Skip to main content

PRIs just a beginning for transforming rural India via gender revolution

By Moin Qazi*
Not long after Nirmala Geghate took over as sarpanch in Wanoja, a remote hamlet in northern Maharashtra, groups of young men stopped hanging out in front of the shop at the village square, where they used to ogle and catcall female laborers who walked by in dusty saris.
There were several ripple effects of the new found women power in the village .Enrollment of girls in the local school increased. A mother asked for and received a mobile phone from her husband, which is a rare luxury for rural females. Other women who had been confined to their homes were suddenly allowed to venture outside the village boundaries for the first time.
A unique policy experiment in village-level governance that mandates one-third representation of women in positions of local leadership has revolutionised gender status across millions of villages in India. In 1993, the government brought in an epochal legislation called the ‘Panchayati Raj Act’ which reserves seats for women on panchayats (councils) that take decisions on every important subject in the rural political life. Once the sole preserve of men, panchayats now have women members and leaders, who are challenging feudal traditions and redefining the way councils are run. In this process, they are also learning some important political lessons.
This new law was the fruition of Gandhiji’s dream, to see local governance and gender justice being managed by village self-republics that have a purely localised approach. Gandhiji believed that the ‘Panchayat Raj’ system would obviate the feelings of alienation for locals and preclude the external intervention of higher-level urban civic officials. He strongly believed that those urban civic officers may not be familiar with the concerns of the local populace and may not share the same level of emotional attachment.
The new female role models that the law created had a dramatic impact on families and younger women. Today, these newly-minted panchayat leaders are concentrating much more on women-centric issues such as clean water supply, sanitation and education than their male counterparts. Their major concerns include construction of toilets, cleanliness and hygiene of villages, education for women and the problem of alcoholism. A higher share of funds is being allocated to public goods and services that benefit women as the well-being of women strongly influences the well-being of all others, especially the children.
However, this devolution of power has not been as seamless as it seems. Rural India is one of the world’s most diverse areas, constituting 833 million people who speak more than 700 different languages among them. To invoke cultural changes in these areas is no less than fighting for a revolution, but the restraining forces seem to be ebbing. Still, untouchability, feudalism, bonded labour, extreme caste, gender oppression; exploitation and land grab are few of the afflictions that must be eliminated completely if Indian women are to spend their lives fairly and peacefully.
Many of these leaders started as ‘showpiece’ elected women representatives (EWR), but over time, they have developed into proactive people’s representatives who are keen to strive for local development based on their own unique understanding of the needs and aspirations of people. When these seats are coupled with new skills from public speaking to budget management, they are better prepared to negotiate within the political space that has opened for them.
The most important feature of good local governance is participation. People not only vote every few years; they have a direct voice in decision-making and governance through public forums, citizen committees and voluntary action campaigns. However, in large swathes of rural India, representation has not necessarily translated into active engagement in the political space. Women still face a number of challenges including inadequate education, the burdens of productive and reproductive roles, financial dependence and an entrenched belief system that sees them as inferior to men.
India’s experience demonstrates that putting women in leadership positions can catalyse the change process. Although the first generation of women leaders had to cope with entrenched mores and traditions that left them locked into purely domestic roles, their presence in local organizations and committees has convinced the Indian masses of a woman’s ability and potential to lead.
There was a time when women were just titular heads, with their husbands, dubbed sarpanch patis who wore the crown and run the show. Most of those elected women were proxies for their husbands or fathers. They either sat mutely beside the male family member who made the decisions at meetings or they simply did not attend.
By increasing exposure to nontraditional leaders, the reservation system has changed the voter’s attitudes in regards to the ability of disadvantaged groups to lead. The quota system, beyond its immediate impact on gender balance among leaders, is now having long-term effects on the status and roles of women in the conservative Indian society by changing perceptions of their leadership capabilities and shaping beliefs about what they can achieve.
Women panchayat leaders are focusing on building separate bathrooms for girls. As studies have shown, this will directly reduce the number of female drop-outs after puberty. They ensure the delivery of safe drinking water to all students. Even though these may sound like simple palliatives, in reality, they are necessary developments in rural education.
It is clear that women’s leadership in panchayats is transforming India. The presence of a female leader in the village significantly increased the level of aspirations held by families for their daughters and female adolescents. They have also improved educational outcomes for adolescent girls, which will improve the labour market over time and help bridge the ratio of male-female working population in India.
Rohini Pande, a professor of public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, finds that the quota system results in big aspirational gains for girls in those locations. Her research showed that compared with places that did not have a quota, the gender gap in aspirations closed by 25 percent in parents, and 32 percent in teenagers in villages assigned to a female leader for two election cycles. In Professor Pande’s own words “It’s not that they put women on the council and attitudes changed overnight; these attitudinal changes were gradual. But our research shows that perceptions of women as leaders improve. Seeing a woman in the village meeting has a big effect”.
The great strength of democracy, according to Amartya Sen lies in it that, “it gives people in need a voice and, by so doing, plays a protective role against so many different forms of political and economic abuse”. PRI is just a beginning for transforming rural India by engendering a gender revolution. It is only one step on the way, but fortunately, it is the right step on the right ladder.
In the long term, the journey is going to be harder and tougher than any policy wonk can imagine. The wait could potentially be eternal. Legislation and policy pronouncements seldom penetrate the surface of social and political barriers and are ultimately impotent against the grid of the established power structures inherent in most rural Indian households and villages.
The vision is truly not as romantic as many would like us to believe, but as women have shown, they have all that is needed to ride out every storm. The men know this very well, but they don’t want to concede that women possess the ability to be the better halves because they are afraid of losing their last refuge—politics.

*Author of “Village Diary of a Heretic Banker”, was for more than three decades in the development sector

Comments

TRENDING

Mental health: We talk of poverty figures, but not increase in suicides since 2014

By IMPRI Team Highlighting  the issue of mental health and addressing the challenges involved, # IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Institutional Support for Mental Health and Wellbeing under the #WebPolicyTalk series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps . The discussion was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI and Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai . The distinguished panel included – Prof Anuradha Sovani, Former Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, and Former Dean, Faculty of Humanities at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai and National Core Committee member and Ethics Committee Chairperson, Association of Adolescent and Child Care India ; Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at Indian Law Society, Pune ; Dr Swati Rane, Founder CEO at SevaShakti Healthcare Consultancy, Mumbai and Founder V

How India, Bangladesh perceive, manage Sunderbans amidst climate change

By IMRPI Team The effects of climate change have been evident, and there have been a lot of debates around the changes to be made locally to help and save the earth. In this light, the nations met at the COP 26 conference recently. To discuss this further, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi , organized a panel discussion on “COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptations in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans” under the #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks . The talk was chaired by Dr Jayanta Basu, Director, Non-profit EnGIO, Faculty at Calcutta University and an Environmental Journalist, The Telegraph , ABP . The Moderator of the event, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI , started the discussion by stressing the talk on the living conditions of people living in the Sunderbans Delta from both the countries, i.e. India and Bangladesh. According to the report

NEP: Education must shift away from knowledge, move to teaching students

Dr Anjusha Gawande* The Education sector in the globe is changing dramatically. Many manual jobs may be captured over by machines as a consequence of multiple spectacular advances in science and technology, including the machine learning, and artificial intelligence. A professional workforce, particularly one that includes mathematics, computer science, and data science, as well as multidisciplinary competencies in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be in incredibly popular. As a result, education must shift away from knowledge and toward teaching students, how to be creative and transdisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and process information differently in innovative and rapidly changing sectors. The education development agenda at the global level is represented in Goal 4 (SDG4) of India's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015. Ministry of Education has announced the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) on 29.07.2020. In J

Dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and sustainable growth of mediocrity

By Arup Mitra* The theory of mediocrity would suggest that the meritorious who are always small in number as a nature’s gift will be dominated by a vast number of mediocre as the latter cannot withstand the inferiority they suffer from. By subjugating the merit, they derive a pleasure of having established their superiority. Such processes are functional in all spheres in life though the field of art is the worst sufferer. An artist mind is most sensitive and those who are meritorious in this lot possess exceptionally different traits. This makes them more vulnerable and, on the other hand, it paves the path of the mediocre to cast their shadows all around. Unjust and strong criticisms are sufficient to detract many. In developing countries, the modes of subjugation are many. Individuals do not hesitate to take recourse to criminal means as the subconscious prevalent with vengeance, accesses easily the outlets for execution. The lack of civility and the power of money form a unique com

Migrant problem during Covid and the role of equality for cohesive development

By IMPRI Team  The covid-19 pandemic has deepened the pre-existing inequalities across socio-economic groups, the distressing images of migrants’ exposure remained attached in our minds but not a lot has changed in terms of data collection and policy making since then to understand the role of equality for cohesive development. Cohesive development also means that human beings should respect the boundaries of nature which they cross at their own peril and the peril of other living beings on earth. In lieu to this, The State of Development Discourses – #CohesiveDevelopment, #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , #IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute , New Delhi organized #WebPolicyTalk with Prof Amiya Kumar Bagchi, on The Role of Equality for Cohesive Development. The session is inaugurated by Ms Mahima Kapoor, researcher and assistant editor at IMPRI. Ms Mahima Kapoor extended her gratitude to the speaker, moderator and the discussant. The moderator for the eve

Parallel govts: How unity of various streams of freedom movements took shape in India

By Bharat Dogra  In one of the most inspiring examples of highly courageous spontaneous actions based on the unity of people, parallel governments were formed by freedom fighters in several parts of India in the course of the Quit India Movement in 1942. Although generally four such leading efforts have been identified in Satara (Maharashtra), Talcher (Odisha), Tamluk (West Bengal) and Ballia (Uttar Pradesh), there were some other smaller efforts as well such as those in Bhagalpur (Bihar) and Gurpal (Balasore, Odisha). It is very interesting to see in most of these efforts (also very significant for understanding the freedom movement) that there was constant merging of the various streams of the freedom movement, with more militant activities openly taking place with the help of quickly mobilized militias and this being combined with various constructive programs emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi such as anti-liquor efforts and anti-untouchability movements. In addition we see actions in

West Bengal police inaction in immoral trafficking case of a Muslim woman

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, on Muslim woman victim trafficking, police inaction, and need immediate rescue: I am writing to inform you about a case of illegal trafficking and profuse police inaction regarding the same of a marginalized Muslim teenager named Anima Khatun (name changed), daughter of Mr. Osman Ali. The victim and her husband had been residents of the village Daribas, under Dinhata police station Cooch Behar district since their marriage in 2014. Six months following their marriage, Anima Khatun along with her husband, sister-in-law, sister-in-law's husband as well as her in-laws shifted to Delhi in search of work. They stayed there for 2 years after which they all came back to their native village. They stayed at their native residence for about one month and then they went back to Delhi. In Delhi, Anima was in touch with her family till the next six months, after which t

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Kr├Ątli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Bangladesh sets shining example of communal peace, harmony in South Asia

By Dr. Abantika Kumari Bangladesh is made up of 160 million people who are multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees all citizens the freedom to freely and peacefully practice their chosen religions. Religious minorities make up roughly 12% of Bangladesh's present population, according to conservative estimates . Hindus account for 10% of the population, Buddhists for 1%, Christians at 0.50 percent, and ethnic minorities for less than 1%. As an example of how people of different religions can live together, cooperate together, and simply be together, Bangladesh is regarded. Bangladesh is a country that values religious liberty, harmony, and tolerance. Bangladesh's population is made up of a diverse spectrum of religious groupings and ethnic groups. Such communities and groups live in harmony, putting aside their differences and learning to embrace and respect the diverse and diversified culture that has contributed to Bangladesh

Political leaders' actions are causing decontextualisation of democracy

By Harasankar Adhikari In India, does democracy become a matter of prescription, i.e., to follow the footpath left? Isn't it, in some ways, the adoption of certain prescribed procedures and mechanisms, such as timely election and populist schemes for the poor, etc.? In some cases, acts of government and governance turn democracy into a myth. It is full of political party-based agendas. This continuous hegemonic practise creates a conditional situation for the people of India. People elect their representatives who are not their representatives. They are only representatives of a particular political party that nominated them in the election. Democratic decentralisation of power is undoubtedly a unique step towards the grass roots. But a Panchayat member has no free will to act without the party’s instruction and approval. Michael Saward, a political philosopher, defines democracy as a matter of correspondence in state-society relationships. But India’s parliamentary democracy is un