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Women's issues missing from poll campaign in Haryana

Monday, 7 April 2014 - 7:10am IST | Place: Bhiwani (Haryana) | Agency: dna

"Who talks about us sahab (sir)?" said Noor Begum and walked away towards her house through the dusty roads of Mewat. And probably her statement best highlights where women's issues stand in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the male- dominated Haryana which has the worst sex ratio in the country.

It's clearly a no women's land and all the major political parties – whether BJP, Congress or the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) – in the fray talk about women's issues with none having any solid concrete vision to put forward to the voters regarding them.

It's not only women issues that are absent from the poll festival, the major parties have not even given enough tickets to women. For the 10 Lok Sabha seats, Congress and INLD have given ticket to one woman candidate each while BJP has fielded none.

Also, Congress and INLD's candidate got ticket due to their political lineage rather than their gender. Congress's women candidate from Bhiwani – Mahendragarh seat Shruti Choudhry – is granddaughter of Chaudhary Bansi Lal, who was a freedom fighter, a senior Congress leader and former chief minister of Haryana. INLD's Kusum Sherwal, who is contesting from Ambala seat is wife of INLD's secretary general Ashok Sherwal.

Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting all 10 seats, has given ticket to only one woman – Balwinder Kaur from Kurukshetra constituency. Balwinder Kaur is wife of Bharatiya Kisan Union state president Gurnam Singh. Overall, among the 230 candidates fighting for 10 seats in Haryana, only four per cent are women.

So just like the women candidates, their issues are also missing from numerous political rallies, meetings and jansabhas across Haryana -- whether it is NCR area of Faridabad or more rural areas such as Mewat, Bhiwani, Hisar or Karnal.

Senior advocate and INDL's candidate from Faridabad seat, RK Anand, told dna, "Women's security is an issue in this area as you can see a change when you step into Faridabad from Delhi."

However, the issue probably does not hold much importance for the party, as it was evident in a political meeting that Anand attended half an hour later with INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala's grandson Digvijay Chautala. They discussed many issues, including Congress's misrule and about izzat (respect) of his grandfather who is in jail but there was not a word about women's issues.

There were a few woman who were standing at a corner of the programme with their faces covered. Speaking to dna, they said the decision to vote for a particular candidate is taken by the head of the family who is unmistakably a male.

Thus problems like sanitation for women, literacy, crime against women are off the radar of political parties.

The gravity of the situation becomes quite clear in inner rural regions of Haryana such as Mewat, Mahendargarh and Bhiwani and others.

In Badhra area of Mahendargarh, a woman Sarita Singh, said that basic problems like lack of toilets are one of their main issues.

"Sometimes, we have to hold on and wait for going to toilet until it becomes dark so that no untoward incident happens and we are not exposed to anyone. We just want political parties to provide us basic facilities. But we are forced to vote as per the orders of elders in the families," Savitri said.

Haryana Janhit Congress, which is led by Bhajan Lal's son Kuldeep Bishnoi, is also no different. HJC's Kamal Singh Pradhan said, "Safety of women and sex ratio" are the most important issues for them. He, however, admitted that political campaigns in Haryana do not have any special focus on women.

As per 2011 census, Haryana had the dubious tag of having India's worst sex ratio with only 879 females per 1,000 males compared to the national average of 943.

Decline in female population has resulted in men 'buying' women for marrying from states such as Chhattisgarh and north eastern parts of the country. But they are shy to admit the same and often introduce them as their field workers.

"At many places, men have bought women for marriage. But they are not open to talking about it due to fear of being ridiculed or made fun of in the society," said Dharmendra Kumar of Bhiwani.

Political parties only talk about women when they are repeatedly asked or pressed about it. But none of them has turned it into a big issue in their fight.

BJP's candidate from Karnal constituency, Ashwini Kumar, also was speechless when asked about women issues that he is highlighting in his election campaign.

"We are fighting for development of everyone. Our main issue is development. Villagers here are innocent and there is nothing for them," Kumar, who himself is an owner of a newspaper, told dna when asked about women issues in his campaign.

But interestingly, his campaign is being run by his wife, sister-in-laws and other women of the family.

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