Hundreds of young women backed by major political parties are contesting Kerala's upcoming local body polls - a political show of strength before the high-prestige battle of next year's Assembly elections.
One among them is law student Sharuthi, a 21-year-old CPM candidate from Kozhikode's Iringallur seat whose campaign poster shows her riding a motorbike.
As she seeks votes in this bastion of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), Sharuthi says her turning point came in September when she and her comrades took over the operations of a local ration shop for food kit distribution for Onam. The shop was closed after the owner contracted COVID-19 in August.
With Kerala having reserved 50 per cent seats in local bodies for women, the LDF has fielded the highest number.
"Women have the power to become political leaders. In Thiruvananthapuram, 66 per cent of CPM's candidates are women. Five of them are below 25 years of age. This is a party with a difference," says Akshya, a 22-year-old graduate fielded from a Thiruvananthapuram ward that has so far swung between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The elections come at a time when the local bodies have been in constant public glare over the last few years - the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak, repeated floods and now the coronavirus pandemic.
"Many women, including me, came forward to help contain COVID-19. I have never seen so many women come out for public work at the same time. I believe the Congress party supports women like me to move forward," newly married Neethu Vijayan, 30, told NDTV.
She has been fielded from a ward in Thiruvananthapuram corporation, where the UDF lost its principal Opposition status to BJP in 2015.
In Malappuram's Wandoor is BJP's first Muslim woman candidate - TN Sulphat, a mother of two, who got married at 15. She says Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the reason she joined the party.
"From laws against triple talak to raising women's age for marriage, PM Modi has done a lot. It's after he came to power that I got attracted to the BJP," TN Sulphat told the media.
Stating that Kerala could make the most of 50 per cent reservation for women because of its strong culture of student politics, human rights activist and political commentator BRP Bhaskar said, "It is heartening to see parties field women from non-political families. However, these women must ensure they are assertive and stand up to misogyny so engrained in Kerala."
In the 1,079 local bodies, the Left-led LDF has majority. At the district panchayats, the two coalitions level off with 7 seats each. But, the BJP's entry is making it a three-corner contest.