Home » Bihar Votes For Its (and India's) Future » Bihar’s Surge Of Female MLAs: Progress Or Delusion?

Bihar’s Surge Of Female MLAs: Progress Or Delusion?

Bhanupriya Rao & Saumya Tewari,
Share with your friends










Submit
9
Shares
Views
11083

620_bih

Image used for illustrative purposes only.

 

Bihar may still be one of India’s most backward states, but when it comes to female political representation, it is among the country’s best.

 

The state of 104 million people has 34 female MLAs (next only to Uttar Pradesh’s 35), one of the highest in the history of female representation in India’s state assemblies and the highest-ever in the state’s history. By proportion, 14% of Bihar’s state assembly is female, second only to Haryana (14.4%), reveals an IndiaSpend and GenderinPolitics analysis of electoral data.

 

With elections just a couple of months away, all eyes are on the big political stage that is Bihar, which—as IndiaSpend had reported earlier—has improved under Nitish Kumar but remains one of India’s poorest states. Bihar has 28 million illiterate women, India’s lowest level of female literacy (53%) and employment, with the female labour-force participation rate 62 percentage points below the male rate.

 

In the calculus of caste, religion and party alignment, women voters—roughly half of Bihar’s electorate—continue to play a traditional, largely silent role on the political sidelines, despite their political advancement.

 

Women political representatives, whether MPs, MLAs or those in panchayats (village councils) and urban local bodies, are often spoken of as footnotes, often dismissed as proxies to powerful male relatives and colleagues. Yet, there is no question that their numbers have risen.

 

This story is the first of an occasional series that will focus on Bihar’s female MLAs through a data-driven analysis.

 

Bihar’s conflicted relationship with women in politics

 

It took half a century for Bihar to elect 34 female MLAs in the 2010 assembly election.

 

The electoral history of Bihar reveals conflicting trends in the political representation of women.

 

Bihar elected 11.4% female MLAs during the second vidhan sabha (lower house) in 1957, which is the second highest in history after the current assembly. Within 10 years after the second vidhan sabha, women’s representation fell to 1.9% and stayed below 5% for the next four decades.

 

Women MLAs In Bihar: 1951-2010
Year Total Seats Seats won by Women Women MLAs in %
1951 276 13 4.7
1957 264 30 11.4
1962 318 25 7.9
1967 318 6 1.9
1969 318 4 1.3
1972 318 13 4.1
1977 324 13 4.0
1980 324 11 3.4
1985 324 15 4.6
1990 324 10 3.1
1995 324 11 3.4
2000 324 19 5.9
2005 (February) 243 3 1.2
2005 (October) 243 25 10.3
2010 243 34 14.0

Source: Election Commission of India

 

The year 2005 was a watershed year for women’s representation in Bihar. After a gap of 45 years, representation of women was 10% again, an increase of 31.5% (six seats) over the previous assembly of 2000.

 

In the second elections held that year (there were two elections in February and October 2005), and after the bifurcation of the state into Bihar and Jharkhand, women made up 10.3% of the state assembly.

 

Female political leadership is clearly on the rise

 

What accounts for the rise in women MLAs since the 2000 elections?

 

One clear factor is the increase in number of women contesting the elections. The second factor could be a rise in the number of constituencies they have been contesting.

 

In 1995, women contested from 52.5% of constituencies, which fell to 42% in 2000, rising marginally to 43% in 2005.

 

However, in 2010, women contested from 74% of constituencies.

 

Increasing Women’s Participation in Bihar
Year Total Seats Total women contestants Number of Seats contested % of seats contested
1957 264 46 43 16.3
1962 318 46 45 14.2
1967 318 29 26 8.2
1969 318 45 42 13.2
1977 324 96 85 26.2
1980 324 77 71 21.9
1985 324 324 85 26.2
1990 324 147 114 35.2
1995 324 263 170 52.5
2000 324 189 136 42
2005(1) 243 26 17 7
2005(2) 243 138 106 43.6
2010 243 307 182 74.9

Source: Election Commission of India

 

Does this mean that the rising number of women contestants has increased the number of women MLAs?

 

While the percentage of seats won against those contested rose from 14% in 2000 to 23% in 2005, it fell to 18.7% during the 2010 elections, the data show.

 

This could be due to a substantial spike in the number of seats that women contested from in the last elections.

 

Women Contestants in Bihar Assembly Elections: Win Rate
Year Seats contested Seats won Win %
1957 43 30 69.8
1962 45 25 55.6
1967 26 6 23.1
1969 42 4 9.5
1977 85 13 15.3
1980 71 11 15.5
1985 85 15 17.6
1990 114 10 8.8
1995 170 11 6.5
2000 136 19 14
2005(1) 17 3 17.6
2005(2) 106 25 23.6
2010 182 34 18.7

Source: Election Commission of India

 

One of the main factors for the rise of women’s participation in Bihar, perhaps, could be the 50% reservation for women in panchayats.

 

Bihar was the first state to implement the reservation in 2006, which might have created an enabling environment for greater political participation.

 

Prior to that, women had 33% reservation in panchayats. Subsequently a few other states, such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Kerala and Karnataka, have implemented the new rule.

 

The most-popular female MLAs and their strongholds

 

Over the last 59 years, 180 women have been elected to Bihar’s vidhan sabha: 52 women have been elected as MLAs more than once.

 

Uma Devi Pandey (INC), elected to represent Baniapur constituency, holds the distinction of having been elected an MLA most frequently; 11 women have been elected three times or more to the vidhan sabha.

 

Bihar’s Most-Popular Female MLAs
Name Constituency No of times Years
Uma Devi Pandey Baniapur 5 1957, 1962, 1967, 1980, 1985
Sudha Srivastava Nathnagar 4 1977, 1990, 2000, 2005
Rajkumari Devi Hisua 4 1957, 1962, 1980
Bhagwati Devi Barachatti 4 1969, 1977, 1995, 2000
Gayatri Devi Gobindpur 3 1980, 1985, 1990, 2000
Sushila Kerketta Khunti ( now Jharkhand) 3 1985, 1990, 1995
Renu Devi Bettiah 3 2000, 2005, 2010
Prabhawati Gupta Kesariya, Motihari 3 1957, 1977, 1980
Guddi Devi Runsaidpur 3 2005, 2010
Bima Bharati Rupauli 3 2000, 2005, 2010
Bhagirathi Devi Shikarpur, Ramnagar 3 2000, 2005, 2010

Source: Election Commission of India

 

In the next part of this story, we will look at some of the women MLAs in the current vidhan sabha, and explore the question: Are these women really proxies for male relatives or spouses?

 

(This story is the product of a collaboration between GenderinPolitics, a project that tracks women in politics and governance in India, and IndiaSpend. Bhanupriya Rao is a co-creator of GenderinPolitics. Tewari is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

 

(This story is part of IndiaSpend’s special analyses of Bihar. You can read the other stories of this series here.)

 


 

“Liked this story? IndiaSpend.org is a non-profit, and we depend on readers like you to drive our public-interest journalism efforts. Donate Rs 500; Rs 1,000, Rs 2,000.”

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*