer violation of their basic rights. Photo courtesy: groundxero.in

Labour Rights

Cost Of Sugar: Women Cane Cutters In Maharashtra

Neeta (name changed), a cane cutter in one of the many sugarcane farms in Beed district of central Maharashtra, was only in her early 30s when she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy.Her menstrual period was a difficult one with severe pain in her abdomen that lasted several days. Her flow was heavy and she also had severe itching and foul odour in her vagina. On the fields where she worked, there was no place for her to change the basic cloth pads she used during her menstrual period. After months of unbearable pain, Neeta decided to forfeit a day’s

Adivasi Women from Ujala Samooh collective have been contesting elections to challenge the bastions of power and patriarchy in Rajasthan. Photo credit: Drishti Agarwal

Gender & Politics

Adivasi Women Claim Power In Local Elections

Badami Bai (32), had a problem on her hands, just a week before the Panchayat (India’s directly elected village councils) elections in India’s western state of Rajasthan in January 2020. The Bhil Adivasi contestant for the office of the Sarpanch (village council head) of Bhagoron ka Khera panchayat in  Banswara district suddenly found two new contestants running for office against her.“This was deliberately done by former Sarpanch Kamla Devi’s husband Chetanpuri, to undercut my vote share. He paid them Rs. 50,000  each to contest”, alleged a dejected Badami Bai.Badami Bai is no ordinary woman.  As a member of Ujala Samooh–

Laxmi Kaurav (in brown) and 21 more ASHA workers in Madhya Pradesh have been served with a show cause notice threatening termination of service after they staged protests at the chief minister’s election rallies.

Labour Rights

ASHA Workers Criminalised For Fighting For Their Rights

India’s frontline women health workers, or ASHAs, play a critical role in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. But when they demanded better pay, protective gear and fixed tenures, Haryana and Delhi filed police cases and Madhya Pradesh threatened dismissal. We chronicle the criminalisation of their dissent.New Delhi/Bhopal: Laxmi Kaurav, 38, an ASHA sahiyogini (facilitator) in Mehgaon Block of Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh (MP) was shocked when she looked at the messages on her phone on the morning of 19 September 2020: A “show-cause notice” with her name was circulating on a whatsapp group of ASHA workers.Issued by the Block Medical

Photo Credit: Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children’s rights

Adivasi Women In Rajasthan’s Zawar Mines Reclaim their Rights

Lakshmi Devi (56), a Bhil Adivasi woman from Kanpur village in Udaipur district in Rajasthan has not been able to harvest a single grain from the 3kg of pulses she sowed on her 2 acre farm this year.” Look at my field, it has completely dried up because there is no water in the wells or hand pumps for me to irrigate my crops. If there was water, I would have got a proper yield. Without any food or water, how are we to survive?”, she said.Kanpur is a village located in the periphery of the Zawar mines, an underground

Tanzeela Qambrani, the Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA), Sindh, Pakistan. She is the first MPA from the Sheedis, the African-Pakistan minority community. Photo credit: Reddit.com
Gender & Politics

First African-Pakistani Lawmaker Fights To Claim Power

Tanzeela Qambrani (41) created history in Pakistan when she became the first Sheedi Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) of Sindh Assembly in 2018. Her election to the Sindh Assembly was significant for many reasons.As the first Sheedi lawmaker, she fought hard to rise above prejudices and discrimination. She was forced out from the position of Chairperson of the municipal council of Matli in Badin district of Sindh by councillors from her own Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The elite councillors refused to accept  a descendent of former slaves as their leader.Sheedis (known as Sidis in India)  are Pakistan’s African minority group

Sonam Dolma, the leader of Kaza Mahila Mandal in Spiti Valley submitting a petition to the ADM to drop the FIR against the women who protested against the state’s agriculture minister, Ramlal Markhanda. Photo Credit: Himshi Singh
Adivasi Rights

Women Criminalised For Protecting Spiti Valley

For the past 6 months, Sonam Dolma (29) along with 15 women, has stood guard at the entrance gate everyday in Kaza town- the gateway to the Spiti valley- in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh (HP). The aim of the women of this small vulnerable hill region with a population of 12,445 ( as per 2011 census) to protect themselves from the risk of Covid-19 infection from outsiders. 72% of Spiti’s population is Scheduled Tribes.These women,  who are part of the Kaza Mahila Mandal (Kaza Women’s group), monitor every vehicle and person who comes into Kaza and ensure that

Mamta, the former Sarpanch of Jayadara Panchayat in Sirohi district of Rajasthan. Photo Credit: Surbhi Mahajan
Gender & Politics

When Violence Is the Cost Of Doing Politics

When Mamta (26), was elected to Jayadara  Gram Panchayat ( lowest tier in India’s 3 tier local governance system)  in Sirohi district of Rajasthan in 2015, the upper caste former male Sarpanch (village council head) was angry. He found it hard to digest that an Adivasi woman from the Bhil tribe was not just entering the panchayat office but occupying the chair of  the sarpanch.What followed were a series of open threats, intimidation, harassment and abuse.The former Sarpanch threatened her with rape, something he had done with other women and girls in the village. On a monitoring visit to the

Surta Bairwa, President, Srirampura Village Council, Tonk District, Rajasthan. Photo Courtesy: Amrita Haldipur
Gender & Politics

Dalit And Adivasi Women Leaders Secure Community Rights

Surta Bairwa (33), the former Dalit Sarpanch of  Srirampura Panchayat in Rajasthan’s Tonk district had enough of the centuries old dominance of the upper caste Gurjars. The Gurjar community had encroached upon hand pumps and water tanks meant for common use of the village leaving the Dalit Valmiki community without access to water.“I took it upon myself to break this pattern and work to protect and promote the concerns and issues of the marginalised communities. I also want to ensure that women’s needs are not neglected any longer”, Surta said.At first, Surta and the other ward members approached the powerful

Varsha Eknath Gaikwad, the education minister of Maharashtra and MLA from Dharavi, Mumbai. Photo courtesy: The Hindu
Gender & Politics

“I Am The Education Minister Of Maharashtra Because Of Savitribai Phule”

For Varsha Eknath Gaikwad (45), Dharavi in Mumbai is much more than a constituency. She calls it home.The 4 time Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the Indian National Congress ( INC) from Dharavi- Asia’s biggest slum- has had her boots on the ground for the last 6 months in the efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in one of the most densely populated slums in the world. From decentralising medical screening to streamlining the process of sending migrant workers back home, she has been in the middle of it all, personally overseeing the efforts.As the education minister of Maharashtra,

Fawzia Koofi, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan. She is one of the only two women leading the peace negotiations with the Taliban. Photo courtesy: Fawzia Koofi
Gender & Politics

The Afghan MP Who Is Not Shaken By The Strong Winds

Fawzia Koofi (45), the Member of Parliament from Afghanistan, has survived several assassination attempts by the Taliban.“The Taliban dislike women holding such powerful positions in government as I do, and they dislike my public criticisms even more. They often try to kill me”, she writes in her memoir, ‘ The Favoured Daughter’.Despite this, she is negotiating for peace, as one of the only two women in the pan Afghan delegation, in talks with the hardline Islamic group for the future of Afghanistan.Throughout her life, Fawzia Koofi, has beaten the odds.As a newborn, she survived after being left in the sun

Fawzia Koofi, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan. She is one of the only two women leading the peace negotiations with the Taliban. Photo courtesy: Fawzia Koofi
Gender & Politics

The Afghan MP Negotiating Peace With The Taliban

Fawzia Koofi (45), the Member of Parliament from Afghanistan, has survived several assassination attempts by the Taliban.“The Taliban dislike women holding such powerful positions in government as I do, and they dislike my public criticisms even more. They often try to kill me”, she writes in her memoir, ‘ The Favoured Daughter’.Despite this, she is negotiating for peace, as one of the only two women in the pan Afghan delegation, in talks with the hardline Islamic group for the future of Afghanistan.Throughout her life, Fawzia Koofi, has beaten the odds.As a newborn, she survived after being left in the sun

Adivasi Rights

How the Government Diluted Forest Rights Of Adivasis during Lockdown

Policy decisions for forest diversion during the COVID19 lockdown which potentially dilute the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) and undermine the decision-making authority of the Gram Sabhas have become a major issue faced by Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities. FRA requires the completion of the recognition and vesting of forest rights and obtaining free prior informed consent of Gram Sabhas before diversion of forest lands. This is specified in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC)’s own 2009 guidelines,  the Forest Conservation Rules (2016), and also upheld by the Supreme Court in the landmark Niyamgiri judgement (2013). Large scale, particularly highly

Women garment workers at Gokuldas factory, suppliers for global clothing giant H&M protesting against illegal layoffs during the pandemic. Photo credit: The Quint
Labour Rights

Garment Workers Take On Global Clothing Giant

For over a month now, over 600 women garment workers have been sitting in protest against the illegal layoffs in the factory premises of the  ECC 2 unit of Gokaldas Exports Limited (GE), in the town of Srirangapatna- 126 kms from Bengaluru in Karnataka.On 6 June 2020, Gokaldas Exports which manufactures 70% of their clothing for the 25 billion dollar transnational corporation  H&M, laid off around 1400 women garment workers in the middle of a pandemic depriving them of their only source of income. GE has not paid the workers their full wages for the lockdown in violation of the

Anna Kujur, a tribal rights leader from Sundergarh district, Odisha Photo credit: Better India and Samvaad.
Adivasi Rights

We Fought For Our Right To Our Land With A FistFul Of Rice

Anna Kujur (53) is a fearless Adivasi leader from the Sundergarh district of Odisha. Sundergarh is a predominantly tribal district in north-west Odisha where over half the population is Adivasis, who depend on forest produce and agriculture for their livelihood.Since 2002, Anna di ( a revered term for older sister) as she is popularly known in Odisha,  has organised the Adivasis in the district under the Athkosia Adivasi Sangathan. She has  helped over 30,000 Adivasis realise their claims to land and forest rights under the Forest Rights Act,2006. She has managed to do all with very meagre resources, with the

Photo caption: Midnight Session of the Constituent Assembly held on 14-15 August 1947 Photo Courtesy: Department of Justice, Govt. Of India
Gender & Politics

Why A Feminist Engagment With Constitution Is Necessary

Seventy years ago, on 26th January 1950, India’s constitution came into force. The constituent assembly which started its debates on 9th December 1946, took 2 years and 11 months to frame the constitution. Surbhi Karwa has analysed the constituent assembly debates from a feminist lens for her LLM thesis- looking at its composition and gendered nature of some of the debates. In a detailed interview with BehanBox, Karwa, an alumnus of National Law University (NLU), Lucknow and gold medallist from NLU,Delhi, outlines why a feminist critique of the constitution is important and lays out the gendered language, themes and representation in

Mishika Singh started ‘Lawyers for Detainees’, a legal aid group to help with legal support during the NRC-CAA protests. (Photo courtesy:Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

NRC-CAA : More Legal Feet required on the Ground

India is seeing a massive countrywide resistance against discriminatory citizenship measures and women are leading it. Women across states have been resisting on the streets, inside universities and outside of it. This has seen a spate of police brutality and high handedness of the state in many parts as protestors are being detained and even arrested on flimsy grounds.While India resists on the streets, the legal fraternity has stepped up in joining the resistance with crucial legal support on the ground for detainees as well as spreading legal awareness. Women lawyers across states have been playing an important role in

Debsmita Chaudhury (24), is a gold medallist in Political Science and International relations from Jadavpur University. She expressed her dissent during the convocation ceremony by tearing a copy of the Citizenship Amendment Act. (Photo Courtesy: Debsmita Chaudhury)

Why are Politically Inactive Students Like Me On The Streets?

Debsmita Chaudhury (24) has no regrets. On the contrary, she is quite proud of herself for using the most important platform of her life to stage dissent. The Jadavpur University gold medallist in Political Science and International Relations used the convocation ceremony on 24th December 2019 to protest against the newly legislated discriminatory and exclusionary Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In an act that both surprised her family and professors, Debsmita walked up to the stage and tore apart the copy of the CAA. She then chanted “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live Revolution), bowed to the audience and then went on to accept

Tazeen Junaid (18), a second year English Literature student at Aligarh Muslim University. She, along with other women students have kept the anti- NRC resistance alive in AMU after it was shut down following police brutality on the students. (Photo courtesy: Tazeen Junaid)

“Women Of AMU Will Keep The Resistance Alive” Tazeen Junaid

Tazeen Junaid (18) believes she has a duty to keep the resistance against the discriminatory and exclusionary citizenship laws alive in Aligarh Muslim University. On 15th December 2019, the Central Reserve Police Force entered AMU and cracked down on the students who were protesting against the police brutality against the students of Jamia Milia Islamia in India’s capital New Delhi. Following this, the university administration asked the resident students to vacate their hostels and the campus was closed.In the aftermath of the police excesses, Tazeen and other non-resident women students gather  every morning at 10 AM at Bab-e-Syed- the imposing main

Saima Khan(33) a resident of Jasola at the anti CAA and NRC resistance in Shaheen Bagh. Protestors at Shaheen Bagh, led by women, have been offering a peaceful resistance against India’s discriminatory citizenship laws for the past 19 days.

Women of Shaheen Bagh Are Fighting For The Soul of this Country

Saima Khan (33) is heartbroken and angry. “ I cannot explain in words my pain when I am asked as a Muslim to prove my citizenship in my own country”, she told BehanBox.Saima is a resident of Jasola Vihar near Shaheen Bagh,a neighbourhood in the southern part of  India’s capital New Delhi. Shaheen Bagh is the site of a mass sit-in resistance, primarily led by Muslim women of the area to protest against India’s new citizenship laws.The Government of India has legislated the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which gives citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries excluding Muslims. Additionally, it has

Bitiya Murmu, a Santhal Adivasi woman leader based in Dumka in Jharkhand has been fighting a personal and a political battle for women’s land and inheritance rights within the Adivasi society. (Photo Courtesy: Bitiya Murmu)
Adivasi Rights

Where Are The Equal Rights For Adivasi Women?

For Bitiya Murmu (40), a Santhal Adivasi woman leader in Jharkhand, personal has become political. For the last ten years, she has been fighting a long battle with her male relatives to claim her rightful share to her ancestral property- a struggle which has since transformed into a statewide advocacy for land, property and inheritance rights for all Adivasi women in the state.Governed by unwritten customary laws, Adivasi women are not entitled to secure inheritance which pushes them into multiple levels of vulnerability within the society. In 1986, Juliana Lakra, an Oraon Adivasi woman filed a writ petition challenging the

Gender & Politics

Krishnaveni’s Story And The Era Of Women Panchayat Presidents

Thalaiyuthu panchayat, Tirunelveli district (Tamil Nadu): P Krishnaveni remembers the night of 13 June, 2011, clear as day. Barely 200 m from her home of 15 years, in front of a local temple, she lay in a pool of her blood.It was 10 pm, when her husband and two teenage daughters found her and screamed for help. No one came. When they finally lifted her into an auto-rickshaw, two fingers–one each hacked from her left and right hands–dropped to the floor. Her right ear was also severed.The trauma of that day lives with Krishnaveni, but it made her more determined

Goddeti Madhavi is a first time Scheduled Tribe Member of Parliament from the Araku Lok Sabha constituency in Andhra Pradesh. Photo credit: Annapurna Verma
Gender & Politics

First Time Adivasi MP Hopes To Be The Voice Of People

Goddeti Madhavi (26), the first time Member of Parliament (MP) from Araku in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) knows the trust that her constituents have placed in her in this predominantly tribal constituency. After all, more than half the voters (52%) of Araku had chosen her, a political novice, to represent them over V Kishore Chandra Deo– a five time MP and a former Union minister in the recently concluded elections to the Lok Sabha, the directly elected lower house of the Parliament, in May 2019.She is determined to fulfill their aspirations in her five year term.  “Each time

Gender & Politics

The Triumph Of Sharmila Devi And Tamil Nadu’s Women Leaders

Thirumanvayal Panchayat, Sivagangai District (Tamil Nadu): Sharmila Devi (39), the youngest dalit sarpanch of Thirumanvayal panchayat in southern Tamil Nadu’s Sivagangai district, has pulled off what none of her upper-caste, male predecessors could in 50 years–bringing drinking water to the village.“Thirumanvayal had uppu thanni (salt water). The villagers had to go to the nearby villages to get their daily supply,” she said. “I have seen this since my childhood. I always wondered why we could never solve this problem.”The water crisis is also the reason why Sharmila, who had studied upto grade X, chose to contest for the panchayat president’s post in 2011

Gender & Politics

Meagre Funds, No Salary: How Tamil Nadu’s Women Leaders Still Succeed

Nachangulam Panchayat, Sivagangai district (Tamil Nadu): What is it like to do a full-time job without a salary? Especially if you are a dalit or an adivasi woman and your daily earnings sustain your family?Ask Rajanikandham, a dalit daily wage worker, who heads the Nachangulam village panchayat in southern Tamil Nadu’s Sivagangai district. Her husband too earns daily wages and the couple have three children, one of whom is disabled.A state-run, guaranteed rural job scheme like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is critical for poor families like these but as a panchayat head, Rajanikandham is not allowed

Gender & Politics

Why Muthukanni, A Dalit, Had To Build Her Own Panchayat Office

Madhavakurichi Panchayat, Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu: It wasn’t personal ambition that drove K Muthukanni to stand for election as panchayat president from Madhavakurichi in Mannur block of southern Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. It was indignation at the humiliation heaped on the incumbent dalit panchayat president by the dominant Maravar caste.“They just would not allow him to work,” she said, her voice ringing with rage. “He was not allowed inside the panchayat office. One time he went in, he was locked in by those monsters. The poor man had to sign cheques while standing on the road. I wanted to end this

Gender & Politics

Tamil Nadu’s Women Leaders Live, Work In The Shadow Of Violence

Urapakkam (Kancheepuram district), Tamil Nadu: Even by normal standards of violence in Tamil Nadu’s panchayat politics, the events of March 29, 2001, were troubling. Menaka, 35, the feisty dalit president of Urapakkam panchayat near Tambaram, a Chennai suburb, was hacked to death right in front of her office in daylight.It was 11:30 am, when a gang of four men, armed with long knives, barged into her office. While one stood guard at the door, the others slashed her neck, head and face. She was dead before her brother Nehru could rush to her defence.Menaka’s murder shook panchayat politics and rural governance

Gender & Politics

Why 277,160 Women Leaders Remain Invisible To Tamil Nadu’s Political Parties

Chennai: Salma (50), the deputy secretary of the women’s wing of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), is among the few women to have made the transition from rural governance to mainstream politics in Tamil Nadu. Most other women have no choice but to retreat into their homes at the end of their five-year stint as panchayat chiefs.Salma, a celebrated Tamil poet and novelist, believes that it was her literary talent that caught her the biggest break in her life. During the course of her term as the head of the Tuvarankurinchi town panchayat in Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu in 2004

Gender & Politics

Why Ashubi Khan’s Pioneering Run Ends Today

Mewat (Haryana): Ashubi Khan, 51, is distraught. A decade of trailblazing work done by this tall, soft-spoken sarpanch (village chief) and her team of seven illiterate women–and three literate men–ends today. Over the decade, despite male resistance, which once led them to resign en masse in protest, the chief of Haryana’s first all-women panchayat in 2005, Khan, and her then nine women panchs (ward members) in southeastern Haryana’s Neemkheda gram panchayat (village council) racked up an impressive list of achievements. The 10 women carried out a successful campaign against female foeticide. In a district with severe water shortages, they had 20 pumps installed and Neemkheda connected to a canal. They had 50 houses

Gender & Politics

Women MP Track: Weekly Updates

This Week in Parliament: 8th-12th July 2019Women MPs in Lok Sabha this WeekAsked 20% of all Oral Questions15% of written questions7% of speakers during Matters Under 37714% of speakers in Zero Hour18% of speakers during debate on the Union BudgetQuestions (Written and Oral)Once again Supriya Sule (NCP)and Dr. Heena Gavit (BJP) asked the highest number of questions. However, some new women MPs opened their questions score this week- Jyotsna Mahant (INC), Rekha Verma (BJP), Ranjeeta Koli( BJP), Aparajita Sarangi (BJP), Pratima Bhoumik from Tripura.Most questions from Women MPs were directed at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), followed by Agriculture and Human Resource Development (HRD).Some of

Gender & Politics

Women MP Track: Daily Updates

Women MP Track 8th-9th July 2019 Highlights Women MPs in Lok Sabha asked 20% of Oral Questions 17% of Written Questions 17% of Zero Hour Speakers 7% of MPs who raised issues under Rule 377 Questions (Oral and Written) Finance Raksha Khadse (BJP) asked the Minister of Finance if NITI Aayog has listed 192 loss-making Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) for disinvestment if there were any objections raised by labour organisations. Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP) wanted to know from the Finance Minister if the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has helped in widening the tax base of the Government along with the data. Steel Pritam Munde (BJP) asked the Minister

Madhavi Goddeti (26), the first time Member of Parliament from Araku (ST) constituency in Andhra Pradesh. Photo Credit: Annapurna Verma

Gender & Politics

When I step into the Parliament, I carry the voices of 10 lakh people of Araku: Madhavi Goddeti

Madhavi Goddeti may be a first time Member of Parliament (MP) in the newly elected Lok Sabha but she is no stranger to politics. The 26 year old Scheduled Tribe MP of the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) from Araku  in Andhra Pradesh, who defeated a 5 time MP and a former Union minister, grew up surrounded by it.“ Politics was all around me since I was a little girl. I saw my father who was an MLA and tribal rights leader fight for the interests of people in the region against rampant bauxite mining all his life. I

Gender & Politics

Illiterate, Married at 11, Mother At 12: Panchayat President Now Changes Fates

Padiganalam, Krishnagiri district (Tamil Nadu): Married against her wishes at 11 to her dead sister’s husband, Sidhamallamma Kanchappa gave birth to her first child at home when she was 12. It was 1998, the child nearly died, and the doctors at the hospital chided her and the family for marrying so young.That experience taught her the importance of women’s reproductive health and control over their bodies. “I told my goud (husband) that I will not have another baby so soon,” said Sidhamallamma, today a self-assured woman with a bright smile. “My second son was born eight years later.”So, when Sidhamallamma–from the Irula tribe, famed

Gender & Politics

In A Sylvan Valley, One Woman Reveals, Changes Lives Obscured By Beauty

Sittilinghi, Dharmapuri district (Tamil Nadu): Nestled in a sylvan valley in northwestern Tamil Nadu and surrounded by forests, the village council, or panchayat, of Sittilinghi struggled to bring to state attention the infirmities obscured by its natural beauty.There were few roads between the 40 villages governed by the panchayat. There was no health centre. There weren’t enough schools–so girls dropped out and married before 18.That began to change in 2011 when a soft-spoken, mathematics graduate and former hospital administrator was elected panchayat president in a seat that was not then reserved for women. In the five years since, Tenmozhi (she uses

Gender & Politics

The Woman Who Brought Drinking Water, Toilets To A Lost Panchayat

Melamarungoor, Sivagangai district (Tamil Nadu): Mazharkodi Dhanasekar has a radiant smile and is keen to talk about her achievements, which, as it emerges, are considerable: Building 650 toilets and making her panchayat free of open-defecation in southern Tamil Nadu.Dhanasekar’s fame has spread across the district as the woman who transformed and gained attention for a remote, lost panchayat–village council–largely ignored by officials until she was elected president in 2011.Dhanasekar, 49, is one of 40 past and current women panchayat leaders we surveyed across six Tamil Nadu districts to analyse the impact of a quarter century of reservations for women in local

Gender & Politics

In Bihar’s Political Realignment, Women Suffer

As a first-time member of the legislative assembly (MLA) in Bihar, Jyothi Devi, 46, did well over her five-year term: She had 10 bridges—some of which were demanded since independence—and 3,300 km of roads constructed in her constituency, Barachatti, including several link roads connecting villages to the Grand Trunk Road that cuts across Gaya district, where Barachatti is located.Jyothi Devi got the NGO that she runs to work with a British-government agency to survey poor homesteads and arranged for 900 families to get land titles. She has been a vocal participant in the legislative assembly, the Vidhan Sabha, asking more than 250 questions.

A former sweeper from a Mahadalit–or lowest of the low–castes, Bhagirathi Devi (centre), 65, is among 28 female MLAs from Bihar contesting the forthcoming assembly election of their own standing, refuting a commonly held notion that most women in politics are proxies for male spouses or relatives. Image credit: Bhagirathi Devi/Nityanand Kumar
Gender & Politics

From Proxies To Politicians: Bihar’s Female MLAs

Thirty five years ago, Bhagirathi Devi was a sweeper in the block development office in Narkatiyaganj, a town in Bihar’s West Champaran district.Today, she is a third-term member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), representing the Ramnagar (formerly Shikarpur) constituency in northwestern Bihar, one of 34 female MLAs in the 243-member vidhan sabha.A Mahadalit–as the Bihar government started calling the poorest of low-caste Dalits in 2007– Bhagirathi Devi joined politics as a reaction to what she saw around her. “I was angry at the injustice and cruelty meted out to the poor, especially poor women, who came to the