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2BHK Houses, Compensation, Political Representation: What Women In Telangana Were Promised, But Did Not Receive

For the first time, women voters (1,63,01,705) in Telangana have outnumbered male voters (1,62,98,418), as per the final electoral list for elections in the state on November 30. Women have been the focus of political parties throughout the latest assembly elections.

Telangana CM KCR during a public meeting ahead of the State Assembly elections in Suryapet
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Sitting on the footpath next to her stall of vegetables, Lakshmi eagerly waits for customers on the bustling road in Himayat Nagar, Hyderabad. She thinks that people are most likely to come and buy at her stall in such a busy street rather than in a relatively quiet neighbourhood. Or at least she hopes. She also hopes that the government would finally give her a 2 BHK house as promised in 2014. 

For the first time, women voters (1,63,01,705) in Telangana have outnumbered male voters (1,62,98,418), as per the final electoral list for elections in the state on November 30. Women have been the focus of political parties throughout the latest assembly elections. With promises like free public transport, 200 units free electricity, jobs and cylinders, political parties have been banking on welfare programmes directed towards women, who are the ‘world’s poor’, according to the United Nations. 

Likewise, the K Chandrashekhar Rao-led BRS government in Telangana launched the double-bedroom housing scheme or the 2bhk scheme in 2014 to make the city of Hyderabad a slum-free city by providing free-of-cost housing to the shelter-less poor in rural and urban areas. While it wasn’t particularly targeted only towards women, the scheme does encourage women household ownership by requiring that the dwelling unit be allotted in the name of the housewife. However, allegations of corruption and bias in the process of choosing the beneficiaries meant that many like Lakshmi have lost out on reaping the benefits of such highly-touted schemes.

What do Telangana women want?

Women played a pivotal role in the formation of Telangana as a separate state in 2014. The valour of K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR), Chityala Ailamma (or Chakali Ailamma), Kamalamma, Regalla Acchamamba is always evoked when recalling the agitation for statehood. However, almost a decade later, many women lament that Telangana didn’t become what they had imagined. 

For Chikkamma in Sangareddy district of Telangana, after the death of her husband, a tenant farmer who once grew paddy in their 22-acre field, she was left behind with not just mounting grief, but the burden of Rs 27 lakhs debt too. While the state failed to provide any relief to the farmer when he was alive – as its flagship Rythu Bandhu scheme excludes tenant farmers from any of its benefits – it also failed to protect Chikkamma despite the existence of the life insurance scheme Rythu Bima. 

The main objective of the scheme is to provide financial relief and social security to the family members/ dependents, in case of loss of farmer’s life due to any reason. However, the farmer has to be ‘enrolled’ meaning that only those who are between 18 and 59 years of age with a land title in their name are recognised as farmers. In such a case, Chikkamma’s husband wasn’t considered as a farmer, and neither did she get any relief from the state. 

Chikkamma is among the hundreds of farmers’ families in Telangana who have not received any compensation, purely because the land was not registered in the name of the suicide victim, according to farmers’ welfare organisation Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV). When asked about recent election promises like Mahalakshmi and Soubhagya Lakshmi made by BRS and Congress – that promise financial assistance to poor women – Chikkamma sighs in fatigue. “They refuse to recognise that my husband was a farmer. Why will they recognise me as worthy enough to get any assistance?

The discontent, although not similar, echoes also among women who have been seeking for a government job in the state – as was promised by the KCR-led state government in 2014. Thousands of them prepare for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) or Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) exams that are vital for roles in departments like State Audit, Public Health and Welfare, Labour, Minority Welfare. But frequent disruptions in the process of conducting the TSPSC exam meant that many of these aspirants are still awaiting employment.

One such woman aspirant was Pravallika. Was – because she died by suicide in her hostel, frustrated by the TSPSC Group 2 exams’ postponement due to upcoming Assembly elections. Exams which she had diligently prepared for over two years. 

For these women job aspirants, consistently preparing for the exams despite administrative failures also came with spending money on accommodation and study hall fee. While some could, many couldn’t. “Many of them have gone back to their villages because they cannot afford continued spending without any result at the end of it. Many of them have also been married off by their families,” says Sindhuja Reddy, who is also a government job aspirant. When asked why she chose to stay, she says, "I am also married now. I wasn't when I first attempted the exam. But many of us have been fighting for employment, which is a basic right, for so many years now." If the youth don't agitate and demand better rights, then who will? She asks. She was at the forefront of countless protests against the BRS government over the consecutive delays in conducting the important exam.

What promises have been made by parties this year?

The Congress’s Gruha Lakshmi scheme in Karnataka, which pays women heads of families Rs 2,000 per month, was considered a contributing factor to the election outcome in the state. Walking on a similar path, the party has promised to implement the Maha Lakshmi scheme that provides Rs 2,500 monthly financial assistance, gas cylinders at Rs 500 and free travel for women in Telangana. 

The BRS promised a payment of financial assistance of Rs 3,000 per month to each eligible poor woman under Soubhagya Lakshmi scheme. KCR also announced the supply of subsidised LPG cylinders at Rs 400 to each eligible BPL family. BJP’s promises for women include 10 lakh jobs and gas cylinders to be free of cost annually for Ujjwala beneficiaries.

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In the political fray as well, parties were expected to field more women candidates in their lists – considering that women formed a part of their key vote bank and all the major parties except AIMIM backed the recently passed Women’s Reservation Bill. 

One such eager candidate was Bala Lakshmi, a student activist from Osmania University in Hyderabad who has been part of the Congress party for 10 years. She was also one of the very few women leaders to emerge from the Telangana statehood movement in Jangaon constituency. She has been seeking a ticket from this constituency from the past two elections. However, it was again denied to her this time. 

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"I am a woman, more importantly I am from the backward caste and I was part of the movement for a separate Jangaon district. The party talks about bringing in more young candidates, especially women in 2014 and in 2018. I was almost sure I would get the ticket because I tick all the boxes that Rahul Gandhi and Sonia ji talk about," Lakshmi told Outlook. The Congress instead fielded Kommuri Pratap Reddy from the seat. 

BRS leader K Kavitha, who was at the forefront of demanding for greater women’s reservation in democratic and political processes of the country, reiterates that timely implementation of the women’s reservation bill is the key. “For far too long, the voices of men echoed in the Parliament and Assemblies, leaving the representation of women in the shadows,” she says. 

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However, in the upcoming elections, the BRS has fielded six women candidates, the BJP 13 and the Congress nine. While passing the women’s reservation bill and announcing women-related welfare measures are laudable, when it comes to implementing these promises on the ground, women still want, demand and deserve more.

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