Fifty-five-year-old Sivagami faces a unique predicament in this Lok Sabha election. A resident of Mayilam in Arani constituency, she had always voted the party that her husband Subramanian preferred.

“I know nothing about politics. Last time, he asked me to vote for ‘rising sun’,” she points out, as she picks out tiny stones from the rice on a plate.

Ask whom she would vote this time, Sivagami frowns. “My son who is studying college wants me to vote for ‘two leaves’. My husband says ‘rising sun’. I do not know what to do,” she says. For many women in the hinterland in Tamil Nadu, which boasts of a superior sex ratio of 996 females per thousand males, and more female voters than men, there vote is primarily influenced by their husbands and fathers. This is especially true with the older generation among which literacy is comparatively lower.

Kannagi of Kayapakkam in Panruti says price rise is the most important issue, yet, her vote this year would be for the ‘hand symbol’. “My husband now works for that [Congress] party. How could I say no?” she questions.

Lawyer and social activist, Sudha Ramalingam, says old “patriarchal morality,” which given men all the decision-making powers, still rules the way in which villagers go about their daily lives. “We need women to educate themselves at a higher level for this to change. The advantage of having a higher number of women voters will be lost if they cannot exercise their free will,” she observes.