Imphal: In a state where women have been traditionally under-represented in political platforms despite being at the forefront of socio-economic activities, two ladies are seeking to break the barrier in Manipur`s male bastion and clinch two Lok Sabha seats battling 16 men.
The task is an uphill one for these spirited women if recent history is anything to go by. In the 2012 Manipur Assembly polls, 12 of 15 women candidates forfeited their deposits.
Independent candidate Indira Oinam (39) and Kim Gangte (51) of Trinamool Congress are contesting from Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur Lok Sabha constituencies respectively.
Their focus is on women empowerment and equality, besides highlighting issues that affect the insurgency-hit state in northeast India.
"Women have always played an active part in socio-economic activities in Manipur, and are still playing, but they are suppressed and we need to empower them economically and politically," Oinam told a news agency.
Social worker Oinam, who grew up in a poor family and did schooling on her own, runs a non-profit organisation -- Women Income Generation Centre (WIGC).
Oinam took on Chief Minister O Ibobi in the previous assembly elections as a BJP candidate but has been denied a ticket by the party for the Lok Sabha seat that goes to polls on April 17.
She lamented that there was "no allocation in the state Budget for betterment and empowerment of women".
"Crime against women is increasing every day in the state. Each day there is a news item of violence against women in Manipur, which makes it at least 365 crimes a year but no one is taking this issue seriously," said Oinam, who declined a job offer in government and instead devoted herself to social service.
She is up against seven men, including the sitting Congress MP Thokchom Meinya, in the valley constituency which has never sent a woman representative to Parliament.
On the other hand, Gangte, the first woman from the state to be elected to Parliament way back in 1998 as a CPI candidate, is seeking to re-enter Lok Sabha from the Outer Manipur seat which goes to polls on April 9.
She is slugging it out against nine men in her constituency, that comprises mostly the hills districts.
Her opponents include sitting Congress MP, Thangso Baite.
In a flag hoisting ceremony at her residence in Imphal to kick off her campaign, Gangte remarked that women empowerment and socio-economic development of Manipur would be her priorities.
The upcoming election provides a golden opportunity for women to fight for their own rights, she added.
Lashing out at the attitude of political leaders of the state towards women, Oinam said, "When it comes to sit-in- protests or midnight vigils by Meira Paibis (women wielding torches who guard localities at night), women are expected to take the lead but not beyond that.”
"After a point, women are always suppressed and that`s what I want to change."
Ridiculing the attitude of the male politicians towards women in the state, Oinam said: "On December 12 every year, on the day of Nupi Lal (commemoration of women`s uprising against British over rice export in 1939), all the powerful men, including the Chief Minister and others will sing praises about women in Manipur, their resilience and bravery, but the very next morning they would all be forgotten."
Exuding confidence about putting up a good performance in the election, Oinam said: "I may be an independent candidate but I am seeking votes on the basis of a candidate`s record. Woman is my party. I am banking on the women of my constituency."
Although women voters are her target, Oinam said she has a wide-ranging agenda for the betterment of the state.
"The main issue that I am raising in this election is to make Manipur a self-reliant and economically prosperous state," she said.
Planning Commission data shows Manipur`s Per Capita NSDP (Net State Domestic Product) at current prices stood at Rs 36,290 in fiscal year ended March 2013, which is the lowest among neighbours including Assam and Nagaland.
Another issue that Oinam is raising during her campaign is youth and employment.
"Many of our educated youths are leaving the state due to lack of employment opportunities to work in private sector in other states. My aim would be to woo them back to the state by promoting growth of private enterprises in the state," she said.
Criticising Congress government for driving youth out of the state, Oinam said: "Under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), our youths are being killed and the police modernisation budget is rising every year but there is no step to give them jobs and provide them with a better future."
Gangte is also promising to address issues, which are vital for economic development of the state such as need for transport infrastructure development and better road links to facilitate trade and commerce.