Agartala: Women are almost a non-entity in the electoral politics and governance in India's northeastern region, albeit an incredible gender ratio in the electoral rolls of the region.
The average gender ratio in the electoral lists of the northeastern states is 971 females to 1,000 males against the national gender ratio of 958.
In four northeastern states -- Arunachal Pradesh (women 401,596, men 392,566), Manipur (women 990,960, men 939,926), Meghalaya (women 956,135, men 936,579), Mizoram (women 402,408, men 381.991) -- women electors outnumber their male counterparts.
In four northeastern states, the gender ratio ranges from 1,021 in Meghalaya to 1,023 in Arunachal Pradesh, 1,053 in Mizoram and 1054 in Manipur. In two states - Nagaland (983) and Tripura (973), the gender ratio is higher than the national average and in other two states - Assam (955) and Sikkim (958) - the sex ratio is equal to the national percentage.
Notwithstanding this, in 2014, of the 25 Lok Sabha seats across eight northeastern states, only two women (8 per cent) - Bijoya Chakravarty (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Sushmita Dev (Congress) - had elected to the Lok Sabha.
Octogenarian Bijoya Chakravarty and a host of others - among them All India Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev, veteran writer Patricia Mukhim, senior central government official turned renowned social worker Panchali Bhattachrjee and India's gymnastic sensation Dipa Karmakar have expressed their deep agony over the poor representation of women from the northeast in important bodies and urged the political parties to give them due importance.
"Women in the northeast dominate societal and domestic affairs, but political domination is not in their hands," Chakravarty, who has represented Guwahati in the Lok Sabha since 2009, told IANS.
"Women should be given at least their due rights and privileges if not more. Women are playing incredible roles all across the northeastern states. You take the example of Ima Market in Manipur or the Naga Mothers Association, besides the matrilineal society in Meghalaya," she added.
What's unique about the Ima Market or Ima Keithal (meaning 'mother's market') is that it's entirely managed by women - all 5,000 of them. Located in the heart of Imphal, this sprawling, 500-year-old market, has long been an important meeting ground and trading hub of Manipur.
The Ima Keithel is believed to be the largest all-women market in Asia, and possibly in the world.
Congress MP from Silchar Sushmita Dev said: "For better and due representation of women in the Parliament and in the assemblies in all states, we have been struggling for passing the women's reservation bill."
Dev, a former member of the Assam assembly and Chairperson of the Silchar Municipal Corporation, said: "The (ruling Trinamool) Congress in West Bengal and Odisha's (ruling) Biju Janata Dal have fielded a large number of women candidates. This is not possible for big parties like the Congress and the BJP."
Strongly advocating laws for women's reservation in all constitutional and non-constitutional bodies, noted social worker Panchali Bhattachrjee, wife of former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar (1998-2018), told IANS that BJP led government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained been silent about this.
Bhattacharjee, who always travelled within the city by rickshaw and second class by train outside the state while her husband lead a modest life, with no immovable property, car or bank balance worth mention in his name, accused both BJP and Congress of faltering on the women's reservation bill.
"We have to fight a lot for women's rights, due representation of women in policy making bodies, change the mindset of men about women, establish the equality of men and women in all spheres of society," said Bhattacharjee, who runs a social body, "Chetana", for the upliftment of women in both economic and societal affairs.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had proposed reservation for women in May 2008 as the Constitution (108 Amendment) Bill. It was passed by Rajya Sabha in March 2010, but lapsed as it could not clear the Lok Sabha before its dissolution in 2014 ahead of the general elections.
Those opposing the Bill argued that it would benefit upper caste women at the expense of the lower castes and Muslims and that it would ensure that powerful men are represented by proxy.
Patricia Mukhim, a teacher turned social activist, writer and journalist, said that women are still living in a non-inclusive, unequal, violence-ridden, gender-discriminating world and heaven knows for how many more decades.
"Women are discriminated against at the workplace and even their homes - the domestic space," said Mukhim, the editor of leading English daily Shillong Times in Meghalaya.
"Coming to other aspects of women's welfare which is essentially their health, the absence of gender sensitive and gender nuanced health indicators is a problematic factor.
Maternal and infant mortality rates and the percentage of institutional births are very poor in Meghalaya, despite the state being traditionally a matrilineal society," Mukhim pointed out.
The eight northeastern states, home to 45.58 million people as per the 2011 census, 28 per cent of whom are tribals, present a truly contrasting picture when it comes to its women.
Dipa Karmakar, who created history by becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to compete at the Olympics and the first Indian gymnast to do so in 52 years, said: "Various women organisations have effectively tackled issues like alcoholism, gender rights and ethnic conflict in northeast India."
"Except in Assam and Tripura, women's representation in parliament, assemblies, local government bodies and different governing bodies in other six northeastern states either always negligible or nothing," Karmakar said.