In matrilineal Meghalaya, only one woman fights Lok Sabha polls

What an irony! In a matrilineal state like Meghalaya, a lone woman is in the fray, that too as an independent candidate, in the Lok Sabha polls in the state.

No political party has fielded a woman in the polls for the state’s two Lok Sabha seats – Shillong and Tura – that will go to the polls April 9.

Agatha K. Sangma, the youngest parliamentarian in the current Lok Sabha, decided to stay away, making room for her father and former Lok Sabha speaker Purno A. Sangma who has represented the Tura constituency nine times.

A total of 968,958 voters, including 495,070 females, will vote in Shillong, while 584,070 electors, including 288,247 females, will cast their ballot in Tura.

Ivoryna Shylla, the 65-year-old lone woman candidate and one among the eight candidates from Shillong, is fighting the polls on the plank of women’s issues.

“I decided to contest on seeing that there was no woman candidate in the polls,” Shylla told IANS.

For Shylla, this is her third electoral battle. She had earlier unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections in 1983 and 1993 from the Nongbah Wahiajer and Laitumkhrah assembly constituencies respectively.

“I am not worried as my spirit is high with the unexpected support from all sections of society, especially women,” said the former president of Meghalaya’s Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha who quit the party long time back.

“My main focus is to fight for women’s rights in our state which was known to be safe and secure for women in the past,” Shylla said.

However, several women feel females should have also thrown their hat into the electoral battle in the matrilineal state.

“I was expecting more women to contest the election after the performance of women in the assembly and district autonomous council elections,” said Diana Sohtun, a college student.

The seven male candidates include sitting Congress parliamentarian Vincent H. Pala and sitting United Democratic Party leader Paul Lyngdoh.

But Padmashree awardee Patricia Mukhim said women in Meghalaya have always shied away from politics because the social structure is still seen as a male domain where money and muscle play a critical role.

“Khasi women are barred from decision-making roles in local bodies. Women who engage with politics are labelled ‘hens that crow’. These are disincentives for women to join politics and contest elections,” said Mukhim, also a well-known journalist and editor of an English newspaper.

Amena Passah, who teaches history in the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), said women have been socially active but politically passive in the state.

“A traditional saying ‘when the hen crows, the world will come to an end’, is a subtle way of discouraging women from coming out to a political platform,” Passah said.

Sociologist Rekha Shangpliang said the participation of women in politics was not a question of who wields power, because even in a patriarchal society, women do exercise power through the role of mother as opposed to roles as wife and sister.

State Urban Affairs Minister Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh, one of the four elected women legislators in the 60-member assembly, however, said the Lok Sabha was a different level of politics where not anyone can throw a hat in the electoral battle.

The lone Rajya Sabha seat for Meghalaya is occupied by Congress leader Wansuk Syiem, the first woman from the state to have been elected to the upper house.