Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Myths of Women Political Empowerment

You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.
- Jawaharlal Nehru

History of democracy in India ways back to during the 6th century BC with the historical evidences to the existence of republics (The Ganas and the Sanghas). Diodorus, the Greek historian without offering any details mentions the existence of small independent Democracies, with Licchavi prominently highlighted.
The official existence of Panchayat bodies in India also dates back to the ancient times. The historical books, the ancient scriptures and epics talk about the existence of Panchayat bodies. “The multitude of ethnicities and people provided for the autonomy and self-determination of the villages, city-states, republics and constitutional kingdoms through the observance of Dharma. The villages ruled by their elected representatives and were, therefore, autonomous and self-governing administrative units having the power to manage their educational, economic social, administrative and other requirements”.
With the advent of British rule in India, the Panchayati Raj system eroded which could only be revived after the Independence in 1947 and that too took so many years. During the decades of 1950 and 1960 several states adopted the Panchayati Raj system or the local self governments. In 1992, the system was given a constitutional cover by the 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India.
With all the golden scribes on Democracy the Indian political system all carries the blot of partiality and marginalization of the females. Although, at Panchayat level the women are shielded with quota system and certain number of seats are reserved (ranging from 33% to 50% varying from state to state) for them in local Panchayat bodies or the three tier system of local self government (the village Panchayat for rural, the municipal bodies in urban area, the block level and district Panchayat bodies), the women have failed to secure an independent position in the socio-political system.
The disparities exist not only in the field of education, jobs and the status in society but also in political arena. Provisional data released for the census of 2011 In 2011 India counted only 914 girls aged six and under for every 1,000 boys. Also the census data suggests the big gender gap. The data shows male literacy rate of 82.14% whereas the females lag behind with a wide gap of almost 20 percent at 65.46%.
Economically too, women are still dependent on males as most of them are not allowed to work outside their homes. Female employment rate varies from state to state (4.4% to 48.8%) and in northern states shows the poor trends with total of 31% of the total workforce in India.
Politically, they may have found representation at the lower levels, but that too is conditional (with actual powers vested in the hands of male members of the family). At the top women have failed to gain an equal opportunity status despite some individual and exceptional performances and have seen a stiff resistance from the political blocks and the parliamentarians for the proposed women representation Bill.
Even the voting trends show the poor rate of participation of women in the political process. Almost half the women remain aloof of the polling booth are forced to do so. At non-reserved seats, hardly any women dare to pose a challenge to male candidates. Very rarely, women win an election at non-reserved seat.
At Panchayat level the condition is worst as most of the elected females are either illiterate or bound to the shackles of patriarchies. At most of the time either the father, brother or the husband participates in the proceedings meant for the elected members of local bodies. Even officials have failed to curb the practice and even sometime they are supportive to the practice. Women are being used as a rubber stamp and their thumb impression has no freewill of its own.
It doesn’t mean that everything is wrong with the system. There have been some extraordinary outcomes from the existing system itself. There are the examples when the women representatives in local bodies have been an agent to real change. There are names like Changuna Raoji Sinalkar, sarpanch of Ranmala village in Maharashtra who made a path breaking success in the implementation of government policies, Anjibai who won the best sarpanch award in 2007 and 2009, Chhavi Rajawat of rajastha who probably is the first MBA sarpanch in India.
But these are just few to count. Majority falls into the second category of powerless, illiterate and unaware. They can be brought to the mainstream of success but this needs a stiff effort. They need to be made aware of their rights which they really deserve. Unless and until they are educated and trained for the actual participation, the objectives of reservation cant be met.
This can be achieved through awareness generation, capacity building, constant training and education. The target s cannot be achieved overnight, neither one should expect a drastic change in near future, But a start is to be made and should be made today. With every day passing the condition will only worsen and the vision of equality, justice (social and political) mentioned in the constitution of India will only further go blurred.

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