A new book highlights that 21 million eligible women in the country never register to vote, undermining universal suffrage.
An excerpt from The Verdict: Decoding India’s Elections by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Soppariwala, published in Down to Earth, highlights the issue of female disenfranchisement—women missing from the electoral rolls. This means far from being universal, adult franchise in India leaves out a vulnerable lot. In 2019, if enfranchisement among Indian men is considered to be at 100%, the corresponding figure for women stands at 92.7%. While the difference may not seem sharp, in absolute numbers, this means 21 million eligible women are not registered as voters. That amounts to an average of 38,000 women voters missing per constituency. Given polls are often lost or won by slimmer margins, the missing women are significant systemic flaw that needs to be rectified.
Disenfranchisement is rooted in a wide array of factors, some of which may be social as well. For instance, the populous, but largely patriarchal states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh account for 10 million of the missing 21 million. On the other hand, matrilineal states of the North East and Goa have more women voters than men. If election promises have one leitmotif, it is women’s empowerment. Every party talks about. Very little gets translated into action. With women voters missing from the rolls, a women-centric agenda is less likely to receive electoral backing. The Verdict’s authors suggest that every woman above 18 be allowed to vote if she can prove her age irrespective of whether she has a voter ID card or not. While that works as a stop gap solution, given the problem is a systemic one, the treatment has to be systemic too.