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Women as Panchayats leaders: The real picture
Published on 27 Jan. 2011 10:51 PM IST
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A baseline report prepared by Kuala Lampur based organization International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia entitled, ‘Baseline Report: Women and Political Participation in India’ observed about the political participation of women in India that, ‘Articles 325 and 326 of the Constitution of India guarantee political equality, equal right to participation in political activities and right to vote respectively.
While the latter has been accessed, exercised and enjoyed by a large number of women, the former i.e., right to equal political participation is still a distant dream. Lack of space for participation in political bodies has not only resulted in their presence in meager numbers in these decision making bodies but also in the neglect of their issues and experiences in policy making’. To address the gender gap, India is one of the few countries in the world that has made it mandatory for one-third reservation for women in all institutions of local self-governance. The posts for Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons in the Panchayats are reserved for women.
Though these provisions have increased women visibility in the local governance bodies, the reality shows a different picture. Several women elected are mere ‘instruments’ in the hands of their male family members. Deep rooted patriarchal values and male domination has made the things worse for women.
In Meher Alga Gram Panchayat under Shukchar police station in Dhubri district of Assam, the elected president is Morzina Begum. Villagers informed that her husband Tayeb Ali was elected as president before the post became reserved for women. Once the post was reserved for women, Morzina Begum contested and won but Tayab Ali continues to the defacto president. Villagers still address him as the president and there are very few people who know that Morzina Begum is the real president and not Tayab Ali. Zarina Begum, another member of this Gram Panchayat, is represented by her husband Rafiqul Islam by default.
Several similar situations have been reported by the villagers in Dhubri district of Assam alone.
• Sanowara Begum of Fekamari Anchalik Panchayat is represented by her husband.
• In Gudabari Gram Panchayat, Salam Shah represents his wife. Villagers could not inform the name of the wife, the actual president as they never interacted with her. Now Salam Shah, who has gained a big popularity while being the defacto president for his wife, is a candidate for the upcoming Assembly election.
• Rokeya Khatun is the president of Fekamari Block Anchalik Panchayat while her husband Billal Hussain represents her as the defacto president. It is also informed by the villagers that Billal signs documents on behalf of Rokeya Khatun.
• Md. Nazmul Arfeen is the defacto representative of his wife Nazma Begum in Kukurmara Jila Parishad.
• Dhubri Jila Parishad member Husnewara Islam wife of late Zahirul Islam representing Kakripapra , Mankachar is always represented by her son Javed Islam @Biplop. Husnewara was also elected as the state assembly member previously.
It can be easily presumed that in many Gram Panchayats similar stories will be repeated. Political sphere in South Asia is always a male dominated zone and few women leaders we found as the head of the state are exceptions and not a norm.
Now the question is: Is the 33% reservation at panchayat level empowering women? Are women in a position to take decisions and influence others?

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