Political rights

Unsung Heroes: Tara Krishnaswamy — From Technician to Fighter for Women’s Political Rights

Three years ago, during a TEDxMAIS talk about a “weirdly insignificant event that created colossal change”, a former software engineer, who is now a civil rights and women’s rights activist in Bengaluru, raised a question that tormented her – “How come a politician from a dynasty is nepotism but when it’s a politician it’s a model?”

In the talk, Tara Krishnaswamy highlighted the low presence of women in Indian politics – a topic that led her to start a movement called “Political Shakti” to seek greater representation of women in politics. Shakti’s political campaign for the inclusion of more women in politics in the 2020 Bihar polls resulted in the JDU awarding up to 19% of tickets to female candidates and she also won the movement three Cannes ads Awards recently.

In the talk, Tara Krishnaswamy highlighted the low presence of women in Indian politics – a topic that led her to start a movement called “Political Shakti” to seek greater representation of women in politics.

“We have campaigned on the ground and worked with political parties across the country to increase the representation of women in politics. In elections in India, the coverage is only about, he said this or she said that, Hindu-Muslim, temple-mosque, but the whole issue of women’s representation is not covered enough. The biggest problem is that 50% of the population is unrepresented in a representative democracy,” Krishnaswamy said.

While civic activism around issues concerning Bengaluru occupied her mind earlier, Krishnaswamy has now opted to work full-time with ‘Political Shakti’, a non-partisan group she founded in 2018, to achieve the goal of bring more women into state assemblies and parliaments.

In the past, Tara co-founded citizen movements like Citizens For Bengaluru for sustainable urban governance and led campaigns to increase public transport and address various civic issues in Bengaluru.

Political Shakti was launched by Tara a few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“During the last Bihar assembly election in 2020, political Shakti launched various campaigns which resulted in the ruling Janata Dal United (JDU) party giving away 19% of the tickets to women,” Krishnaswamy said.

A “Selfless Selfie” campaign launched by Political Shakti in Bihar polls had female mukhiyas (elected leaders of Panchayats) taking selfies holding placards asking their political parties to donate 50% of party tickets to female candidates. The campaign also encouraged female party activists to use WhatsApp to send “Nomination-me-selfies” to local party leaders.

“The average female representation in India is around 9-10% among legislators. Apart from Bihar Legislative Assembly elections, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Biju Janata Dal party in Odisha and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, gave 33% and 40% tickets to women after campaigning and working closely with the parties. Because of this, the number of women in Lok Sabha has increased,” Tara said.

Tara, who was working as a technician in the United States, returned to Bangalore as the software manager of a multinational company. Prior to moving full-time to the Political Shakti campaign, she led grassroots campaigns through the Citizens For Bengaluru initiative on public transport issues.

She has been closely associated with the #SteelFlyoverBeda campaign to oppose the construction of a massive steel airlift in the heart of Bengaluru at the cost of hundreds of trees during the term of Congress as well as campaigns for systems mass transit such as the #ChukBukuBeku & #BusBhagyaBeku for commuter trains and public buses.

She also worked on the Lokpal bill amendments and on the Justice Verma committee for rape law amendments. Tara was a co-convener of the Nirbhaya Fund Roundtable, Hyderabad for the Nirbhaya Fund administration, while spearheading grassroots campaigns for police stations in Karnataka to maintain lists of convicted sex offenders.

Women are the biggest minority in our country because 50% of the population has no political representation, Tara said. “If 50% of Parliament is not made up of women, who listens to these 50% of voters? ” she says.