India    NUN HEADS WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTY
A Catholic nun has entered politics in the eastern Indian state of Bihar after what she said was her disenchantment with the political system and continuing prejudice against women and the poor.
   "Everything has broken down in Bihar," said Notre Dame Sister Sudha Verghese, founding president of the Akhil Bharatiya Mahila Party (ABMP, all India women's party). The ABMP was launched in January.
   Sister Verghese, 46, leads the campaign for the ABMP's lone candidate for the three-phased Bihar state legislative assembly elections that started on Saturday.
   She told UCA news that she was 'disgusted' by a trend among leading political parties in Bihar to field criminals, while 'educated and good citizens run away from the electoral process'.
   The schoolteacher-turned-activist bemoaned that no political party has taken women's representation seriously. She said she fears that even a proposal to reserve 33% of parliamentary seats for women might produce only puppets. "So we decided to register a party of women and by women," said the Notre Dame sister, who has worked among dalit (low caste) villages near the state capital of Patna since the 1980s.
   According to Sr Varghese, the party plans to fight for women's equal participation in public life, for basic civic services, for environmental protection and for dalit Christians' right to government jobs.
   
UCAN 15/2/00

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