‘Jobs, water crisis, NREGA wages’: What’s on the mind of Rajasthan’s tribal women voters?

The tribal districts of Banswara and Dungarpur have one of the highest female workforce participation and voter turnout in the state.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit& Aryan Mahtta
imageby :Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Low tap water connections

In most families, women solely shoulder the burden of household work. Hence they are also the most-affected due to the water crisis in Rajasthan – the second worst performing state in providing tap water connections under the Modi government’s Jal Jeevan Mission, 

So far, only 48.12 percent households have benefited under the scheme despite the union jal shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat hailing from the state. The Rajput leader is contesting for the Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency, which he has represented twice.

Banswara and Dungarpur are among the worst affected areas in Rajasthan with little over 20 percent of households having tap water supply. Barmer is at the bottom with around 11 percent penetration, as per the Jal Jeevan Mission dashboard. In these regions, it is commonplace for women to source water from neighbours, or walk long distances to fetch it from a well. 

Three of the bottom four states in tap water supply are governed by the opposition parties. Notably, Rajasthan saw a change in government after assembly polls in November last year. As per percentage of total tap water connections in the state, West Bengal has the least at 47.22 percent, followed by Jharkhand at 52.49 percent and Kerala at 52.53 percent.

Jaysudha of Malmatha village told Newslaundry about her daily struggle for water. “Water is required for cattle, bathing and drinking. It is needed. I have to make 10-12 trips a day to either my neighbour’s house or a well about half a kilometre away to get water.” 

The widow, in her 40s, with three school-going children said she is yet to get enrolled as a NREGA worker and is on the waitlist to receive the payment for a pucca house under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana. The construction of her house was stopped soon after it began, with only a few bricks loosely stacked one on top of the other, as the payment stopped after her mother-in-law passed away.

An employee at the village’s eMitra kiosk said, “We are trying to get the payment processed by changing the bank account.” 

Free ration a hit for Modi  

Renu Dhindor, 19, a BA second year student at Kushalgarh College, trusts Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I want the country to progress. I will vote for Modiji. He got Ram temple and Ujjain corridor built. He is promoting India in foreign countries. He supports everyone. But there are some who have been left behind,” she said, also praising the central government’s Swachh Bharat Mission and Covid vaccination efforts.

As per the Lokniti-CSDS survey, the Ram temple is the most admired work of Modi for eight percent of voters. Among people from all age groups, younger voters have shown high approval for the BJP.

In 2019, 41 percent youth in the 18-22 age group voted for the BJP against 20 percent for the Congress. This was four percentage points more than the BJP’s national vote share. The saffron party’s vote share among women increased from 29 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2019, according to Lokniti. However, at 39 percent, a larger percentage of men voted for the party in the previous Lok Sabha polls.

The grand old party’s fortunes, meanwhile, did not improve between the last two general elections – its women voter count increasing by only one percentage point in the previous polls.

Dhindor said safety remains a big concern among women. “I can’t step out after dark due to rogue elements. The police are not strict. Even if someone goes to report a crime, nothing happens. I have witnessed this.” 

Manisha Katara, who teaches sewing at a skill development training centre in Banswara’s Kushalgarh, said she has to walk long distances even to fetch water, but the pipes “have been laid in her village and soon there will be piped water supply”. 

She said her family has been voting for the BJP for several years. “So, I too will vote for the BJP.” 

Katara listed a series of schemes of the central government, from which her “extended family” has benefited, including the PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana. Under the scheme, the government provides five kg of free food grain to BPL families. It remains one of the most popular schemes of the Modi government across groups, from first-time voters to NREGA workers.

The ration scheme was extended for another five years last year. 

Anita Masar, a member of the Parvasi Mahila Mazdoor Sangh in Banswara’s Dandi Chhoti, also lauded the free ration scheme. “But only wheat can’t fill your stomach,” she said, demanding that more edibles be provided under the scheme.

In tribal areas, however, women are more sceptical. Nidhi Jain, a Lokniti-CSDS fellow who runs skill development centre Pratidhwani Sansthan in Kushalgarh, said the biggest concern for tribal women is employment, while the talk about Ram temple is “mostly limited  to the forward castes”. 

Women’s electoral participation vs political awareness

A total of 23 states have held assembly elections since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. At least 18 registered a higher female voter turnout.

Political parties and state leaders have aggressively reached out to the female vote bank over the years such as the BJP through its Ladli Behna scheme in Madhya Pradesh and freebies in Rajasthan,  Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s implementation of liquor ban on women voters’ demand, and the Odisha government’s women-driven self-help groups. 

PM Modi too exhorts “nari shakti”, or women’s power, in his speeches, subsequently listing the central government schemes for women.

The higher female voter turnout reflects growing political awareness, said Sanjay Lodha, coordinator at Lokniti-CSDS Rajasthan. “So one is the cause and another is the consequence… It’s a very happy phenomenon, especially as earlier there used to be a huge [gender] gap of 20 percent [in voter turnout].”

Lodha explained that the 73rd and 74nd amendments to the Constitution in 1992 – which gave one-third reservation to women in local bodies – led to a new set of female leadership. “Since then, there has been some level of continuity. Some of them who performed well in their local bodies contested the assembly and Lok Sabha elections.” 

He said another reason for higher women voter turnout was women leaders in top posts, such as the position of chief minister. 

The 2019 Lok Sabha polls sent 78 women to the parliament, making up 14 percent of total MPs. This was India’s highest tally, significantly higher than the 4.4 percent women MPs elected in the first-ever Lok Sabha polls in 1952, but still much lower than the other countries. 

It is worth noting that even ahead of the big polls in India, women mostly remain absent from non-electoral political activities, including public meetings and campaigning. 

Madhulika, a member of the Dungarpur district committee of Rajasthan Asangathit Mazdoor Union, told Newslaundry, “The rise in female vote turnout is not proportional to political awareness.”  

She said the voter turnout was a result of the election commission’s efforts for voter registrations. “But in south Rajasthan where I work, there have been identity movements and assertion, which have contributed to political awareness.”   

Pratidhwani Sansthan’s Jain also said the level of political awareness among women has not increased as much as their turnout.

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