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Mizo women hope for higher representation in state legislature

 H C Vanlalruata

Aizawl: The political landscape in Mizoram is witnessing a significant shift as women in the state are anticipating a surge in their representation in the state legislative assembly in the forthcoming elections for the 40-member state legislature. Major political parties have stepped forward by fielding women candidates, raising the hopes of Mizoram’s women for a stronger presence in the state’s political arena.

In the previous state assembly election held in 2018, among the 201 candidates, 15 were women, but unfortunately, 14 of them had grim chances of winning. The only woman candidate fielded by the then ruling Congress, former Minister of State Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu, was defeated by Lalchamliana of the Mizo National Front, who now serves as the home minister, in the Hrangturzo assembly seat.

Chawngthu, who had previously won a by-election in 2014 from the constituency, secured 29.72 percent of the votes compared to Lalchamliana’s 35.62 percent, suggesting that her gender may have played a role in her defeat.

In 2018, the Mizo National Front did not field any women candidates, and the Congress appeared to have fielded Chawngthu primarily due to her previous position as a Minister of State and sitting MLA for the seat.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, despite having slim chances of victory, allocated party tickets to six women candidates, all of whom lost in the election. The ‘Zoram Thar,’ a group of spiritualists, also put forward five women nominees, but regrettably, all the ‘Zoram Thar’ independent candidates, regardless of gender, faced a resounding defeat, leading to the forfeiture of their deposits.

In the same year, the newly formed Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) nominated two women candidates, both of whom suffered electoral setbacks.

The prospect of greater women representation in the state legislature has become more plausible as the major parties, including the Mizo National Front, Congress, and ZPM, have each fielded two women candidates. In total, 16 female candidates are vying for seats in the upcoming state legislative elections.

Local political analysts hold the opinion that at least one woman candidate from each of the three major political parties may have a chance of winning this time, if not more.

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party has put forward three women candidates, it appears that their chances of victory may be limited based on the constituencies in which they are contesting. The same applies to the four women independent candidates supported by two spiritual groups.

Remarkably, in the first election to the legislature of Mizoram union territory in April 1972, none of the political parties fielded women candidates. There were two women among the independent candidates, but they were unsuccessful.

The Mizo Union nominated Saptawni, who made history as the first-ever legislator in the legislature of the union territory. The People’s Conference (PC) party fielded L. Thanmawii in the Serchhip assembly seat, making her the first elected woman representative of the legislature in May 1978. The PC government, led by the then Chief Minister Brig T Sailo, fell due to defections within six months, but Thanmawii was re-elected from Aizawl East seat in the April 1979 elections.

Brig. Sailo’s government later inducted K Thansiami into a nominated seat in 1979, marking the first and only instance in which two women legislators sat together in the Mizoram assembly.

The Congress party, which won the 1984 elections by defeating the PC party, nominated Rokungi to a seat, but her term was cut short due to the signing of the Mizo Peace Accord in 1986. This event led to the erstwhile underground Mizo National Front forming a coalition in the six-month interim government.

In February 1987, the Mizo National Front, led by its supremo Laldenga, contested the first Mizoram state legislature. Lalhlimpuii, daughter-in-law of Zamanthanga, one of the signatories of the party’s declaration of independence from the Indian Union, contested as the lone woman candidate sponsored by the MNF and emerged victorious. Lalhlimpuii became the first-ever woman minister in Mizoram as she was inducted into Laldenga’s ministry.

When Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu was elected from Hrangturzo by-election on Congress ticket in 2014, she was the first woman in to sit in the State Assembly in 27 years.

The Mizoram assembly currently lacks any female representation.

Mizo society, historically characterised by its patriarchal structure, has traditionally afforded women little influence in both family and administrative matters. This gender disparity has extended into the political sphere, even as an increasing number of females have gained access to modern education.

In bygone eras, women were forbidden from entering the ‘Zawlbuk,’ a male dormitory where able-bodied men lived together, forming a defense force akin to an army for the village.

Nonetheless, the implementation of a 33 percent reservation for women in the Aizawl Municipal Corporation (AMC) and Lunglei Municipal Council (LMC), as well as in village councils in rural areas and local councils in urban areas, has led to greater female representation at the grassroots level of administration and local self-governance.

Prior to the recent passage of a 33 percent reservation for women in both the Parliament and the state legislature, there were limited opportunities for Mizo women to participate in the decision-making bodies of central and state legislatures. As these historic elections draw near, the women of Mizoram eagerly await the opportunity to play a more prominent role in shaping their state’s political future.

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