ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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COMMENTARY-Pradhanis in New Panchayats Field Notes from Meerut District

Field Notes from Meerut District Sudha Pai AT independence the Constitution granted women equal rights of suffrage and participation in the political process. This arose out of the important role played by them in the national movement, In the post-independence period while women have entered the workforce even in the professional field, their role in politics has remained marginal. Those who have managed to enter parliament have had little impact upon the policy-making process. Against this background, the 73rd constitutional amendment passed in April 1993 by parliament, and ratified by all the state governments by April 1994, which gives women 33 per cent of the seats at all levels of the panchayat system is a significant measure. It has been widely perceived as a crucial step for empowering women and raised hopes for their increased participation in local decision-making structures, This brief study argues that the impact of this measure on women's participation has been differential. In states where the social status of women has traditionally been better, and levels of literacy, participation in the workforce and even in local politics higher, women have been able to take advantage of the new measure. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, prior to the new legislation, women had contested elections, occupied reserved positions and contributed to the functioning of panchayats. In the all- women panchayats this was even more clearly recognisable. Quite a few studies had pointed out the difference that women members made to the nature of the decisions, and the process by which they were formulated. Power meant giving priority to issues like drinking water supply, installation of pumps, construction of toilets, village wells and roads, appointment of teachers, closing of liquor shops, etc. There were instances, as in Vitner village in Jalgaon district (Maharashtra) where women got playgrounds built, land transferred to 127 women from their husband's share, and toilets constructed in the SC areas. Conscious of their increasing housework and the need to have some free time and save energy, the women in Pidghara (Madhya Pradesh) went for a 27-point action plan that took up the building of educational and other community- based infrastructure. The experience and action agenda of the seven-member panchayat of Brahmanghar of Pune district has been similar In other parts of the country where women's position in the family and society, and participation in public affairs has traditionally been low, the reservation measure has not produced much change. This is particularly true of states in the northern plains, such as Uttar Pradesh as is evident from a study of the role played by the elected pradhanis' in three villages of Meerut district given below. It shows that reservation alone cannot change the status of women in the family and society , and thereby ensure their participation in local bodies. The study also shows that rise in family income and improved lifestyle, due to better educational qualifications,or invest- ment in business by male members does not make a difference. The position of women, and the perception that they have little knowledge about and are incapable of taking part in public affairs, even of independent voting, remains strong. The pradhanis in our sample villages are mere namesake representatives of the male members of their household.

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