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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 51 New Delhi December 10, 2016

Myth of Women Empowerment in the Panchayats of Haryana

Sunday 11 December 2016

by Ranbir Singh and Kushal Pal

The prescription of educational qualifications by the Government of Haryana in the 2016 elections for contesting to the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has been reported to be a game-changer. (Kundu, 2016) Although only 33.33 per cent posts of sarpanches have been reserved for women, as many as 41.46 per cent of them were able to become sarpanches in the 2016 Haryana Panchayat elections. Among them the representation of the general castes was 50.79 per cent, of BCs and OBCs 25.80 per cent and that of SCs 23.39 per cent. (Sangwan, 2016)

This gives an impression that there has been increased empowerment of women in the Gram Panchayats of Haryana because the Panchayati Raj System in the State is sarpach-centric and the panches have little share in it. The hegemony of the sarpanches has been further strengthened by the persistence of the weakness of the institution of Gram Sabha in the State.

The erroneous impression of increased empowerment of women is likely to get further strengthened by the fact that all the women sarpanches are educated and all of them have education above the middle class level. Moreover, many of them have education above that level. While only 32.47 per cent of them are educated up to the middle level, 67.53 per cent of them possess higher educational qualifications. Of these 44.63 per cent have passed the matriculation examination and 12.39 per cent qualified for the senior secondary level examination. So much so that 9.55 per cent of them have done graduation or achieved even higher educational qualifications.

But the claim of increased women empower-ment in the Panchayati Raj Institutions by prescribing minimum educational qualifications stands challenged by the ground realities. It has been repeatedly exposed by the media that their role in almost all the cases is being performed by the male members of their family. Earlier Haryana had the phenomenon of sarpanch pati (husband of the sarpanch) performing the role of their wives who got elected as dummies thanks to the 33 per cent reservation for women to the post of sarpanches in the villages. Now we haves sarpanch bhais (sarpanch brother), sarpanch pitas (sarpanch father), sarpanch sasurs (father-in-law of sarpanch), sarpanch jeths (elder brother-in-law of sarpanch). This happened because some of the families which did not have an educated daughter-in-law decided to field their educated daughters to retain the Chaudhar (power) in the village. Some other families hurriedly married their sons to the girls fulfilling the educational qualifications required for contesting the office of the sarpanch. The position of BC women sarpanches is worse because the landless backward classes belonging to the artisan services and agricultural labour class cannot dare to have any control over the power structure of the village. However, the position of the Other Backward Classes, whose proportion among them is not available, is slightly better. The position of the SC women sarpanches is the worst because they suffer from double disadvantage, first as Dalits and secondly as women.

Moreover, on the basis of the educational background of the women sarpanches, we find that only less than one-tenth of them are graduates and above. Almost half of them are only matriculates and one-third of them are middle pass. The women sarpanches having only school level education cannot be expected to understand the rules, regulations and provisions of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act or cannot be expected to understand the intricacies of the various developmental schemes and do not possess the needed competence for decentralised planning or for exercising their role as State Public Information Officers under the Right to Information Act. Even the graduates and post-graduates among them are not allowed to function independently in Haryana’s patriarchal society having a neo-feudal culture.

But the prescription of minimum educational qualification by the Government of Haryana has undoubtedly to be accepted as a step in the right direction despite the fact that it violates the spirit of the Constitution by denying the uneducated among them their democratic right to contest the Panchayat elections and despite the fact that they are entitled to contest the elections to the State Legislature and House of the People. (Abrol, 2015 and Inderjit, 2015)

But there is an urgent need for taking effective steps for the empowerment of women sarpanches by the State Government. First, the development bureaucracy and district administration should not permit the male members of their families to function as their proxies by taking a firm stand on this issue. Secondly, Sakshar Mahila Samuhs (the groups of educated women) must be formed by the Women and Child Develop-ment Department to assist the women sarpanches. Thirdly, Self-Help Groups can be created and strengthened, if already existing, for extending logistic support to the women sarpanches. The Haryana Institute of Rural Development (HIRD), Nilokheri and Rajiv Gandhi State Institute of Community Development and Panchayati Raj (RGICD&PR). (Nilokheri and Bhiwani) can be assigned the task of capacity building of women sarpanches by organising exclusive programmes for them. Lastly, the Government of Haryana should select sufficient numbers of Women Gram Sachivs and post them in Gram Panchayats having women sarpanches as the latter are likely to feel more comfortable with the former than with the male Gram Sachivs. But far more important than these steps is the role of the civil society. It can make sustained and coordinated efforts for initiating a social reform movement in Haryana’s rural society to challenge its retrograde culture. But unfortunately the civil society remains weak in the State due to historical reasons.

References

1. Abrol, V.B., ‘Panchayat Chunav me Umeedvar Par Shart’, Panchayat Raj Update, Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), New Delhi, Vol V111, No. 8-9, September, 2015, pp. 1 and 8.

2. Kumar, Rajesh, ‘Samajik Samavesh aur Sahishnuta ki Pehchan:Haryana Panchayat Chunav’, Panchayat Raj Update, (ISS), No. 3-4, March-April, 2016, pp. 1 and 5.

3. Malik, Varinder Singh, ‘Panchayat Chanuv me Sharto se Jamini Star pe Kamjor Hua Loktantra’, Panchayat Raj Update, (ISS), No. 5, May, 2016, pp. 6-7.

4. Singh, Inderjit, ‘Haryana’s Panchayat Raj: Excluding the Deprived’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. LI, No. 16, April, 2016, pp. 19-20.

5. Sangwan, S.S., ‘Haryana Panchayats More Inclusive Now’, The Tribune (Chandigarh), February 9, 2016, p. 9.

Ranbir Singh is a former Dean, Social Sciences, Kurukshetra University and former Consutant, HIRD, Nilokheri (Haryana). Kushal Pal is an Associate Professor in Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Karnal (Haryana) and State Coordinator, Lokniti, CSDS, Delhi.