What they would not tell you is the story of who really holds power in India.
For that, an additional set of charts is needed – like the ones below.
In the Lok Sabha elected in 2009, Just 11% of the members were women.
In a country where the average assets of citizens were Rs 220,000, as calculated by a report on global wealth published in 2010, the average assets of MPs were valued at nearly 250 times the amount at Rs 5.33 crore.
More than 300 MPs – 315 to be precise – had assets valued at more than Rs 1 crore.
So far, in the 2014 election, there are few signs of change.
An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms shows that of 8,163 candidates in the fray, less than 8% are women.
The average assets of the candidates are valued at Rs 4.92 crore.
This is not an improvement over 2009, if you account for the fact that more than one third of the candidates are independents with average assets valued at Rs 2.02 crore. Independents are unlikely to dominate the next parliament. The candidates from the two parties that are likely to do so – the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress – have average assets worth twice the amount of outgoing Lok Sabha MPs.
While lamenting the imbalanced and skewed nature of our parliament, we must not lose sight of the structures of power in society. Constitutional reservation for scheduled castes and tribes has kept parliament from excluding India's historically marginalised social groups. Otherwise, the Lok Sabha would have possibly reflected even more accurately the power structures in Indian society where if you are a rich, high-caste men, you have a greater chance of controlling other people’s lives, but if you are a poor, low-caste woman, like Sarabjit Kaur, there are chances you have little control over your own.
A Bengali woman in Punjab
It was mid-April. In the village of Wajidpur, ten kilometres from Patiala in Punjab, as the afternoon sun abated, the giant-sized harvester-combines stopped crashing through the fields, people returned home, and I walked from door to door trying to find out more about people's political preferences.
Accompanying me was the daughter of a farmer-activist who had invited me to the village.
As we wrapped up the informal survey and came back to the young woman's home, she asked, “Do you want to know the views of my chachi ji?”
We walked into the courtyard, where her aunt sat on a charpoy.
Her name was Sarabjit Kaur. She was 30 years old.
“Do you vote?” I asked her.
“Who do you plan to vote for?”
“Let's see,” she said, with a gentle laugh.
“Are you happy with the Badal government?”
“Yes, I’m happy with the Badal government, the Congress government, with all governments.”
She was short and squat, with a round face and round earrings. Dressed in a short kurta over Patiala salwars, she spoke fluent Punjabi, mixed with Hindi, but somehow did not seem like the other women in the village.
“Chachi ji has come from Bengal,” the young student said, ending the mystery.
Born in Bardhaman district of West Bengal, Sarabjit grew up as Puja, the oldest of the four children of dalit wage workers.
The surrogate mother of her siblings, she never went to school.
At the age of 16, she found herself on a train to Punjab. A woman from her neighbourhood who had migrated to Punjab had come home for a holiday. “Didi told my parents that if they sent me with her, she would find me work in a kothi (bungalow).” The idea of a steady job for their daughter appealed to the landless couple who had spent long years chasing uncertain work in other people's fields at daily wages of Rs 20-Rs 25.
After three long days on the train, Puja found herself in a strange place where men wore frightening head gear. "Pag nu dekh bahut darr lagta tha. I found the turbans scary."
The didi took her home and taught her to make rotis. A month later, a Bengali girl who lived in the same house told Puja that didi was looking for a husband for her.
Puja was alarmed to hear this. But even before she could process the information, she found herself in another village where she was introduced to a man who she was told would henceforth be her husband. At 45, he was nearly 30 older than she was. An act that should have been considered legal rape was given the cover of marriage.
“The marriage was not solemnised in a gurudwara. It was done in the kacheri (court),” said the activist’s wife, who came out of the house to briefly join the conversation. Sarabjit's husband was a cousin of the activist. The two families lived next door to each other.
Sarabjit herself had no clear memory of putting her thumb impressions to a marriage certificate. She does not even remember going to a court. All she remembers is being choked with fear. Once the initial shock wore thin, she began to console herself. "Maine soocha theek hai. I thought, it's fine. Uthe bhi kam kardi si inhaa bhi kam kar laangi. The work is the same. Only the place has changed."
Losing one language, gaining another
Within three years, she had given birth to two children.
It was the desire to perpetuate the family lineage that had led the man's family to hunt down a wife for him.
"He had been married thrice before but each time the women deserted him," said the activist's wife.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because tai ji, my aunt, who was their mother-in-law, used to give them gaalis..."
It seemed unconvincing that women in rural Punjab would walk out of a marriage because of an abusive mother-in-law, but no further explanations were forthcoming.
"Since Sarabjit did not understand Punjabi, she did not even know she was getting abuses," said the activist's wife, still on the subject of Sarabjit's mother-in-law's ill temper. "Often she would come to me and ask, what does napooti mean..." Sarabjit burst out laughing at the memory.
Conversations with himself
"Chachi ji had no one here. She had nowhere to go," said the activist's daughter, who had been about five years old when the Bengali aunt had entered the extended family. Thrown into a house with an abusive mother-in-law and an uncommunicative husband, Sarabjit had found great solace in the child's affection, and in the sympathy of the activist and his wife. "As a child, she would often drop by to see me," said Sarabjit. "One day, she came to ask for something. But I could not understand what she was saying. She walked straight to the kitchen and picked up potatoes. That's how I learnt what the word aloo meant."
As Punjabi words entered her life, Bengali words left her. Five years after the marriage, Sarabjit travelled back to Bardhaman, and found she had trouble remembering what things were called in Bengali. "Punjabi would come to my mouth each time I opened it." She had taken along her two-year-old son. Her parents saw the boy and asked, "Whose child is this?" They were stunned when they heard the answer. "They had no idea that I had been married off."
The cultural confusion coupled with the yearning for her daughter, who she had left behind in Wajidpur, brought Sarabjit back to Punjab within a month.
Did she find life in Punjab more comfortable as compared with Bengal, I asked her, assuming that at the very least the marriage had offered her an escape from the drudgery of daily wage work. "There is more work here, no doubt" she said, in a surprising answer.
Her husband had inherited large estates of land, she explained, but he had frittered them away on nasha (intoxicants). While she went out to work on other people's fields, he sat at home. "He does nothing. He does not talk to anyone, not even his children."
"Chacha ji is mentally upset," the young student added, in a slightly lowered voice, by way of explanation.
"Since when has he been disturbed?" I asked.
"From the very start," said Sarabjit. In the early days of living with him, she would be terrified to see him talking loudly with invisible people. "I would ask him who are you talking with. He would not respond to me. Sometimes he would start abusing me. I told myself, miya biwi mein chalta hai. Abuse is acceptable between man and wife. I learnt to keep quiet. I understood that something is wrong with his mind."
Suddenly,the story became clearer: a mentally ill man marries local women by dint of his large estates but none of them can bear to live with him. Eventually, his wealth is depleted, and all that his family can afford is to buy a poor migrant teenager who would take his abuse, produce children for him, and run his house. Forget running away, she could not even complain.
"Mushkil raha hoga. It must have been hard," I said.
"It is fine. It is good," Sarabjit replied, with a smile. "I don't know how the rest of my life will turn out, but so far, it's been good."
Would Sarabjit's life have been any better if the Lok Sabha had a greater representation of women and of people drawn from poor communities? While it isn’t possible to come up with a definitive answer, it is possible to assert that the real measure of a democracy lies in its ability to unsettle the power structures of society and not in faithfully replicating them.
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