Friday, May 9, 2014
To avoid upsetting her husband, Urmila Devi told him she’ll heed his request to vote for India’s ruling Congress party when their village of 50 families participates in national elections. Once inside the polling booth, she plans to ignore his suggestion. “I’ll vote for a different party,” Devi, 26, says outside her one-room house in Galanodhan Purwa village in Uttar Pradesh state, where she cares for her two children. “I’m concerned about women’s safety. It should be the government’s top priority.”
A growing number of women are defying traditional gender roles in India and asserting their voice in elections that began on April 7 and end on May 16. Prompting the change: Higher literacy rates, greater financial independence, and a desire to stem violence against women, which became a highly visible issue after the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in December 2012.
“Over the years, we’ve asked women if they voted on their own or if they voted for whoever their husbands or fathers asked them to,” says Sanjay Kumar, New Delhi-based director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, which conducts opinion polls. “Women were reluctant to tell us earlier, but increasingly they’re saying they’re voting on their own, no matter what the men say.”