Kerala Local Body Polls Reveal a Harsh Truth on Women’s Wards

Elections to local bodies in Kerala are being held in three stages on December 8, 10 and 14. The results will be declared on December 16. Today, December 8, is day one of the polls.

Some weeks ago, when the posters of candidates for the polls started coming up, a number of memes began trending on social media.

The memes highlighted that the candidates’ posters had more than one thing in common. 

They were all from a particular party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). They were all from the wards that were reserved for women in various panchayats. And none of them had the photographs of the candidate herself.

Instead, the photos on them were that of their husbands – gleefully folding their hands or raising them to invisible crowds.

At the bottom were the words, “Vote for so and so’s wife…”


“She could not be here for the campaign as she comes home only on weekends,” said the man, when asked where his daughter, the BJP candidate in the first ward of the panchayat, was. Apparently, she has a private job.

“So, what would happen if she wins? Would she decide to remain here?” I asked, hoping that he had at least thought this scenario out. 

“No. She would come and do her duties on the weekends.”

The voters would be getting a ward member who would be replaced on five days of the week by her father.  

“Did she decide to fight the election herself?” I asked her father.

“The party couldn’t find any candidate in the ward that was reserved for women. How can they just leave a ward out? So, they approached me. I have been working for the party for 43 years. So they asked me to field either my wife or my younger daughter,” he said.

“I promised them that I would field my daughter.” 

It was he who was approached by the party, he who had made the promise. “What was her reaction?” I asked.

“Initially, she wasn’t very interested. But when I insisted, she was okay with it…She is an ardent fan of Modi ji and his policies. So many good policies he has produced, like the Jan Dhan Yojana and so on,” he said.

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The father criticised the the Left government and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi further for saving his life in “fascist Kerala.”

What the candidate’s name was and what she wished to do for the constituency appeared immaterial to the system. So I am not providing her name here either.

The 33% reservation for women in Panchayati Raj institutions was a watershed moment in the country’s political history. However, the existence of a system that allows a “sarpanch pati” or even a “sarpanch pita,” to take up these positions is not new.

But what is striking here, is where this practice is being allowed to take place.

Kerala, for the all the good things that is said about it, is the only state in the country with a positive female sex ratio, according to the 2011 Census. According to a recent National Statistical Office survey, it is the state with the least divide in male and female literacy rates in the country. Even in 1997, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) listed it at the highest position on the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) among Indian states.

This is the reality in the best in the country then.

Maneesh T is a postgraduate journalism student at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. He is from Palakkad.

Featured image: Residents stand in a queue to cast their votes during the first phase of Kerala local body elections, in Thiruvananthapuram, on December 8. PTI