Women panchayat leaders: Breaking stereotypes, bringing hope
A two-day workshop organised to consider the experience of recently elected women representatives to village local councils (panchayats) in the Indian state of Rajasthan heard some stirring accounts of the dynamic role they are playing to bring about social change in their constituencies. Bharat Dogra and Reena Mehta report.
said that elected women representatives at the grassroots level in
two-day workshop was organised jointly by
In Rajasthan, panchayat elections were held only last year and many present in the workshop were elected for the first time and have completed only one year in office. But their performance so far gives hope for the future.
to Ram Kanwar, a ward panch2 of Kardha panchayat in
similar sentiments were shared by the sarpanch3 of the Harmara
Maina Devi, sarpanch of Tikawara panchayat, said that when she became sarpanch, the secretary of the panchayat didn't provide any records to her for almost two months and used to come into the office drunk. She put her foot down and told the senior officials that she would not come to the office until the secretary was changed. Her protest showed results and a new secretary was provided to the panchayat.
Voicing similar concerns was ward panch of Dhindwara panchayat, Pusi Devi. According to her, the sarpanch of her panchayat was involved in corrupt practices and, fearing protests from the ward panches, did not call for meetings with them. 'When we threatened him, he agreed to mend his ways and now we have started regular meetings of the panchayat'. According to her, after becoming ward panch, she took the initiative of regularly organising ward sabha (assembly) and has selected a five-member committee of voters of the ward to monitor the work done in the ward.
She commented very aptly, '200-250 houses in the ward have controlling power over the panch, and several panches have controlling power over the sarpanch. Neither panch nor sarpanch can work against their wishes.'
Committed to the trust of the villagers is the sarpanch of Vijaypura panchayat in Rajsamand district, Rukmani Devi Salvi. Before Rukmani, her husband Kalu Salvi was the sarpanch of the panchayat and during his tenure Vijaypura became a model panchayat of transparent practices. It was the first panchayat to have a transparency board and open all the information of the panchayat to all. Both husband and wife are widely discussed examples of honesty and transparency. Although they are dalits, both became sarpanch on the general seat because of the broad-based support for them. During election time last year some of the contestants spent hundreds of thousands of rupees on campaigning whereas Rukmani spent only 2,200 rupees and won. According to her, mostly women voted for her as they had seen the honest work done by her husband in the previous tenure and were sure that Rukmani would do the same. Rukmani has not disappointed those who put their faith in her. Recently she also won the Women's Political Empowerment Day Award.
Bai is sarpanch of Tilonia panchayat of Kishengarh block of
Listening to their inspiring stories, one can say that it is not only these grassroots women representatives who are marching towards a brighter future but, as a result of their contributions, so is the society at large.
Dogra is a freelance journalist and currently a Fellow at the Institute
of Social Sciences,
The panchayat is an elected village council in
2. An elected member from a smaller settlement within a panchayat.
3. The elected head person of a panchayat.
4. A village-level official who supervises the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
*Third World Resurgence No. 250, June 2011, pp 46-47