A record number of women are expected to vote in India’s general election, and for the first time, they may account for half or more of the total votes cast — all at a moment when the country faces a slowing economy, societal divisions and environmental challenges, among other issues.
The Times asked voters from different states and backgrounds to talk about the issues they were most concerned about as they cast their ballots. We invite other women in India to use the comments to tell us about the issues you are most concerned about in this election. We may feature some of them below.
‘The lines of religion’
Rehana Khan, 24, housewife | Uttar Pradesh
Ms. Khan comes from a conservative Muslim family in the city of Lucknow. She says the problems she faces start with daily, practical ones: drinking water that is unclean, piles of trash outside her house, rising inflation. But what troubles her the most right now are the big divisions in Indian society: between men and women, and between Hindus and Muslims.
“The elderly in my family object to girls’ education. The general impression is that if you get your daughter a good education, she will think differently, she will want to step out and get a job,” she said. “It’s a bad time to be a woman in India.”
The Hindu-first rhetoric of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has also troubled many Indian Muslims.
“I voted for the party that I thought would not divide the society on the lines of religion,” she said. “I was getting exasperated hearing ‘Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Muslim.’”
‘Schools but no teachers’
Imoni Sangmaji, 30, factory worker | Assam
Ms. Sangmaji works in a silk factory, producing fabric in Assam’s state capital, Guwahati. She says the B.J.P. has helped improve roads and electricity in her area, and credits Mr. Modi for a campaign that installed tens of millions of toilets around the country. She feels life, overall, is better now than it used to be.
“Some years ago, I could not imagine leaving home after dark, but that’s improving,” she said. “So is the toilet situation. I used to go out to the fields until about three years ago. That has changed, and we have a toilet in the village now.’’
But she feels that schooling, especially for girls, remains a real problem. “Illiteracy contributes to a backward society. There are schools but no teachers,” she said. Her dream is to send her 11-year-old daughter to a good school, so she can “grow up and take up a job of her liking.’’
‘Pollution is at the top of my mind’
Gayatri Nair, 36, wedding photographer | Tamil Nadu
Ms. Nair lives in the southern Indian city of Chennai with her husband and three dogs. She is deeply concerned about environmental issues and says that Chennai suffers from diminishing green cover, dirty air, too few parks and too much garbage.
“Pollution is at the top of my mind,” she said. “We live in a country where millions are dying every year from pollution-related health issues, and yet I don’t hear even one political party talking about this seriously. While I do see the environment on the manifestoes of B.J.P. and the Congress, I’m very skeptical of how much they will actually do.”
As a wedding photographer, she has observed many families. “It disheartens me to still see so many age-old sexist practices continued and celebrated,” she said. “At the same time, I do see some couples making the effort to shift this culture. Every time I shoot an inter-caste, inter-religion wedding, with the support of their families, I see hope for this country’s future!”
‘False hopes and fake promises’
Maninder Kaur, 42, farmer | Punjab
Like many Indians who farm for a living, Ms. Kaur is angry at the government, saying that officials have not lived up to their vows to improve life in rural areas.
“Politicians don’t care about common people like us, not at all. They always give us false hopes and fake promises,” she said. “I work six hours a day in the fields, and there is no value attached to my work.”
She feels it is time to change certain traditions that favor men, particularly those that would make it difficult to pass down her share of the family farm to her daughter. “I want to get into village-level politics, but it’s really difficult because I’m uneducated,” she said. “But I will not give up.”
Her area will be among the last to vote in India’s rolling, six-week-long parliamentary elections. She said she was still torn about whether to vote for the Akali Dal party, as she usually has, or to register a protest vote.
“I am very disillusioned this time and may press NOTA” — None of the Above.
‘I am finally proud’
Rohita Dwivedi, 43, marketing professor | Maharashtra
Ms. Dwivedi teaches marketing and retail subjects at Prin. L. N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research in Mumbai, one of India’s largest cities.
She said she was supporting the B.J.P. because of improvements during the party’s last five years of governance, including in the economy, in fighting corruption, and in providing better access to banking and sanitation for everyday Indians.
“Benefits of the government’s schemes actually were passed on to the poor — be it toilet building, housing for the poor, electrification, health insurance, cooking gas and many more,” she said. “We, as countrymen, saw a five-year term without scams, and that is a big achievement.”
She is worried about a widespread “lack of pride and confidence” in India right now. But she believes the B.J.P. is in the best position to improve that, too. “India is a complex nation and certainly no party is perfect, but there is this party that gives me hope,” she said. “As an Indian, I am finally proud.”
Mala, who goes by first name only, sweeps floors and performs other domestic duties for a wealthy family in New Delhi. She works 10 hours a day, six days a week, making $160 a month. Born into a lower caste, she says she feels humiliated by the way she is treated. “Am I made differently from them?” she asked.
Above all, she says she wants better education opportunities for her children so that they do not have to take jobs as servants. And she credits Mr. Modi for improving that prospect for poor and low-caste Indians, saying he “has done well in that way for us.”
She remains worried about her daughters’ safety given the prevalence of sexual assault. “This country is not safe for girls. When they leave the house, I am on the edge, and when I’m at work, I constantly worry,” she said. “We hear of rape and harassment everywhere.”
‘People are afraid to state their opinions’
Kalpana Tatavarti, 52, business executive | Karnataka
Ms. Tatavarti runs a company, Parity Consulting, that emphasizes gender parity in the workplace. Her goal is to get more women into executive positions, but she says the government needs to improve basic facilities to help that: day-care centers for working moms or even just more bathrooms for women.
She is concerned about sexual assault and feels the government has failed to protect women. “Please don’t say women should protect themselves,” she said. “Protecting themselves by doing what? Wearing a burqa? Staying at home? Because that’s what happens, finally.”
She is also troubled by what she describes as an oppressive political climate that “snuffs out dissent.”
“No sooner than you say something that’s different from the majority, and abuse or heckling is unleashed at you,” she said. “In our neighborhood associations, in our WhatsApp groups, in our friends’ circles, it is so pervasive. People are afraid to state their opinions. Is this what we call democracy?”
We invite other women in India to use the comments to tell us about the issues you are most concerned about in this election. We may feature some of them in this article.