“Politicians only address men. We, the women of this village, are mostly told by our husbands which symbol to vote for. We don’t think, we just go and vote.”
— Nirmala Devi (not in the photograph above), in Sarhera village, Haryana
The Aam Aadmi Party, the new party of anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, is promising similar reforms in the general election currently underway to woo women whose first wish is that their husbands and sons should not become drunkards. Other parties in the region have not shown much energy to push for women rights.
Women in Haryana have been so marginalised and discriminated against that most remain economically weak, educationally backward, socially depressed and politically disabled. Many are slave to poverty, unemployment and financial crisis.
According to data compiled by the Census of India in 2011, Haryana has the lowest sex ratio among all states of the Indian Union, with a shocking rural female literacy rate of just 60.02 per cent. The National Crime Records Bureau says that in 2011 Haryana had a conviction rate of only 23.4 per cent in rape cases; molestation, domestic violence, and other woman-related crimes increased.
So how deep-rooted is the apathy towards women’s issues in Haryana? Surjeet Singh, a former principal of the government school for girls at village Bobua says, “In Haryana, statistics related to honour killing do not come up; there is no way you can measure [this crime] as most incidents are not reported owing to social pressure. Marriage or love affairs outside one’s caste are, in some cases, punished with death.”
Singh recalls reading a newspaper report by well-known British journalist Robert Fisk on an acid attack, a product of the victim’s decision to marry outside her caste. “It said the acid fused her lips, burned her hair, melted her breasts and an ear, and turned her face into a look of ‘molten rubber’. This is humiliating. It makes us a prisoner of the shame, and responsible for it as it is happening in modern India,” he said.
The future of women in rural areas depends on how well they understand the need to vote for the right candidate. Nirmala Devi, who is quoted at the beginning of this report, remembers how her vote helped bring about the change she desperately wanted. This time she has made up her mind whom to vote for without consulting her husband. Sadly she remains a tiny minority.
Main image: A woman in a Haryana village. Photo: Vikas Lather