Since the 1987 Mizoram assembly election, there has been no elected woman representative in the state legislature. It is more than three decades since the last woman legislator, Pi Lalhlimpuii, contested on an independent ticket and was elected to the first assembly in 1987 after gaining statehood. But she lost her seat two years later in the elections that were held in 1989 after withdrawal of President’s Rule.
A decade earlier, Pi Thanmawii had become the first woman MLA in 1978, when Mizoram was still a Union Territory. This period was characterized by peak Mizo insurgency.
A factor behind low representation of women in state politics is that they do not come out to contest elections. Observers point out that women are discouraged from becoming part of traditional decision-making platforms like tribe-based councils and other local bodies due to the strong patriarchal influences in society. For instance, the chieftainship is passed on to the male members or village councils comprise only male members. The roots of patriarchy are so strong that women prefer not to enter politics.
A former executive member of the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), the federation of Mizoram women’s groups that has been extensively advocating women’s representation in electoral politics, says it is difficult to find a woman candidate.
The MHIP’s secretary, Pi Lalliani, underlined that in the present circumstances, unless there is reservation for women, the representation of women in politics is not going to improve. “Women might be dedicated party workers, but they are usually sidelined when party tickets are decided…at most not beyond one or two candidates,” says Lalliani.
Mizoram state election trends show that there are very few female candidates—usually below five in total. The last assembly election in 2018 seemed encouraging with the number of women candidates increasing to 18, but 12 contested as independents . The BJP fielded five candidates and the Congress one. The ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) did not field any women candidates. All of them lost.
In the upcoming state election for which polling will be held on November 7, the trend of few women candidates in the contest hasn’t changed. The MNF, the ZPM and the Congress have put up just two women candidates each, while the BJP initially fielded four but was forced to withdraw the candidature of one after party workers objected. Most of the nominated candidates will be facing sitting MLAs.
It will be the first assembly election outing for the MNF candidate, B. Lalawmpuii, who is a corporator in the Aizawl Municipal Corporation. Hailing from an affluent family of politicians, Lalawmpuii is confident of winning. “The response is good, especially from the women voters…my opposition contender is from the ZPM and not the BJP. My main agenda is education, youth welfare, and women’s health,” she says. Lalawmpuii feels that when the Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023, eventually comes into effect, it will help in increasing women’s participation in the state’s politics.
According to feminist activist Dr Rini Ralte, low representation of women in Mizoram’s politics is an indicator of “masculinisation of state politics”. She contends that it is not a question of quality or capability of women. “The local council election and the one-third representation of women in the AMC are proof that women are very much capable of delivering in politics. The performance of the women corporators is noteworthy in the local body,” says Ralte. She feels that women would make for better lawmakers in the state’s politics. She also agrees that despite the shortcomings in the Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023, which was passed in the special session of Parliament in September, it will still help in empowering more women.
Baryl Vanneihsangi, radio disc jockey-turned-politician, hails from a non-political background. “As an entertainer, I interacted with a lot of people and understand the issues of the people. This has made me interested in politics,” said the ZPM candidate for the Aizawl South (III). At 32, she is one of the new young entrants in the 2023 elections in Mizoram. Vanneihsangi also underlines the need for women’s reservation. “In a male-dominated society, women had to really fight hard to survive and many failed. It will level the playing field to some extent,” she says. She feels that her work as a convener of the party has been recognised and was instrumental in getting her the ticket to contest.
She says that despite winning the confidence of the party, she has a big fight on her hands as many people in her constituency still feel that they do not want to be represented in the assembly by a woman. It’s this kind of patriarchal mindset that makes her contest even tougher.
Vanneihsangi is pivoting her campaign on the twin agenda of employment and the economy. “My constituency’s voters are mainly dependent on agriculture and allied livelihoods. There is a lot to be done in terms of skill and capacity building, income generation, resource management and policy formulation,” she says. It will be her main focus if she is elected, and her party comes to power. “I have received a lot of positive feedback and my campaign has been well-received in the constituency. I hope and believe that women will vote in my favour,” says the ZPM candidate.
The passing of the Constitution (128th Amendment) Act, 2023, or the Women’s Reservation Bill as it’s popularly known, for reserving one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the assemblies led to euphoria across the country, especially among aspiring women politicians. The view is that the new law is a major leap forward in breaking another glass ceiling in electoral politics that has so far been a male-dominated bastion. But the fact that it won’t be implemented anytime soon robs much of its sheen with many opposition politicians terming it a gimmick aimed at the 2024 general election. It can be implemented after delimitation, which in turn can be carried out only after completion of a fresh census for which no date has been set as yet. This is the first time in the history of India, stretching back to the pre-Independence era when the first such exercise was carried out in 1881, that the government has failed to carry out the decadal census.