Both Indian Americans and Indians here are celebrating Kamala Harris’ political ascendancy in the US. But the picture is bleak for Kamala’s counterparts in India, especially for those who aspire to knock the doors of Parliament by starting their careers in grassroots politics.

Out of the total members of Panchayat institutions in India, 46 per cent are women. In fact, 20 States have made provisions of 50 per cent reservation for women in Panchayati Raj. However, women representation drastically declines when it comes to the Lok Sabha, with just 14 per cent women members in the current House. Interestingly, this is the highest representation of women in Lok Sabha.

Various studies have indicated that the dominant patriarchal political system ensures that the majority of women contesting from reserved seats in Panchayat polls don’t return to political arena at any level after their term is ended.

Among States which have given 50 per cent reservation to women at Panchayat levels, only Odisha (33 per cent), Chattisgarh ( 27 per cent) and Gujarat ( 23 per cent) have given more than 20 per cent representation to women in the current Lok Sabha. Tripura and Meghalaya are the only States with 50 per cent women representation in the House — out of two Lok Sabha seats in these States, women represent one seat each. The Union Territory of Chandigarh has one Lok Sabha seat, which is occupied by a woman member.

Journey halted

The Parliament passed the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in December 1992 introducing one-third reservation in Panchayats for women. The Panchayats were supposed to be nurseries for grooming women leaders who could take a leadership role in future .

Sunita Lohar, a former sarpanch of the Borne village in Maharashtra, says that many women who have proved their mettle at the Panchayat level want to make it big in politics, but male politicians stifle their ambitions and ensure that they don’t return to the political arena once their term in Panchayat is over.

A recent study commissioned by the State Election Commission of Maharashtra and conducted by the Pune-based Gokhale Institute of Political and Economics observed that 86 per cent of women participating in the survey said that they contested Panchayat and Zilla Parishad elections because the seat was reserved for a woman candidate.

The survey found proxy women members who contested because they belong to a political family. But, there were also women who had no political background and wanted to make it a big in politics.