Women In Panchayats

The year 1993 saw history in the making. After a long-drawn-out exercise, in the summer of 1993 (24th April...

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The year 1993 saw history in the making. After a long-drawn-out exercise, in the summer of 1993 (24th April 1993) Presidential sanction was bestowed to the 73rd constitutional amendment bill, which inter alia confirmed the entry of women into rural local self-governing units i.e. the panchayat, both as members and as officials. This was contemplated as a colossal step towards emancipation of women. The 73rd constitutional amendment spelt a deep transformation in the arena of women’s exemplification in PRI. It brought in a total exodus from the earlier system of perfunctory nomination or co-option of one or two women in panchayats as advised by B. R. Mehta Committee (1957) and Ashok Mehta Committee (1978). Further, it also moderately conformed the proposal of the Committee on the status of Women which, way back in 1974 mentioned that earnest efforts should be taken for “… establishment of statutory women’s panchayats at the village level with autonomy and resources of their own for the management and administration of welfare and development programs for women and children, as a transition measure, to break through the conventional approaches that impeded most women from conveying their problems and participating actively in the existing local bodies” [1]

This stride was recently followed up by another momentous pronouncement. On June 4, 2009 the President in her speech in the joint session of Parliament, wished to have more seats reserved for women in the panchayats so that the multiple deprivations of class, caste and gender suffered by women can be tackled head on ! The Government took up the cue. Similar demands in Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh added strength to the concept. On August 27, 2009 the Indian cabinet approved a proposal for enhancing the reservation of directly elected seats for women from one third to fifty percent in all the tiers through an amendment of Article 243(D) (3) of the Constitution. Article 243 D (3) enumerates that ‘Not less than one third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every panchayat shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a panchayat. Along with this, rotational reservation of at least one third of the total number of offices of Chairpersons at all levels of panchayat was ensured through Article 243D(4). The proposed amendment seeks to replace this phrase of “not less than one third’ with the words ‘not less than half’.

Once this move is implemented, the number of women members will go up to 4.4 million from the present three million. As per the official version this provision will apply to the total number of seats filled by direct election, offices of chairpersons and seats and offices of chairpersons reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, hill areas of Manipur and tribal areas of Assam and Tripura will remain outside the ambit of the amendment.

On 30th March 2010, the Government of West Bengal ‘principally agreed’ to put this arrangement into practice during the next panchayat general election of the state scheduled in 2013, while Rajasthan, Kerala and Gujarat have already implemented it during their panchayat general election of 2010. Tripura went a step further. It not only amended its own panchayat act to this effect, but also brought its urban local bodies within this ambit through Tripura Municipal (fourth amendment) bill.

 

Performance of women in PRIs

General Observations

Despite several stumbling blocks women PRI members have generally performed well throughout the country. Several surveys indicate this. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj of the Government of India has also conducted one, with by far the largest sample size. Culling the observations from all the sources certain common points emerge-

Participation of women in the Gram Sabha meetings increases when the Pradhan is a woman. This corroborates the general perception that political communication improves when the citizen and the leader are of the same sex.[2] Since women panchayat representatives consistently demand for adequate supply of drinking water, housing and social welfare programs, and expenditure on these counts are relatively higher in women headed panchayats.

Women headed panchayats score brownie points in construction of roads, upkeep of drinking water facilities and administering government loan schemes. However their performance is not as effective in ensuring irrigation avenues. Women headed panchayats generally take more interests in negotiating social evils like child marriage, indiscriminate sale of liquor, witch-hunting and such other problems.

Problems

Certain major hindrances can also be identified in the path of functioning of the women members and functionaries.[3]

Dual responsibility: Women traditionally burdened with domestic work face difficulties in balancing the official work with their home.

Lack of security: Sometimes due to lack of security women members fail to visit remote areas in odd hours or attend meetings in far away places. Gradual criminalization of politics also is arresting their participation.

Lack of information and knowledge about government programs especially for women and child development poses problems. Again limited exposure to formal education breeds information gap and dependency on second hand knowledge. Consequently political lineage determines the distribution of benefits of different schemes.

Communication problem hinders performance as most of the correspondences, rules and regulations are in English.

Due to lack of exposure and experience women members face difficulty in asserting themselves. The fact that majority of women enter politics through reservation and kinship arrangement only accentuates this problem.

Owing to rotational policy

Women can scarcely continue their relationship with politics. There are three points to be noted in this kind of rotational reservation.   First a very small percentage of first time women members/ pradhans get elected for the second / third time. The following table amply clarifies this. Secondly, as male members previously held all these seats, they often manage to fix these up in favor of one of their women relatives. Hence we find that most women representatives scarcely had previous experience of being associated with political or social organizations and majority of them got elected to the seats to which their family members were previously elected. Thus we find that 41.7% of the female prodhans and 41.8% of the female ward members drew their motivation for contesting panchayat election from their spouse. The Community groups like Mahila Mondals, Self- Help Groups motivated 23.3% of women to take a plunge and political parties come a poor third motivating only 6.9% of the women representatives and that too only in the states of West Bengal, Sikkim, Tripura and Kerala.

Thirdly, women candidates are scarcely nominated from unreserved seats. In rural local bodies only 10.8% of the women get elected from unreserved seats. For male contestants however this figure is 49%.[4]

Thus this rotational aspect of reservation begets a short- term gain mindset, leading to a lack of accountability among the PRI members. Women who have got in simply through family connections are also not effective in asserting themselves and bringing about meaningful change. The process also entails a huge wastage of resources on the part of state governments as with every election they have to start the process of training and other related activities ab initio for the women members.

Hence in can be safely concluded that these are issues that need to be sorted out if the participation of women is to be made effective in the real sense. Moreover, the problem is manifold for a democracy as big and as diverse as India. Census 2011 portrays a gloomy picture when it comes to the number of women present in the country. The problem of sex ratio has always been hanging like an albatross and the policy makers has to take this fact into cognizance while making or initiating any policy which deals with this sex. The ides of equality enshrined in the constitution has yet to deliver up to its potential and the 73rd amendment is a proud step in this regard but it’s a just a means to achieve an end, which is to have an adequate and proper representation of the women not only in panchayat but also in the parliament as many international organizations have adopted the standard of measuring the contribution and development of the women by the number of representatives they have in the country’s parliament, which in India’s case, is not a figure to boast. So, in the end it can be said that a lot has to be done but as they say, morning shows the day, we have finally understood the pivotal role women can play in this nations all round development and in realization of being a super power.

[1] India Panchyati Raj Report 2001.

[2] (The Impact of Reservation in the Panchayati Raj- Evidence from a nationwide randomized experiment-Raghobendra Chattopadhyay & Esther Daflo-Nov-2003.)

[3] (Empowerment of Women: Waiting for Godot?-Atonu Chatterjee & Apurba Mukhopadhyay in Indian Political thought and Movements- edited by H.Bhattacharyya et al. K.P.Bagchi& Company 2007)

[4] (“Study on Elected Women Representatives in Panchayati Raj Institutions” – Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India,2008)

By:

Anjali Singh and Shreeyam Jain, 4th year, B.A. LL.B, Chanakya National Law University.

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