The Bold Voice of J&K

Empowering rural women through Panchayats

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Dr Banarsi Lal

The development in any society would be slow if women who constitute about 50 per cent of population are not facilitated to participate in the developmental activities. India with a female population of over 600 million possesses a vast reservoir of women power which exceeds the combined total population of South-East Asian countries. In the 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution for the first time in the history of India, minimum numbers of seats were allotted to women in Panchayats. Meager representation of women in the state and national legislatures, reservation not less than one-third of the total number of seats and chairpersons of Panchayats should be considered a significant landmark in the process of political empowerment of women. Clause(3) of Art.243-D inserted in the Indian Constitution by the 73rd Amendment Act provides that not less than one-third 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. Clause (2) ofArt.243-D provides that not less than one-third of the total number of seats shall be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Schedule Tribes. Seats for these marginalized sections of the society should be provided in every Panchayat in proportion of their respective population in the total population in each Panchayat and such seats have to be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the Panchayat. Clause (4) of the mentioned Art. stipulates that the offices of the chairpersons in the Panchayats at the village level or any other kevel should be reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Schedule Tribes. The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution has greatly contributed to the political empowerment of women and marginalized sections of society.
There were skeptics who were favourably disposed to the proposition of women leadership. Guided by their traditional dominance in a patriarchal society, the males used to cite some of the disabilities of women like illiteracy, family responsibilities, experience, poverty and communication skills etc. as the inhibiting factors for effective participation of women in the decision -making process at the local level. The upper caste males were frantically in search of methods through which their traditional hold in the rural sector could be retained. The women from marginalized communities in the rural areas were not initially very confident of their abilities to assume their leadership in the Panchayats. The male-dominant rural power structure did not like to lose its traditional grip over the rural institutions.
This led to the nomination of women members of their families or relatives for the non-SC/ST political seats in the Panchayats. Many of these women who never left their homes had to contest the polls with the support of their husbands. Caste, money and muscle power were also used by the dominant males to ensure their victory in several cases.
There were many instances where the elected women in the Panchayats had to depend on their family members to perform their official duties. Most of these women did not know the nuances of the Panchayat administration and they used to dependent on their husbands for transaction official business. In many cases husbands or the brothers of elected women presided over the Panchayat meetings and deliberations in absence of the elected women. The elected women in the Panchayats were not so literate, aware, experienced etc. and in many cases they were depending on their male counterparts in decision-making. In regard to the elected Sarpanches and Panches in the village Panchayats they had to depend on their masters who were the traditional power-holders. The officials working at the village level were not reconciled to work under the control of women Sarpanches. With the few exceptions, women members of marginalized communities who are relatively literate and have political ambitions or family history of political participation, volunteered to contest elections in the Panchayats. These women also depend on their own family members and relatives for electioneering. It should be emphasised that there is nothing wrong if the women seek the support of the traditional male leadership as a learning process. The significant achievements of 73rd Amendment Act concerning reservation of seats and political offices in favour of women and the disadvantaged sections of the rural community is that it had improved their awareness, perceptional levels and rightful share in the decision-making exercise. A brief spell of five to eight years is not enough in the history of nation to judge the rationale of political empowerment of women and other weaker sections of society. Social change in the rural India is already perceptible. Thanks to the mass media and the urge among the weaker sections to improve their educational, social and economic status. The influence of electronic media and the improvement in education, income, knowledge and awareness are affecting the value system, attitude expectations and aspirations of the rural disadvantaged sections in recent years. Political improvement holds the key for their social and economic improvement. There is need to be cynical about the prospects of the Constitutional safeguards provided to the women and weaker sections to ensure their effective participation in the decentralized democratic decision-making process. The disabilities suffered by these deprived sections of society are bound to disappear in the long run. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment could be considered not only the historic but radical for the first time in the history of India. It has made mandatory provisions for the reservations of a minimum number of seats and offices of chairpersons to women as well as to the marginalized sections of the society. All states have introduced these Constitional imperatives in their respective Panchayat Acts. In the context, many rural women entered the political arena for the time due to persuasion of their family members’ caste and political leaders. The male-dominant rural power is not reconciled to their socialisation in politics. This does not deter them from actively participating in the democratic decentralized developmental process at the local level. The male-dominant rural power should desist from applying social pressure on women aspirants who possess the necessary enthusiasm and ability to assume political leadership. The village males should rather encourage and offer support to them. The men folk should develop a positive attitudinal changes and mental make-up in favour of women. The elected rural women and weaker sections should be educated and trained by which they can get the knowledge and understanding. Special training programmes for the elected women members in Panchayats should be organised. The State Institutes of Rural Development and the Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) may be required not only to prepare appropriate curriculum for them but also to organise the programmes for them. The training programmes for the elected women members in Panchayats should be organised at state/UT, district and block levels respectively.
The teaching methods for these women’s should be simpler as possible. Group discussions, success stories and case studies should be the part of training. Electronic media and audio-visual aids should be utilized in the training programmes. State/UT government should introduce incentives for the Panchayats headed by women of marginalized sections of the society for good performance and attendance rather developmental activities taken up. Ultimately the improvements in the literacy among women and weaker sections hold the key factor for their AIYJIEe participation in decision making process and involvement with the developmental activities in the rural areas.

(The author is Head, KVK Reasi, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Jammu).

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