Is India a direct democracy or not

Patriarchal Politics: The Struggle for True Democracy in Contemporary India

The 21st century faces the old unfinished business of bringing about a dynamic globalization of democracy. In many cases, the achievement of representative democracy leaves a feeling of unease because democratic nations have persistent tendencies to marginalize or even exclude large sections of society. This is particularly true of women worldwide. For democracy to be truly representative, it must include all citizens and give them equal opportunities to participate in the democratic process. If these conditions are absent, the benefits of democracy in their socio-economic development will be severely limited, because real democracies cannot allow inequality and discrimination based on an archaic and patriarchal way of thinking. [1] Nevertheless, after 65 years of freedom and democracy, India's democratic structures are still constrained by their patriarchal roots, and women across the country are denied the right to equal and full civil rights.

This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities Indian women face in their search for political freedom and their struggle to take an active role in India's career. Furthermore, this article will show the current status of women's representation in decision-making bodies and affirm the fundamental right of women to participate in politics. We will show the central importance of implementing this right in creating real democratic structures and gender equality across India.

The Indian community and its ruling structures

The Indian state is based on the constitution and defines itself as a sovereign, secular and democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government. The rulership structures in India are based on a three-tier model, consisting of central government, state government and city administration or the village council, also known as Gram Panchayat. The candidates of the political parties and independent candidates stand for elections to these decision-making bodies every five years.

Women as political actors

The participation of women in Indian politics can be traced back to the Indian freedom movement in the period 1920-1940, when women were actively involved in the struggle for independence and contributed significantly to the creation of a free and independent India. The spirit of the freedom movement was incorporated into the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality and non-discrimination for all Indian women. The constitution provides for equal opportunities and equal wages and places women and children under the special protection of the state. The law condemns all cultural practices that degrade the status of women and guarantees them decent working conditions and maternity leave.

Articles 14 and 15 of the constitution also prohibit discrimination based on caste, skin color, religion and origin, and also guarantee civil rights as the basis for equal participation of women in politics.

Despite the progressive constitution, traditional social structures that restricted women's social engagement were quickly revived after independence. Once again, women were banished to the home and excluded from decision-making processes on a family and social level. Politics, in particular, was seen as the domain of men, and in a democracy that has existed for over six decades, women are still not part of it. While the constitution grants women full voting rights, they are mostly looked for in vain in political discussions. Furthermore, the voting decisions of women who are conscious of tradition are not based on their own independent formation of opinions, but are largely influenced by the preferences of their male family members, or they choose on the basis of their caste membership. However, this behavior changed after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984 and the rise of her son Rajiv Gandhi to prime minister. Across the country, women disregarded the preferences of their family and caste and flocked to the ballot box in December 1984 to vote for Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party. This election was carried by a deep feeling of sympathy for the young Gandhi, the youngest prime minister in Indian history.

This made women more aware of their role in politics. Nowadays, young women are becoming more and more active in politics. They take part in political discussions, are active in student representatives, deal with the media and increasingly challenge traditional political structures. Meanwhile, the turnout of women is as high or even higher than that of men. In 2009, 54 percent of women voted in the national elections. In general, more women than men voted in the state elections in early-mid-2013. In the state of Tripura, which had the highest turnout ever in the 2013 elections, 93 percent of women went to the polls compared to 90 percent of men. A similar statistic in Nagaland: Here the female voter turnout was 91 percent, while the male voter turnout was only 89 percent. In Meghalaya, however, the situation was completely different, where women made up just under 50 percent of the total voters. In the last elections in 2013 in the states of Madya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, there was a marked change in voter turnout among men and women. 72 percent of women exercised their right to vote this time, compared to just 45 percent thirty years ago. The turnout for men was 74 percent, only slightly higher than for women. The number of women voters in the elections in Rajasthan also exceeded the number of men, even though Rajasthan is one of the states with the lowest percentage of women in India. The voting decisions of women reflect this change, and young women are moving more and more away from traditionally determined voting behavior in order to decide for themselves about their political representatives.

However, women have not yet managed to form a significant electorate of their own. And while gender inequality and discrimination against women are a widespread evil, the issue of equality has still not found its way into politics. It is true that women have become more and more committed voters and now outnumber men, but they have not yet recognized their strength in conducting political dialogues and assuming political responsibility.

Power politics: an overview

The distribution of power within Indian democracy is based on a spectrum of traditional conditions that influence the voting behavior of citizens. The main determinants of the system include religion, caste, origin and community. Choosing candidates based on social similarities undermines the cause of democracy. However, these factors still have a very strong influence on the Indian electorate. Really current problems such as the low level of development, corruption and gender inequality have receded far into the background in Indian politics. Nevertheless, the country has been experiencing a new trend for some time. The voice of conscience stirs. The uprising against political corruption and calls for more security for women are a sign of hope. Nonetheless, women voters have yet to recognize their inherent power or gender issues will continue to play a subordinate role in politics.

Political Parties: The Shortage of Women

The turnout of women and their voting decisions are indicators of their increasing political engagement and participation in politics. Unfortunately, this is only one aspect of political participation. The women are perceived as voters but not as participants in the political decision-making bodies. Women are underrepresented in all major parties. The patriarchal party structures discriminate against those women who oppose the expectations of social norms of behavior and want to actively participate in politics.

There are two different types of parties in India; On the one hand there are the parties that are member-oriented and hold regular party elections, and on the other hand those parties that have their roots in family dynasties. The majority of parties in India fall into the latter category. These parties are extremely patriarchal and women are for the most part excluded from participating in political decision-making processes, they do not even make it onto the list of candidates. The patriarchal structures of the member-oriented parties also influence the behavior of women in their role as voters, political actors and potential MPs. Women make up no more than 10 percent of the members of any party, be it at the state or local level. The two largest parties in India, the Congress Party and the BJP, have both reserved 33 percent of the seats in the party's decision-making bodies for women. However, this regulation is not implemented, and women are still under-represented in the decision-making bodies and are not nominated as candidates in elections. Of the 8,070 candidates, there were only 556 women in 2009 and of these only 59 won a seat in parliament. [2]

Without the support of political parties, women will find it difficult to overcome the obstacles they face in trying to participate in political life. Women often simply lack the means to face their male opponents. You must fight the widespread belief that men are stronger, more effective leaders. And in many cases they are unable - without the protection of a male patron - to make their way through the political hierarchies of the contemporary political arena.

Political representation of women

Women in India make up 48 percent of the country's population and 47.5 percent of registered voters, yet they are clearly under-represented on decision-making bodies, both at the federal and state levels. They currently occupy only 11 percent of the seats in the lower house and 10.6 percent of the seats in the upper house of national parliaments. [3] Furthermore, there were only four female ministers in 2012, a disappointing 9.8 percent of all ministerial posts. [4] At the state level, fewer than 7 percent women sit in parliaments across India. [5]

In the last national elections in 2009, the Congress Party nominated only 43 women as candidates, compared to 44 women in the BJP. And if we look at the last regional elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, only 10 percent of all candidates were women. And only 3 out of 67 female candidates in the local election in Delhi in December 2013 were successful. Remarkably, there are 5 million female voters in Indian cities. The 67 remaining seats were made up of the 1110 male candidates. Here we have a clear example of a lack of political equality. A similar picture emerges in Rajasthan, of the 166 seats only 25 went to women. In total there were 2096 candidates for only 199 seats. We find the same scenario in the rest of the states that had elections in late 2013. A general trend is emerging that is deeply rooted in the patriarchal lines of society.

The exclusion of women from the political decision-making bodies has meant that women's and gender equality issues are only insufficiently addressed and do not play a role in the decision-making bodies. After the gang rape and murder of a 16-year-old Indian woman on December 16, 2012 in Delhi, the protection and safety of women was placed on the political agenda. Nonetheless, the government's handling of this issue is extremely patriarchal and condescending. Instead of demanding the right of women to a life free of fear and violence in a safe society, she portrayed women as defenseless, weak and vulnerable beings. This backward approach focuses more on the female victims than on the male perpetrators and thus underscores the patriarchal and insensitive way of dealing with women’s issues by the Indian parliament.

However, the participation of women in local politics is significantly higher compared to their participation at the national and state level. In 1992 the Government of India made the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, which state that 33 percent of the seats in local decision-making bodies, called Panchayati Raj, are to be reserved for women nationwide.

This reservation works on a rotation principle, in which 33 percent of the constituencies are reserved for women for one legislative period. At the end of this period in one constituency, the reservation is transferred to another constituency. The reservation of the seats is determined arbitrarily or decided by lot. India has a direct voting system, which means that in each reserved constituency only female candidates can stand for election, and any parishioner who is eligible to vote selects and elects their preferred candidate. According to the principle of the simple majority, the woman with the most votes represents the electorate. After their term of office has ended, women who were once elected can run for a seat again, but this time male candidates are again allowed in the elections.

After the introduction of this reservation rule for women, their participation in local politics has skyrocketed. Currently, 1.5 million women hold positions in the Panchayati Raj institutions, 36.8 percent of all elected candidates. [6] The emergence of many politically successful and effective women’s representatives has led in many states to voluntarily increasing the proportion of women’s seats by 50 percent. In states like Bihar, where the reservation rate has been increased to 50 percent, women make up 54 percent of all elected representatives at the Panchayat level. [7]

The reservation of seats in the Panchayati Raj institutions has shown that not only can women vote and win elections, but that they are also strong and effective leaders. By enabling women to take on management positions with the reservation system, the concerns of women have been given a voice in the local management bodies. This has had a positive impact on both the female elected representatives and the community as a whole. The chosen women develop self-confidence and self-confidence and have improved their decision-making skills. The participation of women in Panchayati Raj institutions also ensures that the needs, values ​​and priorities of the entire community are taken into account in political decisions, and not just those of the male representatives. The participation of women in politics also shows positive results within the community. Studies have shown that the elected women's representatives succeed in initiating the necessary changes within their villages despite adverse socio-political circumstances. This includes challenging traditional ideas about the position of women and countering the prejudice that women are simple-minded and weak and inferior to intelligent, strong, capable male leaders. They address central problems such as violence, poverty and social injustice.

After two decades of seat reservations for women, their participation in the Panchayati Raj institutions remains problematic, because women are exposed to structural and work-related challenges that do not allow them to fully develop their leadership skills. The fact that women are more likely to be poor, poorly educated and financially dependent often reinforces outdated views and attitudes that favor male leaders. Women are also often assumed to stand on behalf of their husbands, who, due to the reservation system, cannot stand for election, thus questioning their ability to fulfill their role and make independent decisions. The violent nature of politics, in which political actors often experience physical and emotional violence, can also deter women from becoming politically active. Women in politics are particularly exposed to violence, persecution, assassinations and direct threats of violence. Violence can undermine women's ability to assume political leadership roles and weaken their willingness to engage in politics at broad levels.

Although women face these permanent challenges in the Panchayati Raj institutions, seat reservation has successfully contributed to increasing the number of women on local self-governing bodies from 4-5 percent to 33 percent of all elected representatives. [8] The remaining obstacles can only be overcome if women increasingly occupy management positions and traditional, misogynist ideas are broken.

Patriarchy and governance

The exclusion of women from political decision-making indicates an even greater imbalance between women and men that prevails across the country. The predominance of conservative, patriarchal mindsets among elected representatives and in society is the main reason for the ongoing opposition to the political empowerment of women. Women's political engagement threatens the balance in two ways. First, the participation of women representatives in politics gives their voice more weight and influence in decision-making processes. This in turn leads to a policy of equality and a more just society. Realizing equality inevitably means reducing the power of men in society in favor of women. This result is undesirable for many men. Second, at present the majority of political leaders in India are male and their position as political leaders gives them power and prestige within their community. The upgrading of women as political leaders, particularly through the reservation system, endangers their position of power. In the current political situation in India, when women occupy 33 percent of parliamentary seats means a 33 percent decrease in seats for men, and with their seats they lose not only their jobs but also their influence on the destiny of India. The promotion of the political empowerment of women is thus directly opposed to their personal and professional interests and is one reason why the political exclusion of women may not be addressed for a long time.

view in the future

Equality and empowerment for women can only be achieved if they are given the opportunity to participate in all areas of society, including politics. If women continue to be excluded from political leadership positions, their concerns are also neglected. The constitution gives women equal rights to participate in political dialogue and elections and to assume leadership positions at all levels, both at local, state and national levels. The full and equal participation of women in politics is the basis for the implementation of gender equality in our society. The growing female presence in politics will lead to more attention to women’s concerns, which in turn will have a positive impact on governance style and the prioritization of certain content.

In view of the advantages of increasing the participation of women in politics as voters, political representatives, party members and elected representatives, it is of fundamental importance that everything necessary is done to achieve equal rights for women in politics. One policy measure that has the potential to accelerate this process is to expand the reservation system from the local to the state and national levels. This would ensure that women are included in all political decision-making bodies across the country. Women's organizations and civil rights activists are putting more and more pressure on political parties to address the gender imbalance in politics, they are demanding more mandates and a quota for women in the parties. But with a lot at stake, it is believed that women’s chances of winning a seat are slim. This is due to the political parties who are unwilling to give them seats. Institutional intervention is therefore required to overcome the discrimination and marginalization of women in politics.

The Reservation Act for Women proposes a 33 percent share of women in the distribution of seats in the state and national parliaments. This law has the potential to fundamentally change the political landscape of India by reserving 181 seats in the national parliament for women and 1,370 seats in all Indian states. The draft law follows the model of the Panchayati Raj: Seats are reserved at random, with electoral districts changing after each legislative period. However, while the Panchayat reservations are unlimited, the draft law only allows seats for women to be reserved for 15 years, with the option to extend them for an additional 15 years.

In addition to passing this law, the political parties must ensure that women can actively shape political decisions. The voluntary introduction of a women's quota at party level to promote women's participation in politics has been very successful in many countries such as Germany, Norway and Sweden. Measures such as a quota for women in party assemblies and in the decision-making bodies of the parties can also help in India to encourage women to become more involved in the parties and to participate in political disputes.

The participation of women in politics is one of the elementary human rights. It is also central to overcoming widespread gender inequality and discrimination, and to realizing key development goals in health care and education. Women in leadership positions have the ability to break away from traditional patriarchal, cultural and political structures that hold India from realizing its potential as a global leader. When women are encouraged to actively participate in politics, they can also lead the way in economic and social progress. The predominance of men in politics must be called into question across India. It is the successful women who hold our future in their hands.



[1] Kumari, Ranjana., Reign She Will: Women's Strife for Political Space, Har Anand Publications, New Delhi, 2011, p.27.

[2] UN Women., And Center for Social Research., Violence against Women in Politics: A Study Conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan (forthcoming), 2013, p. 22nd

[4] The Inter-Parliamentary Union., And UN Women., Women in Politics: 2012, Imprimerie Courand et Associés, France, 2012.

[8] Kaul, S., and Sahni, S., Study on the Participation of Women in Panchayati Raj Institution, Studies on Home and Community Science, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 30, 2009.