Single Women – Missing from the Election Narrative
#TCVotes - ‘Isn’t it a pity that political parties are not willing to field more women for the Lok
CHANDIGARH: Issues like women’s reservation and empowerment have quite often found place in the political narrative of different parties, at least when elections approach. But an important segment constituting about 8.6 percent of the total female population of the country remains ignored, and does not find a place in the narrative. This is the category of single women, who have been fighting on various fronts to get their due in Indian democracy even as they are suppressed by the patriarchal social practices and norms.
Once again, single women in India have through various organisations placed their demands before the parties.
According to activists the term ‘single women’ encapsulates widows, legally divorced women, unmarried or never-married women above 30 years of age, separated women (those without a partner for three or more years) and women with a missing husband, or half-widows, who have had no contact with their husbands for at least a year.
Nirmal Chandel has been leading the battle as president of the Rashtriya Ekal Nari Adhikar Manch (RENAM), an organisation spread over 11 states including her home state of Himachal Pradesh. Quoting the 2011 census figures, she underlined that are 3,24,012 single women in Himachal alone, while the national figure stands at over 5 crores.
“This does not include those whose husbands are languishing in jails or those who have fled abandoning their wives,” she told The Citizen.
“Our fight is for a life of dignity where we do not have to look towards the male members other than our husbands for meeting our daily requirements. We are approached by several women in pitiable conditions every few days. There are instances of men turning into hermits and abandoning their wives, or simply stating in court that they cannot fend for their wives. We have no place where such women can be lodged even temporarily. The widows also continue to live a miserable life,” Chandel said.
Talking about her experience in Himachal Pradesh, she said there have been positive interventions in the past particularly by chief ministers like Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh, where they got some of these women benefits under various schemes meant for the poor and needy.
“But of late the response to our needs has been cold. The problem lies simply in the lack of sensitivity among officialdom and the new political class. We have waited till the middle of the night to hand over memorandums to senior politicians, who just mark it to the bureaucrats. But our fight goes on,” Chandel said.
Single women in Himachal have been laying particular emphasis on land rights. They point out that a widow with only girl children faces the worst scenarios, as her father in law will not transfer land in the name of either the mother or the children.
They have been demanding that a portion of the family’s land holding be transferred to daughters in law at the time of weddings.
At the national level, RENAM is demanding that a pension of Rs 3000 per month be given to every single woman, and the Below Poverty Line condition be waived.
The social organisation Action Aid in its latest document “For Equality and Justice –A Peoples’ Agenda” has also laid emphasis on access to land and other resources for single women. According to the document,
“Single women should be considered as constituting a single household. Single women led households in both urban and rural areas that are BPL must be provided with ration cards and other relevant documentation under the woman’s name.
“All separated, deserted and divorced women must be entitled to at least half of the assets of the marital home or half of the assets acquired by a couple during the period that they have lived together, regardless of whose name the asset is in. For example, the Maharashtra government’s Ghar Dokhanche (House for Both) policy ensures that the wife’s name is included with the husband’s as owner of the house.”
Recognition as farmers is also being sought for single women engaged in agriculture, as well as the priority demarcation of agricultural or homestead land to single women from marginalised communities.
As Chandel observed, “We keep on getting calls from various government offices regarding vocational training for women under the Rashtriya Kaushal Vikas Yojana. We point out that the government must let us run the show. If it can give land to various Godmen and various private organisations at throwaway prices, why can’t land be leased out to organisations of single women, where they can arrange for vocational training and also lodge women who have nowhere to go?”
She disclosed that at present 1,22,627 women are enrolled as members of RENAM in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Puducherry.
RENAM members are demanding that health benefits at all levels be extended to single women.
The Action Aid document suggests that single women be linked with existing housing schemes. They should be considered preferential beneficiaries for credit linked subsidy schemes, including all categories of single women in the middle- and low-income segments. Such women must also receive a higher interest subsidy and longer loan tenures.
The document also suggests that a national law be formulated to abolish witchcraft, as accusations of witchcraft are disproportionately used to target single women. Other practices that encourage and enable widow oppression and the exploitation of single women must also be similarly identified and strictly outlawed.
It also suggests that single women be provided separate job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Referring to the rampant problem of former spouses not paying adequate or timely maintenance to the women, a legislation is sought to require that when family courts award maintenance to women, the monthly amount be paid by the government from a central or state fund, and the government recover the money from the separated or divorced husband.
Other demands of single women include free education for their children till class eight and scholarships thereafter. There are other demands as well to ensure their livelihood.
“We continue to raise our voice. Isn’t it a pity that political parties are not willing to field more women for the Lok Sabha polls? The scenario is shameful in Himachal where there is not a single woman candidate in the fray from the main parties. We believe that women parliamentarians will be more sensitive to our demands. But the scenario will be dismal till women’s reservation becomes a reality in Parliament,” said Chandel.