To give a better sense of the intersections of facilitating and restricting factors that are described in the text, below are individual cases of women ERs in this sample. Names have been changed.
Case A: Kiran Rani, Dharuhera
Kiran Rani, a councillor from Dharuhera, was unable to describe what her husband or his brothers did for a living. When asked whom she could refer me to in the town or village for more information, a learned person, an elder, she told me she knew no one other than her mother-in-law and her married sister in the same house. When I asked whether she met with the other councillors in the MC outside of the monthly meetings, she said no, not even the women, because at the end of the day she had nothing to do with them.
Some of my questions seek to record the councillor’s description of their town—its economic activities, changes in built-up areas, schools, hospitals, shops, commercial complexes etc. Kiran mentioned how she had never looked at the space around her using this vocabulary. She said she was grateful for gaining membership of the committee for one reason—that she had had the chance to step out of the house and travel to the committee house and to the district headquarters three times over the last 3 years.
I was able to observe her during the course of an MC meeting in Dharuhera. She was escorted to the meeting by her husband who guided her to the meeting room, sat her down and left the room. She was seated on a chair furthest away from the rest of the group. She remained under purdah with her head and face covered with the pallu of her sari for the meeting and spoke only when stumbling and fumbling to sign her name on the attendance register.
Kiran had married into a family from Dharuhera and had been there for the past 15 years. She was educated till class five and represented a ward earmarked for Scheduled Caste with an overlapping earmarking for women.
On the other hand, for the same town, there was a councillor such as Shweta Shakya who had her own political ambitions. She invited me to her home and spent hours describing her councillor duties. She was vocal about being confident about herself and her abilities. Though she too expressed embarrassment at her lack of education—having studied till class 10—she loudly stated that she was the only woman in Dharuhera whom the policemen and tehsil officers knew. She could take her ward members to get problems fixed and she had her own connections to the government departments to get work done. Her husband, she said, aided her in this by giving her knowledge on procedural aspects as he had been involved in politics before. Shweta was part of a larger group of political aspirants and councillor hopefuls in Dharuhera. This group consisted of non-Haryanvis who had migrated to the town to take up jobs in the automobile industry in the area. She said the leader of the group had asked her to stand because they needed women to be part of the group and represent the non-Haryanvi voters’ concerns. The inspiration or origin of political engagement wasn’t wholly hers but she stood as an example of empowerment.
Case B: Mamta Goyal, Hodal, Palwal
Mamta Goyal was the vice-chairperson of the Hodal MC. She was very vocal about the policy of reservations. When introducing the town of Hodal through its economic activities and changes in the town, the first thing she mentioned was an amelioration of educational standards and educational institutions in the area. Then she stopped herself and said “look at the elections, there is 50 % reservation to help uplift women. There are nine women councillors in this committee and 70 % of the work is done by their husbands. Even with me, I know quite a lot but my husband and brother-in-law go out for the work”.
Goyal’s case is interesting as the councillor work is decidedly split between three people. She said she liked how this work kept her house open so that there were more things for her to do, dealing with people constantly coming and going from her home. She said even though there were three of them doing the job, it tired them all equally. For example, she broke down some of the tasks; one of them had better ties with government offices and the district commissioner’s offices and would take care of that, she was the patient one who would help her ward members fill forms and the third was responsible for supervising construction work in the ward.
She was put up for the post by her husband who, for his own reasons, could not devote his full attention to the seat. She said she had been hearing talk of the MC and its work for many years and didn’t need training for it. She was well versed in the everyday tasks, problems and their solutions. Interestingly, she took up a position in her local wing of the Mahila Congress Committee at the same time as gaining entry into the MC. She explained she wanted a future in politics, starting with the chairmanship and then perhaps an MLA ticket if she could raise enough funds. She too, along with her male counterparts, was using the MC as a step up the political ladder.
Her brother-in-law had explained that some member in their family had the MC seat from their ward for the past 10 years, two terms before her. They had time to secure their image and support in the area.
Case C: Usha, Beri, Jhajjar
Usha was the only female councillor I encountered who was employed or, rather, self-employed. When I met her she was sitting at her cloth shop in Beri. Our conversation was interspersed with her measuring, cutting and selling pieces of cloth to various customers. Her husband is a member of the Congress party and was always found in the committee house when I was there. I asked her whether she too was a member to which he said “agar mein member toh woh bhi member” [if I am a member of the party then so is she].
When I asked the couple whether they’d change their votes if their local leader changed political affiliations, he said he would change and she said no. She explained to me how the MLA comes to her and her husband when he needs to gather support for his work. For a change both spoke as “we”–“we” are able to gather crowds for them and to get them the support they require. She was able to show me where the MLAs house was.
Usha was very descriptive about needing to create links with their MLA, saying that she had to provide herself and her husband’s strength by showing “humari kitni janta hai” [how much public support we have]. She said she needed to be in the MC, without which there is no visibility and no chances for meeting bigger politicians such as MLAs and MPs. When I asked her what her future political plans were, for example, would she contest the MC elections again, her husband answered saying if it was a ladies seat again she would contest, if it was a gents seat then he would. “Ek hi cheez hai” [It’s the same thing]. She added that if they got the chance she would run for the MLA seat.
Case D: Latika Saurot, Hodal, Palwal
Latika’s candidature presents us with another example of complementarity rather than a narrowly focused view on how the women are failing as only proxies. She is a younger councillor, about 22 years old, a new mother and a relatively new wife. She and her husband, 24, both sat with me to answer my questions. They were at ease reclining on their bed and answering questions together. They explained that it was Latika’s mother-in-law who was councillor for her seat and died in the middle of her term. The family then put Latika’s name on the election roll. At the end of the interview as they were detailing their political affiliations for me they said they are both coming into politics together. They feel as though they are growing up together through this position that the family had given them.
The political agency that got Latika elected was a combined effort of her husband and his brother. Her husband explained how he paid for lanes in the ward to be cemented as a goodwill gesture to garner votes for the election. This was a ward his brother has been contesting for the past 15 years.
Case E: Dimple Rani, Kharkhoda, Sonepat
Dimple was elected to the position of chairperson of the Kharkhoda MC. I came to hear of her first before meeting her. There was widespread criticism of her husband who I was told was the real functionary. I was told about his corrupt ways and there was disdain for his caste position (chamar, an SC). However, there were always nice words to say about Dimple. She was well-educated with two masters degrees, much better educated than him. Although he was called the “superchor” [super thief], the other councillors thought the MC would have run well with her at the helm. Her husband had been councillor in the town before and so had his brother.
When I finally got the chance to meet her I found her seated at her dining table busily coordinating her home life and her councillor work. She met with me when conducting various duties—signing ration cards and ordering pipes to be fixed through the water supply department. She was fully aware of the duties, responsibilities, guidelines and procedures for doing the work. She stopped mid-way between juggling these things to point to her kitchen and said “meri rasoi toh dekho, khaali pardi hai” [look at my kitchen, it’s lying vacant]. She was aware of the trajectory of her work, that is where the proposed MC projects stood in the administrative chain/sequence. She lamented, in great detail, how 180 lane-cementing projects were passed by the MC and how only 23 were approved by the district commissioner.
Dimple Devi can be seen as an enabled woman who was elected to the position of councillor and chairperson of Kharkhoda MC because of her husband’s political ambitions. She has learnt on the job and has been able to forge political and social ties with administrative officers and political persons in the area and in her political party of choice.
The fact of her being elected—what got the votes—stems from the political mileage of her family. Her husband and brother-in-law’s tenures at the committee and her husband’s position in Kharkhoda’s Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee played a foundational role in this. The facts of having fought elections from the same ward and winning three times in a row—her term included—indicate a political relationship between the family and the area for a 20-year period.
She indicated that her strong personality was not welcomed easily in her ward when she went on her pre-election campaign rounds. She said “The other women had photos printed with folded hands in namaste. And on mine, I was standing with my arms and hands down by my side. They looked like they were asking for votes and people told me I looked like I thought I was a maharani [queen].”
Dimple also falls at the intersections of the caste hierarchy, being a representative of an SC ward. When I asked her whether she feels any disrespect towards her in her work she said there are people who are jealous of her. “They don’t understand how an SC woman could become chairman in a general seat”. She told me “they don’t understand what reservations are”.
On whether she would continue her political career, she said she would think about it as the inspiration was forced and of her husband. She says that after she started mixing with the political persons of her area she too has been accepted as a “member” or supporter of the Congress.
Case F: Rachna Saurot, Hodal, Palwal
The conversation with Rachna Saurot was laden with talk of education. She indicated several times that the chairperson and other female councillors were illiterate women who haven’t been able to do anything other than act as conduits for their husbands. She lamented that “jo ek aurat man se sudhaaar kar sakti hai us padh par bethne ke baad, unhe uska koi adhikaar nahi mila” [a woman can do a lot to take her beliefs and values forward when put in a powerful position such as a councillor…but we are not allowed to do this]. These women are not given the right to function or to learn.
When detailing her educational qualifications—two masters, one completed, one not and an MPhil—she distanced herself from the rest of her natal and marital family saying that none of the women on either side was as well-educated as her. She criticised her brothers-in-law for opening a school, one of the largest in Hodal, and running it as a business.
Through her description of the committee and her seat, I could tell she saw this councillor position as an opportunity. She wasn’t sure just why her husband, with whom she was having marital problems, gave her this opportunity even if it was a strategy to hold the ward and the seat in the family’s name. She said it was a pandit (priest) who advised her husband it was more auspicious to have her run for the election than her brother-in-law. This reason was coupled with the women’s reservation on the chairman’s seat. Sudha’s election was part of a larger political strategy for her family who has politically represented the area of Hodal for years. She told me that her father-in-law had contested for the Vidhan Sabha seat since 1984.
Rachna neatly divided the work she did and what her husband did. She said she was able to do most of the everyday signing work required of a councillor—for caste certificates, domicile cards etc.—but only up to a point. She said she was constantly handicapped as she needed to rely on her husband’s knowledge of the ward and its residents. She was afraid that a signature attesting to someone’s residence would land not her but her husband in jail if the authorities’ verification found otherwise. As she was made to be in purdah and hence had not interacted with the residents of her ward, she had to defer to her husband’s knowledge and decisions.
She reiterated the fact that her signature on a document verifying and attesting to someone’s residency or on a naksha would land her husband or the husbands of other female councillors in jail. “Rajneeti ke kaam barde ulte hote hain” [Politics is a dirty game]. It is for this reason that I was denied access to certain female councillors in Nuh. The chairperson and vice-chairperson, both female councillors and their husbands, were under investigation for corruption and misappropriation of funds. I met with the chairman’s husband who politely indicated his wife would not be able to answer any of my questions because of her lack of knowledge of the work and the town. MC staff indicated that the husbands were worried that the women would leak information that would incriminate their husbands.
Sudha mentioned that she was vocal about keeping the integrity of the MC meetings, where only the elected councillors were to attend. She protested in a meeting that the husbands of female councillors should not sit for the meetings nor any other outsiders. Sudha told me that the chairperson’s husband often asked his political followers, or gundas [thugs] in her language, to sit during the meetings, making her husband and other husbands even more nervous about sending their women to the meetings. She said she was given a single response—“pati pradhan hota hai” [your husband is your master].
Sudha spoke down about the other female councillors, chiding them for their lack of education and voice. She spoke well about one, Hema, who was also a graduate. When I asked whether she met the other female councillors she said they never met to discuss the committee but on occasion they met socially. Their relations with each other were always strained because of the different family political affiliations.