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From behind a veil, a prisoner's wife seeks the vote

April 15, 2009
When editors assigned Archana Masih and photographer Seema Pant to cover the Lok Sabha election in Siwan, colleagues questioned the wisdom of sending two lady journalists to perhaps the most controversial constituency in Bihar, where violence is commonplace, especially during a poll campaign.

But Siwan is where a woman candidate in a veil is making a maiden bid to win a seat in the Lok Sabha, a proxy for her husband, who is serving a life sentence.

It is also a constituency where the election will be supervised by a young, bold, lady district magistrate.

Under a tree-lined canopy with flat open fields on either side, the road to Siwan could be a path to rural Neverland. But far from the languid landscape, the town has made more news for its incarcerated convicted MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, who has won four Lok Sabha elections, the last from his prison cell.

Debarred from contesting the 2009 election by the Election Commission, Shahabuddin's shy and burqa-clad wife Heena Shahab has been put up by Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav this time. Yadav even accompanied her to the local election office when she filed her nomination.

On Saturday, Sanjay Dutt, the newly appointed general secretary of the Samajwadi Party -- the RJD and SP are in an alliance in north India -- arrived in Siwan, causing a virtual stampede in the town, to drum up support for Heena Shahab.

'If you make her win, I will come and have a meal in her home,' Dutt told that rally. Heena herself did not speak, preferring to just wave to the crowd.

Image: Heena Shahab with Laloo Prasad Yadav. Kind Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle.

Also see: Lady with the toughest job in Bihar | India Votes 2009