If a colour were to be associated with election day in Goa on Saturday, it would have to be pink. Forty polling stations, randomly selected, in the state’s 40 Assembly constituencies were transformed into model booths to “salute woman power”, and they all came dressed in pink – from the balloons and table cloths that decorated the venues to the clothes worn by the staff, all of them women.

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello
Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

While the concept, an initiative of the Goa election office, was criticised by some, it received a thumbs up from most women in the state. At Booth 5 in North Goa’s Taleigao constituency, Helena D’Souza and her husband came wearing elements of the colour, and were happy to receive two pink roses from poll officials. “Both of us decided to go with the flow,” she told Scroll.in. “The idea added a fun element, giving us a bit of importance, so it was good.”

There were other giveaways – pens for first-time voters, both male and female. One such voter, 19-year-old Chandini Harijan, received a pink teddy bear. “I’ll keep the teddy bear as a keepsake,” said the teenager, who came dressed in a green salwar kameez as she said she had no clue about the pink concept. “It was a good surprise.”

First-time voters received pens and even teddy bears. Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello
First-time voters received pens and even teddy bears. Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

The election office had ordered 500 teddy bears for distribution across the state while returning officers were asked to hand out roses wherever possible.

Elderly women found the idea charming. “I wore pink by coincidence,” said Smita Naik, clutching her two pink roses. “When we reached here, my husband told me about it.”

Rashida Patel also praised the election office’s idea: “It’s a good symbol, it felt good.”

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello
Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

However, the polling experience wasn’t as pleasant for some women, who complained of congested and uncomfortably warm waiting areas. Others, including first-time voters Franvia Rodrigues and Nikita Govekar, said they did not receive any gifts.

Some questioned how the election office intended to project women’s empowerment through such a drive. “We fail to understand how this can be achieved by wearing pink dresses and giving pink teddy bears to first-time female voters,” media reports quoted Prashanti Talponkar of the women’s group Chitrangi as saying. “We strongly object to such stereotyping through colours and gifts, which have strong roots in the typical gender disparities that exist in our country.”

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello
Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello

But what of politics?

Calling it a “grand success”, the state’s chief electoral officer, Kunal, said statistics gathered at the end of the day showed a 2%-5% higher turnout at the pink stations compared to the regular booths.

“We officials came up with the idea of the 40 pink stations, to showcase that women are as capable as men,” he said. “We asked people to salute woman power.”

Wth this election, Goa added 32,354 first-time voters to its 11 lakh-strong electorate – 83% of whom turned up to vote on Saturday. Across the state, women voters outnumbered men by 18,000.

However, for all the fanfare over the pink stations and the Election Commission’s interest in encouraging women voters, the statistics for women in Goan politics is abysmal. Of the 251 candidates in the fray, only 19 are women. Fewer still enter the 40-member Assembly where their number has never crossed two, while their average presence in the House is one woman legislator.

Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello
Photo credit: Pamela D'Mello