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Here, alcoholism is a big poll issue

Mayank Tewari, Bhikiasain (Almora)
Hindustan Times, February 16, 2007

Troubled with rampant alcoholism, women in the Bhikiasain constituency of Almora district have fielded an independent candidate from the fairer sex.

Supported by a local women’s NGO, Mahila Ekta Parishad, women from 62 villages met on 24 December last year and decided that one of them should contest the polls representing women. Hema Negi, a daily wage labourer from Shilang village, was chosen unanimously.

With a majority of villagers living below the poverty line, getting money for even a low cost campaign was near impossible. “The women decided that each village would collect Rs 1,000. It worked and we got a kitty of Rs 62,000. The banners and posters were funded by a woman’s organisation in the Garhwal region,” says Hema Negi.

The 31-year-old, who has studied up to class X is a political greenhorn but has a complete grip over local issues and knows how to mobilise a low cost campaign. “I have the support of women in 62 of the 160 villages in Bhikiasain. To reach out to those villages for support, we have formed teams of ten women, who go on door-to-door campaigning. Like most constituencies in the Kumaon belt, Bhikiasain has more female than male voters. There are 32,309 female voters and 25,085 male voters. This makes women the biggest vote bank. Naturally, Negi wants to cash in on that.

According to Mohan Kandpal a chemistry teacher in the local senior secondary school, Negi, backed by the Mahila Ekta Parishad is fighting for good cause. “Alcoholism is a major problem here. Most men don’t work and drink all day and the women have to do all the work. This affects peace of the entire family. There will be many women who will support Negi simply to fight alcoholism,” he says.

“Seeing their fathers, a large section of school going children have also taken to drinking,” says Negi. She recounts how the Mahila Parishad got husbands to stop drunken hooliganism. “We asked the women to impose a fine of Rs 100 on their husbands every time they created a nuisance,” she says.