In 1992 the 74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution brought in 33 per cent reservation for women in village and municipal elections. At first the move was greeted with some skepticism. A common reaction at the time, and one that has considerable currency even today, was that the women who would come into positions of political power on reserved seats would be mere proxies for their men.
Many women were indeed pushed into standing for elections by their male relatives who continued to pull the strings. But others, like 50-year old Ranganayagi, a Scheduled Caste woman from Tamil Nadu, proved the opposite. Not only did she confront intimidation and terrible violence to stand for election, but once in power, worked hard on village development and particularly on the needs of poor, scheduled caste women. All over India, of the million plus women who hold power as a result of the 74th Amendment, hundreds of thousands are working to change the structures of power at the grassroots level. The feminization and democratization of the rural public sphere has been one of the most significant developments in the women's movement in India.
However, many women, especially those who belong to lower and backward castes and classes, have had to face tremendous opposition in the form of unprecedented violence, threats and intimidation, because those in power cannot sanction the flouting of caste and gender norms that the women's rise to power represents.
A national-level move to reserve a third of elected posts for women in the national parliament has faced much stronger opposition, clearly indicating where real power is located.
At the level of the electorate, women make up an important segment of the total number of voters and are increasingly being wooed by political parties, several of whom have also activated their hitherto dormant women's wings.
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