by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha, a unique non-violent campaign,
India gained independence from British rule on August 15, 1947. Free
India's first Prime Minister was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
In less than three years of
attaining freedom, India had framed a constitution and declared itself
a Republic on January 26, 1950. Adopting the path of democracy, the
country held its first general elections in 1952. All adults above the
age of 21 were eligible for voting, though the age has since been lowered
to 18. Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress party, which had spearheaded
the freedom movement, won the elections.
The Union of India consists
of 25 states, six union territories and the national capital territory.
The state legislatures retain significant autonomy, although the Union
has exclusive powers in certain areas defined in the Constitution including
foreign affairs, defense, citizenship and external trade.
India's economy encompasses
traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide
range of modern industries, and a multitude of support services. More
than a third of the population is too poor to be able to afford an adequate
diet, and market surveys indicate that fewer than 5% of all households
had an annual income equivalent to $2,300 or more in 1995-96. India's
international payments position remained strong in 1999 with adequate
foreign exchange reserves, reasonably stable exchange rates, and booming
exports of software services. Lower production of some non-food grain
crops offset recovery in industrial production. Strong demand for India's
high technology exports is expected to bolster growth in 2001.
Women remain underrepresented
in governance and politics, although no legal impediments hinder their
participation in the political process. A 1998 "Times of India" report
revealed that "domestic responsibilities, lack of financial clout, rising
criminalization of politics and the threat of character assassination"
are making it increasingly difficult for women to be part of the political
framework. Moreover, women politicians point out that even within the
political parties, women are rarely found in leadership positions. In
fact, "women candidates are usually fielded from 'losing' constituencies
where the party does not want to 'waste' a male candidate".
Despite the difficulties, women have made inroads to public life mainly
due to the so-called "male equivalence or kinship link". The assumption
here is that women access political life with the support, backing and
contacts of the family, in particular that of the husband. In a study
made in 1998 wherein 15 women were surveyed, 1/3 of the women MPs, for
example, have "family support" in the background. However, other points
out that "male equivalence" is an inadequate conceptual framework. First,
because it is the public sphere (e.g. state institutions, press, and
political discourse) that has to be negotiated if the family decision
to put forward a woman in politics is to succeed; it is not a private,
but a public matter. Second, in many cases the husbands do not support
the candidature of the wife at all. It is the pressure of party political
bosses that forces the issue in many cases. The centralized system of
distribution of seats in mass political parties helps in this context.
A party's concern with levels of representation of certain groups within
its ranks, and consequences for legitimacy of the party among the under-represented
groups might be the motive for including women.
Together with "kinship link" and state initiatives, an important factor
impacting on women's access to political life seems to be social and
political movements. These movements have created windows of opportunity
and some women have been able to take advantage of these opportunities
to access political life. For example, the national movement was an
important mobilizer of women. Gandhi's contribution to bringing women
into politics is well-documented; the left movement also mobilized women.
Women's organizations were constituted under the umbrella and control
of the party the Mahila Congress and the All India Women's Federation
The 1993 passage of the "Panchayati Raj" constitutional amendments reserved
30 percent of seats in elected village councils (Panchayats) for women,
which has brought more than 1 million elected women into the political
life at the grassroots level. The passage of the "Panchayati Raj" was
due to the Seventy-third Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992, a central
government law which is supposed to be enacted by all the states and
union territories. The panchayats have been assigned various subjects
ranging from agriculture to poverty eradication. The panchayats have
a five-year tenure, and they are given 29 subjects to look after ranging
from agriculture, forestry, and fisheries to family planning, health
As of 2002, there were 70 women in the 783-seat legislature. There
were 6 women in the Cabinet. A large proportion of women participated
in voting throughout the country (with turnout rates slightly lower
than those of men), and numerous women were represented in all major
parties in the national and state legislatures.
More on the situation on women
in India in this report.
Government type: Parliamentary
Head of State: President who is
elected by an electoral college consisting of members of
the upper and lower Houses of the ParliamentSansad. The incumbent is Aavul
Pakkiri Jainulabidin Abdul Kalam who was elected on 26
July 2002. The President's term of office is five years.
Legislature: The Parliament has two chambers. The Lok Sabha/House
of the People has 545 members, 543 members elected for a
five year term in single-seat constituencies and 2 members appointed
to represent the Anglo-Indian community. The Rajya Sabha/House of the
States has 245 members, 233 members elected for a six year term, one
third every two years, by the elected members of the legislatures of
the states and territories and 12 appointed by the President.
Executive: The head of government is the Prime Minister, who
chairs the Council of Ministers and is responsible to the Parliament.
Legislative: Sept. 5 to Oct. 3, 1999
(Lok Sabha); March 29, 2000 (Rajya Sabha, one-third of seats)
Legislative: 2004 (Lok Sabha)
Sena (Extreme Hinduist)
President: Shri. Balasaheb Thackeray
Address: Vidyut, Ground Floor, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Goregaon (W), Mumbai
- 400 062.
Tel : 2872 2630
BACK TO TOP
resources and other links on India