‘Vote after marriage’: Around 70 lakh women voters missing from UP’s electoral rolls

Of UP’s 7.7 crore eligible women voters, only around 7 crore are registered. We met some of them on farms and at brick kilns to understand why.
Family members of brick kiln workers in Baghpat district's Malkapur village
Family members of brick kiln workers in Baghpat district's Malkapur villageNewslaundry
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On a scorching afternoon in Malkapur village in western UP’s Baghpat, Nirmala arrives in an e-rickshaw to work at a wheat farm, along with her husband Mahesh and their four children.

It’s harvest season, and the 26-year-old needs to take frequent breaks from work to breastfeed her two youngest daughters. “Breastfeeding and wheat harvesting at the same time tire me to the bone. And then cooking food for the whole family at the end of the day is the worst,” she said, adding that the only thing she is looking forward to this month is to cast her vote for the first time.

Until this year, when she decided to take matters into her own hands, Nirmala was among lakhs of women in Uttar Pradesh who are eligible to vote but are not part of electoral rolls.

“Before marriage, whenever I would ask my brothers about it (voting), they told me to vote after marriage. And once I got married, my husband would tell me that officials would visit our home on their own and give me my voter ID card. But that never happened. In my family, no one would take my desire to cast a vote seriously. But this year, I took charge of things, found out how to get a voter ID card, took a day’s off from work in January, went to a primary school in the city, and finally got it made.”

According to the 2011 Census, UP has around 7.7 crore women above the age of 18 years, but the Election Commission of India data suggests there are only around 7 crore registered women voters in the state – a shortfall of nearly 70 lakh eligible women voters. On an average, 87,500 eligible women voters are deprived of their right to vote from each constituency in UP. 

The issue of missing women voters was also pointed out in The Verdict, a book by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala. According to the book’s data, ahead of 2019 elections, there were a staggering 21 million missing women voters across India, with UP topping the charts, followed by Maharashtra (2.3 million), Rajasthan (1.2 million), Bihar (0.8 million) and Madhya Pradesh (0.8 million). Coincidentally, UP also falls way behind the national average in several indicators such as the female literacy rate, female sex ratio, and the NCRB data on crimes against women.

While the 2019 Lok Sabha polls saw a nearly equal percentage in turnout among men and women voters in terms of the national average, a few states such as UP have lagged behind. 

The number of voters in UP increased from 14.71 crore to 15.02 crore in 2021, including around 7 crore  women voters. In 2022, then UP chief electoral officer Ajay Kumar Shukla had said that the enrolment of women in large numbers during revision of electoral rolls had led to an improvement in the gender ratio by 11 points, from 857 against 1,000 male voters on November 1, 2021 to 868 on December 5, 2021.

Baghpat was among the districts in UP which clocked a lower women voter turnout as compared to men in the 2019 polls.

‘How can we just go and demand it?’

Opposite the wheat farm where Nirmala works, there is a brick kiln – just one of the 450 in Baghpat – where several women camp away from their homes while the men folk in their family work the ovens and push the carts. The women just “help” out the men and are rarely paid for the job.

At least 10 women of these Newslaundry spoke to said their voter cards were made only after their marriage – after approval from their in-laws.

“My voter ID card was made by my husband. One day he took my Aadhaar card and applied for it. I don’t understand which political party or symbol I should vote for. I give my vote to the party he suggests,” said Kavita, a 25-year-old.

Poonam, a 26-year-old, is at the factory to help out her sister and brother-in-law. “My elder sister suggests that I should get it made after marriage according to my in-laws. So that it does not create any kind of a problem for them.”

Nirmala at the wheat farm in Bhagpat
Nirmala at the wheat farm in BhagpatNewslaundry

There are similar stories in one village after another in Baghpat.

In the Khera village dominated by OBCs, Amrita Kashyap, a 35-year-old, said she only got her voter ID card after a panchayat member nudged her father-in-law. She never insisted on one because “that would have been considered as an act of rebellion”. “How can I? For women here, it is a norm to get voter ID cards made only after their in-laws allow. How can we just go and demand it?”

‘They built a highway in Noida. But why no road for us?’

For women voters in Baghpat’s villages, concerns range from alcoholism to women safety to the delivery of welfare schemes, though it’s unclear whether these will determine their vote. 

Dolly Kashyap, a 40-year-old domestic help from Khera, said there had been four deaths recently due to illicit liquor in Baghpat.

In the financial year 2022-23, UP surpassed Karnataka to record an all-time high in excise revenue, from Rs 14,000 crore in 2017 to Rs 42,250 crore. The Yogi Adityanath government’s amendments to the excise policy were said to be behind this growth.

“Since there is a rise in liquor shops in our area, more men are getting addicted to it. In the last six months, four men have died. After the husband’s death, the burden to run the house is on the wife. But how can we educate and feed our children with our meager earnings,” asked Dolly.

For the women Newslaundry met at the brick kilns of Malkapur, the issue was the delivery of government schemes.

Sudesha, a villager from Malkapur, said the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme is yet to reach them. “Can’t they see that we are burning our lungs by using stoves? But we don’t blame Modi for its poor implementation.”

Meanwhile, in the upper caste populated Khaspura village, women complained of poor connectivity. 

Lakshmi Tyagi, a 65-year-old, said there is no road connecting the village to the polling station. “On the polling day, a tractor from our village goes to the polling booth but it is stuffed with men. We feel hesitant to travel with them which discourages us from casting our vote.”

Vaishali Tyagi, a 24-year-old, said, “Like most young women in this village, I am also a graduate. But we cannot pursue our careers because there is no transport facility. Then what is the use of our education? The Narendra Modi government has built so many new highways in Noida, why have they not built a road for women like us?”

When Newslaundry reached out to Baghpat District Election Officer Jitendra Pratap Singh for comment, he said he is busy with elections and will speak later.

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