Law centre 1(Delhi University)
The concepts of Gram swaraj and Panchayati raj were integral part of Gandhiji s political vision about the future of our nation. Panchayats which now have been the backbone of the Indian villages since the beginning of the recorded history. Gandhiji s dream of every village being a republic or Panchayats having powers has been translated into reality with the introduction of three-tier Panchayati Raj system to enlist people’s participation in rural reconstruction.The 73rd Constitution Amendment has brought significant changes that promote equal access and increased engagement of women’s in politics. About one-third of total Constituencies have been reserved for women. It also ensures and enhances women’s participation in public life. It strives to achieve National policy for women at the grassrootlevel. The commencement of the reservation system in the Panchayati raj institutions empowers women and elevates women’s economic, social, and political status in society.Democracy ensures empowerment, while Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) guarantees participation of all segments of society in the process. Greater gender equality is the key to successful participation of women in any democracy.
Key words: Panchayat Raj,Women,Gender equality.
Panchayat Raj was in existence during Vedic period in ancient India and was working well as the people were carrying out their personal and official duties based on ‘Dharma’. The life of the people was peaceful and fruitful as there were limited desires of the people.The ‘Gram Swaraj’ dream of Mahatma Gandhi and the ‘Power to the People’ dream of Rajiv Gandhi are the essence of true democracy.Democracy, Development and Decentralization through local self-government, transforms representative into participatory democracy. The Indian federal system provides for the constitutional devolution of powers between the center and the states, under whose exclusive legislative domain the local self-governments rest as third tier or level of government. In the Quasi-Federal system of India’s parliamentary democracy, the creation of grassroots organizations was left to a general directive embodied in Article 40 of the Constitution for the following terms: “the State shall take steps to organize village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as unit of self-government”. In fact, the true potential of Article 40 lies not merely in its directive to the Indian State at all levels as a part of Directive Principles of State Policy to organize village Panchayats but its significant concomital mandate that Panchayats should be endowed with “such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-governments”. It was pointed out that the task and expectations of the founding fathers of the Constitution world remain incomplete unless the village Panchayats begin to function as units of self-government and also as a part of our democratic polity. In this way, it was attempted to conceptualize the framework of Panchayat institutions and allow it to take its inspiration from the constitution with a view to improve their functioning which is bound to have ramifications for our democracy and development. In addition to the above Article,
Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957) was the first committee that recommended the establishment of the scheme of ‘democratic decentralization’ which ultimately came to be known as Panchayati Raj. Other most important committees were Singhvi Committee, Ashok Mehta Committee. All these committees recommended ‘democratic decentralization’ through two or three tier Panchayat Raj system.Panchayati raj was launched on October 2,1959, (Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) in Nagaur district in Rajasthan State. In the same year Andhra Pradesh State also introduced the system. Soon after, many states established Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in their respective states.
The three tier system of Panchayati Raj came into existence in many states during the 1950s and 1960s. The Panchayat Raj System consisted of the Gram Panchayats at village level. The Panchayat Samities at Talukaa or block level and the Zilla Parishads at district level. Hence, all the Units of local government were the creations of the State Governments. Since this became a potent hurdle in the way of development of these institutions, the Government of India under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi wanted to provide onstitutional basis for the local bodies. Accordingly, the Government introduced a Bill in both the House of Parliament in the name of the Constitutioin (Seventy-third) Amendment Bill seeking to provide for constitutional status to the Panchayat Raj bodies as well as to strengthen them. The Lok Sabha passed the bill on the 22nd December, 1992 and Rajya Sabha passed it on the next day with near unanimity. Thus the Act came into effect on 23rd December, 1992.
Democracy ensures empowerment, while Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) guarantees participation of all segments of society in the process. Greater gender equality is the key to successful participation of women in any democracy. Central and state governments have implemented many programmes to provide equal opportunities in education, employment and to improve economic status of women. As a result of this, status of women in India has been subject to many changes over the past two decades. When independence was declared, Mahatma Gandhi observed: ‘As long as women of India do not take part in public life there can be no salvation for the country; the dream of decentralization could never be fulfilled. I would have no use for the kind of Swaraj to which such women have not made their full contribution. Gender inequality is a major concern and government of India alongside various state governments have been engaged in a number of intervention programmes aimed at empowering them in true sense. Empowerment of women is the process of strengthening the economic, social and political status of women in society by which they have dignified and well-regarded life. One of the major interventions used by women empowerment promoters is to empower women through the panchayat raj institutions (PRIs) thereby to ensure their participation in the process of political decision making. The 73rd constitutional amendment is a milestone mainly for two reasons: a. it facilitated local empowerment and b. it ensured women’s empowerment. It provides 33 percent (one third of the total number) reservation in panchayat seats for women. This act also provides reserved seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in proportion to their population. Same proportions (one third) of the offices of chairpersons of panchayats have been reserved for women. Currently the reservation quota for women is set at 50% at PRIs level.
The constitutionally mandated reservations in Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) brought in through 73rd amendment have ensured women in general and from the marginalised groups in particular to participate in decentralisation process and thereby village and community development. Over and above several region specific Acts enacted by the state governments, the 73rd amendment to Constitution enacted in 1993 is a major strengthening pillar to decentralised process, which recognises the need for uplifting rural women along with other socially, economically and politically weaker sections of the society by making them part of administration and development. Government of India has been trying to achieve empowerment of women through various programmes and constitutional safeguards. Economic empowerment has been targeted or recognised through women component plan, financial assistance to self-help groups, establishment of women operated banks, colleges and universities specifically established for women, social empowerment being cherished through free education to girls up to certain levels, housing schemes, access to services, etc. Political empowerment is assured through reservation of seats for contesting elections at different levels, earmarking of funds under reserved category, etc. In PRIs, the provision of seats has been increased from 33% to 50% for women.
Issues faced by women while participation in Panchayati Raj Institutions
(i) Patriarchy: Indian society in general continues to suffer from patriarchy. Many women continue to work as a rubber stamp for their family members and also at times as proxies of rural elites. Their male co-workers show insensitivity and refuse to cooperate. Burden of household responsibilities, purdah (veil) system and domestic violence negatively affect their functioning.Gender-based violence against women is among the most egregious and commonly experienced abuses of womens rights.
(ii) Caste System: Hierarchical caste system in rural India makes it difficult for women from SC and ST communities to function independently and effectively. Community or Khap pachayats functions parallel to panchayats and pressurizes womens to act in a particular way.women have to face casteism along with caste based atrocities.
(iii) Lack of Cooperation: Womens, particularly the first timers find it very difficult to deal with officials of block/district administration and of line/ sectoral departments. Bureaucratic apathy and corruption is rampant which makes these womenss demotivated and disenchanted from the panchayati raj. People’s expectation to deliver coupled with non-cooperation of administration frustrate so much so that many a times they are unwilling to contest for the next term.
(iv) Inadequate Capacities: Majority of womens enter into public life for the first time and do not have enough knowledge and skills to handle affairs of panchayats. Training programmes conducted by government training agencies are unable to cover all elected representatives in time. A large number of ward members do not get an opportunity to attend any training in their entire term. At times they are also not allowed by their family members to travel and stay alone during the residential trainings. Lack of education also puts constraints on her. However, educational criteria introduced by a few States such as Rajasthan and Haryana have brought educated women and girls to Panchayats who are learning fast and are able to function effectively.
(v) Rotation of Terms: Policy of reservation for only one term and rotation of reserved seats and posts of chairperson also hinders consolidation of leadership qualities among womens as it takes time for them to learn the skills of handling and negotiating various conflicting interests within the panchayat. By the time they learn these skill and start functioning effectively, their term is over.
(vi) Encroachment and Non-Payment of Taxes/ Fees: Elected representative in general and specially EWRs face resistance from community if they want to remove encroachment from panchayat land/properties. Many a times they are subjected to violence from powerful elements of the society. Many rural households do not want to pay taxes and fees on time while expect panchayats to deliver public services and good in time. Insistence by womens are resisted at times by violent protests.
(vii) Two Child Norm: A few States are still continuing with the two child norm for contesting panchayat elections. In rural areas women hardly have any say in the number of children in the family and such laws restrict their entry into panchayats.
(viii) Inadequate Women Panchayat Functionaries: Womens are more comfortable with women functionaries. However, there are very few women panchayat functionaries. Patriarchal mindsets make it difficult for womens to freely interact with male functionaries at times when it is required.
(ix)Proxy Presence: Female Gram Pradhans: women who were assumed to be weak and vulnerable are currently empowered. However, they will take time to get used to the system and cope with their new status. During this time, men and other bureaucrats are likely more likely to misuse or abuse their power. Female sarpanch/pradhans are more likely to be influenced by the family members to stand for the polls and post winning; most of the work is handled by the male family members. On the face, the women won the election but are indirectly being controlled by the male members. The male members took care of the matter and answered people’s queries whilst the females continued their household chores.
Women face dual stigmatization on grounds of caste and gender like physical violence, forced stripping, and verbal abuse. Gender-based violence against women is among the most egregious and commonly experienced abuses of women’s rights. Intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage and violence as a weapon of war, sexual and gender-based violence, are a major public health concern across the world, a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on individual and societal development, with high economic costs. Violence affects all groups of women, but rural and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable. Many aspects of the lives of rural women expose them to risks.some of the factors responsible violence against women in Panchyat:-
Untouchability: Untouchability is a form of social institution that legitimises and enforces practices that are discriminatory, humiliating, exclusionary and exploitative against people belonging to certain social groups.Modern Indian law has officially abolished the caste hierarchy, untouchability is in many ways still a practice.Inspite of that this is practising.
Political: Violence against women in politics is a form of gender based violence against women which is any act, or threat, of physical, sexual or psychological violence that prevents women from exercising and realizing their political rights and a range of human rights. Physical violence: including assassinations, kidnappings, beatings often with the intent to force women to resign or withdraw from political life. Sexual violence including sexual harassment, unwanted advances and sexual assault, rape, sexualized threats, altered pornographic or sexualized images intended to publicly question women’s competencies and shame them. Psychological violence: including threats, character assassination, stalking, online abuse as well as economic violence such as denial of salary or political financing, property theft or damage.
Economic: Rising living standards of women appears to have led to a backlash from historically privileged communities. Rising income and growing educational achievements may have led many women to challenge .There is also a possibility of the rise due to high registration and recognition of such crimes.
Dalit women: Dailt Girls face violence at a younger age and at a higher rate than women of other castes. According to the National Family Health Survey by the age of 15, 33.2% scheduled caste women experience physical violence. The figure is 19.7% for “other” category women. The violence continues, largely due to a sense of impunity among dominant castes. Dalit women and girls are often the targets of hate crimes. Access to justice has been abysmal, with conviction rates at a measly 16.8 percent. Crimes against Dalits usually see half the conviction rate of the overall rate of conviction of crimes. Experts and activists say that low conviction rates and lack of prosecution of such cases of atrocities are the reasons why crimes against Dalits continue to rise.
Political power does not help: Even when women acquire political power, as when they are elected as sarpanchs, there is often no protection against the social power that sanctions violence and discrimination against them. It is now widely accepted that self governing institutions at the local level are essential for national growth and for effective people’s participation and that they are an integral and indispensable part of the democratic process. “Grassroots of Democracy”, based on small units of government, enables people to feel a sense of responsibility and to inculcate the values of democracy. At the same time, it also offers a unique opportunity to participate in public affairs, including development work. The grass-root level democracy entails due importance to initial participation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions. Even though in today’s political system where some reservations have been provided to women in local bodies, that has been misused bysome i.e. women have been used as rubber-stamps. Actual decision are being taken by their male family members.Women may have stormed the male bastion under thePanchayati Raj system, but in many cases it is the husbands or male members of their families calling their shots. Elected women representatives have reportedly been reduced to proxies of their male relatives. Empowerment of women in all spheres and in particular the political system is crucial for their development and for the foundation of gender equal society. It is central to the goals of equality, development and peace. The Indian democracy which is more than half a century old has entered the next century.But a large mass of women are kept out of political arena still.There can be no true democracy, or no true people’sparticipation in governance and development without equal and proportional participation of men and women at different levels of decision making. Participation of women in political life is integral to the advancement of women..
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to take part in the government of the country, directly or through the freely chosen representatives. Political empowerment can be defined ‘as the capacity to influence decision making process, planning, implementation and evaluation by integrating them into the political system’. It implies political participation which includes right to vote, contest, campaign, party membership and representation in political office at all levels and effectively influences decisions thereby leading to political empowerment’. Political empowerment refers to the process by which women acquire due recognition on par with men, to participate in the development process of the society through the political institutions as a partner with human dignity. Political empowerment denotes a distinct role for women in the formation of policies and influencing decision-making process by integrating them into the political system. Indian women have had little representation in institutional politics since independence. There was more concern in the last two decades towards increasing women’s participation in political institutions thereby leading to empowerment. Affirmative action has been accepted as a means to political empowerment. Leadership is necessary not just to govern but to change the nature of governance.
Rural women are key agents for development. They play an essential role towards achievement of transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. But limited access to credit, health care and education are among the many challenges they face. These are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises and climate change. Empowering them is essential, not only for the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also for overall economic productivity, given women’s large presence in the agricultural workforce worldwide. Women play a key role in food production and form a large proportion of the agricultural work force globally. Rural women are very crucial for social, economic and environment transformation for the ‘New India’. In India, Agriculture employs about 80 percent of rural women. Empowering and mainstreaming rural women workforce in agriculture can bring paradigm shift towards economic growth. It will enhance food and nutrition security and alleviate poverty and hunger. In India, reforms are underlined for holistic development of women, enabling socio-economic and health security. Since Independence, several government flagship schemes and programmes are initiated to improve rural women stature in society by creating livelihood opportunities and engagements in paid employments. Now, rural women have availing access to education, productive resources, capacity building, skill development, healthcare facilities and diversified livelihood opportunities through government beneficiary schemes.
The objective of bringing improvement in the socio-economic condition of women could be successful only by taking suitable initiatives and measures for empowering them. Empowerment of women wills not be possible unless they are provided proper representation in the political system. This objective should be achieved at desired level through making the provision of linking and associating maximum number of women in political affairs even at thelowest level of political activity. In recently introduced Panchayati Raj Institutions, the policy for reservation in favour of women has therefore, been thought as an important approach to maximize their participation in the local level. A proper representation of women in political affairs will ensure their views and needs reflected in public policies that affect their lives most.
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