In late March, Raveela Gangula rallied a dozen women to stop a drunken man from savagely beating his wife in Muthangi, a village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Although they restrained him and called the police, he was released that evening without charges.
“The police should have locked him up for at least a week and scared him from ever touching another woman like that again,” Gangula said. “The government does not support us.”
For Gangula, the tenacious leader of a local microlending organization for women, the injustice was another reason to challenge a broken system — especially at a moment when India appears ready for change.
As the world’s largest democracy undertakes its first national elections since 2009, many women — from village leaders to parliamentary contenders — are now running against the stubborn men’s club of Indian politics, which too often ignores women’s issues. India’s parliament has one of the lowest rates of gender equity in the world, with women occupying just 11 percent of its 545 seats. Women have historically voted at lower rates than men, accounting for 45 percent of votes cast in 2009.
But trends are slowly changing, and this year’s elections could be a turning point. According to data from the Election Commission, 66 percent of eligible women voted in 2009 — up significantly from the 1960s, when fewer than half of eligible women showed up at the polls.