Reminiscing on India’s unsung women in politics this Independence day
Updated: Jan 6
by Tanisha Agrawal
As President Murmu takes office as the second female and first tribal to do so, let us reminiscence on some of India’s unsung female politicians.
Hailing from a country that recognised universal suffrage since the day it gained independence, gives me immense pride. Unlike the USA which took 144 years, Switzerland 125 years, and Britain 100 years to enfranchise women to cast their votes, independent India authorised the same from the first general elections held (1951-52). Under Article 326 of India’s Constitution, women and men both had the right to cast their vote. Today, several revered positions in the political grid have been held by females, yet the number remains limited. The reluctance to pursue politics is primarily due to the hurdles that may impede their progress.
Names like Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, and Pratibha Patil are omnipresent in our history books and are well known by most Indians. They have held high post positions like the first female PM, second female external affairs minister, first female finance minister, and first female president, respectively. Indeed, these render prominent positions and require a great deal of perseverance, responsibility, and intellect to attain. They have proved that females are worthy to secure leadership positions in a democracy. A contributor to their success, rather than that of any leader, is the grass root level support. Hence, it is our responsibility to recognise India’s unsung state leaders, party leaders, and grass root level female politicians, who have managed to work towards the welfare of their people. On the occasion of India’s 76th Independence day, let’s celebrate some of India’s lesser known, but highly change-making women politicians.
The recipient of 2013s Outstanding Women Panchayat Leaders Award and a two-time ward officer for the Dhenkanal district in Odisha, Nayana Patra is a leader who brought about several positive changes. Alongside making alcoholism a punishable offence, she established schools for girls which significantly declined the drop-out rate. She also aided females in getting loans, improved sanitation, campaigned for tribal rights, and established female brigades that patrolled 250 acres of the Sal forest. She says, “Women are second to none.”
Similarly, Sushma Bhadu who hails from Haryana was the long-standing sarpanch of Dhani Miyan Khan village in Fatehabad district. Her perseverance led to discarding the ghunghat, a head covering scarf, from 2000 women in 25 neighboring villages. Under her guidance, her village won the "Nirmal Gram Puruskar" for maintaining good sanitary conditions, zero dropout rate, and the best sex ratio among all villages in Haryana.
Another inspiring leader is Anjali Guru Sanjana Jaan Patil, a transwoman from a Muslim family, who broke the barriers and who won the gram panchayat elections in Bhadli Budruk, Bihar. She endeavours to increase the standard of living in her village by making potable water easily accessible, constructing quality roads, and repairing the sewage system. Her primary goal, however, is to make her village free from open defecation, which will include building more toilets.
From the west coast hailed Shashikala Kakodkar, affectionately referred to as ‘Tai’, who was the first and sole female CM of Goa, Daman and Diu. Her government brought in land reforms and established prestigious institutions like the Economic Development Corporation in Goa and the Goa Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. She is remembered as a visionary, who dauntlessly voiced her opinions and was forever passionate about politics and social issues, despite her old age.
A female who represented a minority group on high-tier boards in India, Shamina Shafiq desired to fight against gender discrimination and open doors to young Muslim girls who wanted to pursue education. Alongside being the General Secretary of All India Muslim Backward Class, she was also the former Member of the National Commission for Women, where she worked towards empowering women and organised 8000 females from grassroots levels to fight against gender discrimination. Ms. Shafiq also conducted mass marriages of thousands of couples from different castes, an initiative toward creating a more harmonious and tolerant society.
One of India’s strongest female communist politicians, Brinda Karat was elected to the Rajya Sabha as a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of West Bengal. She was the first woman member of the CPI(M) politburo, the highest decision-making body of the party. Ms. Karat was well renowned for protesting against war and imperialism and conducting campaigns for the betterment of people, especially workers and the rural population. She also held the honourable position of general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) for 11 years.
The first woman to become the Chief Election Commissioner of India, VS Ramadevi was also the first and only woman to serve as the Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha and as the Governor of Karnataka. She worked as a member of the Indian Legal Service in the legislative department and became a member-secretary of the Law Commission. An eminent writer, she penned several essays for the public on topics pertaining to women, children, and defection law.
Contrary to the popular narratives, the architects of the Indian constitution included 15 women. Among them, Dakshayani Velayudhan was one of the youngest and only Dalit female representatives. She firmly believed that “a Constituent Assembly not only frames a constitution but also gives the people a new framework of life.” Alongside being a vocal advocator for Article 17, which abolishes untouchability and prohibits its practice, she established a women’s organisation called Mahila Jagriti Parishad.
A country that embraces female politicians with respect is likely to go farther on the road to development because key issues like gender equality and female rights are emphasised. In the long run, female representation in politics is deemed to be a potential virtuous process: As more women are elected for office, their political involvement reaches a larger scale, such that more females and girls develop political ambitions and find backing from voters.
And as for me, I aspire to become a political journalist in India. I believe politics is the force for social change, ideation, democracy, and journalism: the amplifier. It’s a medium to capture the downtrodden's existential dilemma and illuminate the sufferers' revolutionary potential. Consequently, it has the potential to transform India into a country, devoid of inequalities and a land where everyone’s perspective is welcomed; irrespective of gender. As we celebrate our independence, let's support more women to partake in the realm of politics because ultimately they are the cornerstones of a democratic society.