20 YEARS OF EMPOWERMENT
Women and Panchayati Raj In India


A special series supported by The Hunger Project


                                                                 




For the last three years the The success story of women's political representation could well be scripted in India's rural hinterland. In April 1993, the Government of India passed the, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act mandating that there should be at 33 per cent reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions (PRIs). In 2009, the Union Cabinet of the Government of India, approved 50 per cent reservation for women in PRIs. Today there are nearly 1.5 million women in these bodies. It is against this background and in order to mark 20 years of this journey, that Women's Feature Service (WFS) puts forward its proposal, '20 Years Of Empowerment: Women and Panchayati Raj In India'. This series will trace the evolution of Women's Representation in Panchayati Raj over the last two decades, highlight the challenges and triumphs of this process of representation, and report on present best practices on the ground in terms of women's empowerment.


INDIA:
Women In Charge, Karnataka’s Quiet Revolution
By Pushpa Achanta

The population of Anekal block, which falls in Bangalore Urban district - some 40 kilometres to the southeast of Karnataka’s capital, Bengaluru - is largely dalit, although it has a Muslim and adivasi (tribal) presence as well. Of its three lakh people, around 35,000 live in the eight wards of the Attibele Gram Panchayat, which is the site of a quiet revolution. The women in panchayati raj institutions have been able to make a considerable difference to the lives of the local community. They have been able especially reach out to women from marginalised communities who were otherwise outside the loop. They have done this in spite of the fact that many men are not comfortable with the presence of women in the gram panchayat and have sometimes resorted to talking ill about them. But the women have persevered and what is striking is that there have been no instances of financial irregularities in the Attibele Gram Panchayat.

* “They have been able to intervene and even successfully counsel women who have been assaulted.”


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INDIA:
Andhra’s Grassroots Women Get A Shot At Power
By Usha Turaga-Revelli

Andhra Pradesh has provided 50 per cent reservations to women for the first time in the panchayat elections that were held recently. These elections saw the emergence of many first-time contestants, who braved the intensely political battle guided by strong local factors, and came out winners. As the panchayats are reserved by rotation, the selection of women candidates also led to many gimmicks and deceptions played by the local male politicians in each area. The experience also showed that political empowerment is still surface deep and women sarpanches and ward members really need to make dedicated efforts to win over their constituency, manage funds and, most importantly, handle hostility from the men under their watch.

* “I had no political aspirations before. But, suddenly, when our panchayat was reserved for women, I kind of started seeing so many issues around me – and also ways to solve them. Today, I am proud to say that I won the elections on my own steam.”


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INDIA:
How Dongria Kondh Women Exercised Their Democratic Rights
By Sarada Lahangir

The verdict is out - the Dongria Kondh tribals living across 120 settlements in the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha are not ready to allow a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation as well as the government exploit their habitat for commercial gains. But while this is well known now, did you know that it's the Dongria women, who have been the driving force behind this critical decision? During the 12 gram sabhas held in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts - organised as per the Supreme Court directive that ordered this first-of-its-kind environmental referendum - women like former sarpanch Chanchala Harijan, Kunji Sikoka, Sitari Majhi, Parbati Gouda, and many others, fearlessly exercised their democratic rights and confidently interacted with government officials as well as the district magistrates present, to speak up for their people, the environment and their deity.

* "This is not only a fight for our livelihood but a fight for our dignity, our divinity and our existence."


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INDIA:
Kerala's Kudumbasree: Women Power For Local Development
By Shwetha E. George

Kerala's iconic Kudumbasree movement has emerged as a model for rural development and women's empowerment, driven by local self government. In fact, the role of Kudumbasree in enabling women to play an effective role in the running of Panchayati Raj Institutions is something that is compelling the Union Ministry of Rural Development to consider replicating it at the national level through the National Rural Livelihood Mission. So, what is it about the Kudumbasree programme that has clicked? It is the fact that this all-woman network has been the driving force behind the implementation of many tasks of the local government - from providing support structures for the poor to the universalisation of take home rations to the introduction of computer education in community schools. It has also enabled women like Vishnupriya, Nandini B.K., and Usha Sathyaprakash to step out of their kitchens and embrace leadership roles within the community.

* "I remember I would go to the municipal-level meetings, sit in the last row, and hope that no one would notice me or ask questions."


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INDIA:
Panchayat Strategies: Political Heroines Make Change Happen
By Bula Devi

Thirty-five-year-old Shushma Bhadu is one of those rare progressive women from rural Haryana, who has chosen her own future by entering public life. Elected in 2010 as the sarpanch of the Dhani Miyan Gram Panchayat in Fatehabad district, she is a true revolutionary, both in her thinking and practice. In a state that is known to reject the girl child, Bhadu has managed to make her village a 'model' when it comes to women's rights and the survival of daughters. This Class Seven dropout has also zeroed in on education in addition to ensuring greater access to water and sustainable livelihood for her people. Another community heroine is Nayana Patra, 45, a ward member from Dhenkenal district's Baraun Gram Panchayat, Odisha, who, with the support of other women, has devised an innovative way to reduce liquor consumption in the region. By imposing a fine on those found drunk, she not only managed to discourage such unsociable behaviour, but also got funds to build toilets in the village.

* "Everyone in Dhani Miyan wants a qualified daughter-in-law. So I explain to them that if they don't send their own daughters to school, their sons will not be able to get educated wives."


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INDIA:
Women Sarpanches Keep A Sharp Eye On Girls’ Education
By Rakesh Kumar

In Bhadsiya village, 115 kilometres from the district headquarters of Nagaur in the heart of Rajasthan, students of the Government Girls Higher Secondary School used to skip classes and lug heavy buckets of water from a hand pump outside the compound to the kitchen, where their mid day meal was prepared. This was a daily chore the girls had to perform dutifully. Those who didn't want to do it simply absented themselves from school on the days allocated to them. When sarpanch Radha Devi came to know of this, she was furious. Not only did she pull up the principal for getting the students to do work that was outside their curriculum, she also motivated the young girls to attend school regularly. In Ekran gram panchayat of Bharatpur district, it was due to the diligent efforts of sarpanch Anguri Devi that the numbers of girl students in the local high school could be boosted. Meet these vigilant heads of panchayats, who are working hard to ensure proper schooling to girls, besides looking for ways to make their villages more gender friendly.

* “I realise the importance of education. There should be no discrimination against girls in schools, and in last three years since I have been the sarpanch, I have made sure this doesn't happen in my village.”


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INDIA:
‘Let Girls Be Born’, One Panchayat’s Mantra
By Swapna Majumdar

It was a cold December morning. On reaching the hospital, the three months pregnant Sheila Devi got down from the autorickshaw, wrapped a shawl tightly around her and waited as her husband paid the fare. Neither paid attention to the car that had followed them discreetly. The ward boy, who had promised to take them to the doctor, was waiting. He asked Sheila’s husband to deposit the money for the ultrasound test. When the money was paid, Sheila and her husband were informed that the doctor was available at another diagnostic centre so they would have to go there. At first, Sheila’s husband was reluctant then he agreed. The couple went to the ‘clinic’ where a sex determination test was carried out. This was in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in 20102 and it was part of a sting operation against medical establishments that were violating the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 2002. In Uttar Pradesh, 20 panchayats have joined hands with health workers like ASHAs and anganwadi workers to save girls. As part of the ‘Let Girls Be Born’ campaign they are doing sting operations, taking out awareness rallies and even reaching out to religious institutions.

* "When I heard about the number of missing girls, I felt it was my duty to help stop this practice in any way I could."


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INDIA:
In Tribal Malkangiri, Women Leaders Take On Hunger
By Sarada Lahangir

“Food security is a big issue in our tribal region. In the absence of proper livelihood opportunities, scores of families here are heavily dependent on the Public Distribution System (PDS) to meet their ration needs. Streamlining the PDS, therefore, is a top priority.” That was Malathi Gudia, 25, sarpanch (village council head) of Nakkamamudi panchayat. Not only is this young woman a popular and articulate leader, these days she is determined to ensure that no one goes hungry under her watch. Considering that Kudumulugumma block in Malkangiri district of Odisha, where the remote Nakkamamudi panchayat is located, is one of the most backward blocks of the eastern state, Gudia’s agenda stands to benefit thousands. There was time when ration shop owners would take the unsuspecting tribals for a ride. Not anymore, as vigilant panchayat women in the region have taken on the task of streamlining the system – come Thursday and women like Chanda Sisa, 40, head to the local shop to get their rightful entitlements, without fuss or fear of being turned back.

* “Women and food security are closely linked. So all our efforts are focused at ensuring that tribal villages can become food surplus in the next five years.”


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INDIA:
J&K Needs To Empower Panchayat Women: Zaitoon Begum Tells You Why
By Ashutosh Sharma

Boonikhet is a nondescript panchayat, cradled in the lofty Pir Panjal mountains in Surankote block of Poonch district, but its ward panch, Zaitoon Begum, in her mid-fifties, is anything but ordinary. She is raring to make a difference to her area. Zaitoon Begum argues that militancy prevented developmental activity in this region for years together and government functionaries, fearing for their life, refused to come there and attend to the problems faced by the people. Today, as she quietly advocates for toilets in her panchayat, other women like Vimla Devi –one of the rare woman sarpanches in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) –works hard to change the face of Gagwaal, a panchayat close to the international border. These are women who have shown great potential as political leaders. Pity is that, as a state, J&K is yet to usher in a vibrant grassroots democracy with the proper political representation of women.

* “Now that militancy has declined women should fight the other enemy –poverty and underdevelopment. The years of turmoil only pushed us to backwardness.”


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INDIA:
Can The Local Panchayat Help Malappuram's Tortured Young Brides?
By Shwetha E. George

Sameena, 31, a resident of Nilampoor village in Malappuram district, Kerala, was married at 16 to a grocer in a village in Mysore, a town in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. A year later, she was home pregnant and then never went back. Reem, 33, was married at 27 to a 28-year-old small-scale entrepreneur in another village in Mysore. Her husband's friends rescued her when he tried to kill her by setting her on fire. Today, she is a deserted single mother back in Nilampoor trying to come to terms with her life. In the last 20 years, young Muslim girls from Malappuram's impoverished families have been suffering physical and emotional abuse in their marital homes in Mysore's remote hamlets. Within five years of marriage, they are back home - poorer, weaker and with the added responsibility of bringing up fatherless children. While the local panchayat is aware of their plight and some rehabilitation measures, notably a literacy programme, have been introduced, life is still a struggle for these women.

* "If he saw me smile, he'd hit me. If the food didn't meet his expectations, he'd hit me. Once, he refused to buy me water throughout the trip back from Mysore because he saw me speak to a few Malayalis at the bus-stop there."


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INDIA:
Health To The Beat Of Drums, The Panchayat Way
By Swapna Majumdar

The day the drums start to beat, residents of Navgaon in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in the desert state of Rajasthan, immediately know it is a Thursday. And it is no ordinary Thursday; it is that one day in the month earmarked as Mother and Child Health Nutrition (MCHN) Day. Women start queuing up at the anganwadi centre, waiting patiently to access health services provided by the government. In a district that records the highest number of deaths of children in the age group 0-5 years and has the second highest number of deaths in childbirth in Rajasthan, this intervention to increase access to health services has made all the difference between life and death for scores of women and children. Amazingly, this effort is the brainchild of Devilal Masar, a member of the Navgaon panchayat. In fact, in Banswara and Churu districts of Rajasthan, panchayat members are proving to be true agents of change for their communities as they efficiently tackle difficult healthcare issues.

* The success of Devilal Masar's approach led sarpanchs of six more villages to adopt this strategy where the beating of drums has pushed up the numbers of women accessing health services on MCHN Day.


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INDIA:
People Savvy, Tech Savvy: Different Faces Of Panchayat Women
By Abha Sharma

Amri Bai, a simple woman in her fifties, had never had the opportunity to deal with the world until she became the Ward Panch of Kesuli Gram Panchayat. Once a shy housewife whose life revolved around the home and family, she is a changed woman now, thanks to the confidence her position in the panchayat has given her. If Amri represents one face of women's grassroots leadership in Rajasthan then Rakhi Paliwal is the other face, albeit a contrasting one. An aspiring law student, this Upsarpanch (deputy village head) is trying to transform her Upli Oden panchayat with the click of a mouse. Both women are shining examples of political empowerment in Rajsamand district although they are entirely different people - Amri is traditional and rustic whereas Rekha is tech savvy and modern. What they have in common, though, is an ambition to bring about change in the lives of the people they represent.

* 'There have been times when the District Collector has immediately responded to queries posted on my Facebook page… It is true the elders are not net savvy but even in villages, youngsters using the internet update their family on welfare issues.'


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INDIA:
For Tripura's Tribal Women Leaders People Come First
By Ninglun Hanghal

It's not often that one gets to hear about resounding success stories of women's grassroots leadership from Tripura, a small hill state in the northeast. While exceptional panchayat women from other parts of the country have been routinely making headlines not many are aware that there are several tribal women leaders in Tripura, who have been quietly doing committed work within their communities for many years now. Meet Sandhya Rani Chakma, Sabitri Debbarma and Madhumati Debbarma, the only female members of the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council that independently administers the tribal areas of the state. While the trio's dedication towards the welfare and rights of their people got them elected to the governing body, today central to their agenda are issues like provision of healthcare in remote rural areas, livelihood generation and, yes, demanding reservation to boost women's political participation.

* 'If women are given greater support many more will come forward to contest elections. As women leaders this has been a constant demand from our end. We are always trying to ensure more nominations for women.'


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INDIA:
Kultikiri Panchayat's 20 Year Thumbs Up To Woman Power
By Saadia Azim

Kultikiri is a special village. Located in Sankhrail block of West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur district, a region once infamous for being the hotbed of Maoist activity, the villagers here have set a unique precedent - for the last two decades now, they have only voted women into the local panchayat. Contrary to what many may assume, Kultikiri has successively elected all-women panchayats not because it falls under the 50 per cent reservation for women category. Women leaders here have beaten their male counterparts fair and square on the basis of their superior leadership capabilities and a spectacular track record of development. These days, it's a young and energetic group of seven women led by pradhan, Anamika Sahoo, 38, mother-of-two and first-time panchayat member, that has thoroughly lived up to Kultikiri's legacy of grassroots women's leadership. Education for every child, gainful employment for all, proper implementation of the government's development schemes, support to Self Help Groups - these women have done it all.

* In the last fiscal year, the panchayat actively disbursed more than Rs 53 lakh under the MGNREGA. Says Sahoo, "Our major thrust has been to identify work and then facilitate the proper disbursement of funds under the MGNREGA."


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INDIA:
Discarding Veils, Embracing Change: Rajasthan’s Extraordinary Sarpanches
By Abha Sharma

Born into a family of daily wagers, it never really seemed likely that Murli Meena of Bassi village near Jaipur, Rajasthan, would find the opportunity to distinguish herself. Murli, 37, however, is the Sarpanch of Dehlala Gram Panchayat today, elected for three consecutive terms because she has a reputation for getting things done. She may have stunned her family when she decided to shun the 'ghunghat' (veil) after marriage, but that move had prompted people to put her name forward when the panchayat became reserved. Badam Bairwa, 35, of Luhara Panchayat in Tonk district, may be illiterate but ever since she became Sarpanch in 2010 her community has flourished - a proper road, electricity, 25 hand pumps, four tube wells, old-age pension for women, she has made it happen. A quota of 50 per cent in Panchayati Raj seats have given women in conservative and feudal Rajasthan, a chance to explore a world beyond their home and helps them establish their own identity.

* Confident and active, Murli, now 37, is managing her responsibilities effortlessly. In fact, she was invited by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for a 10-day visit to Down Under – her first trip abroad – to share her experiences of grassroots democracy and leadership.


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INDIA:
Manipur’s Hill Women Leaders Root For Rights, Empowerment
By Ninglun Hanghal

Hatlhing Doungel, 45, is a single mother of three boys and one girl. Like any mother, she takes care of her home and kids with love and diligence, but today she is not responsible for their well being alone. Ever since she was elected to the Autonomous District Council (ADC) of Tamenglong district she has taken her duty of ensuring the development of her region and her people very seriously. Hatlhing visits her Phaituol constituency once a week, never mind the security threats or the long hours away from her children. There's also Grace Zamnu, 41, the lone woman on the Churachandpur ADC, who was elected from Muallum, and is now busy pushing for women's rights in her constituency. In the picturesque hills of Manipur, women are slowly making their way into the Autonomous District Councils in the five hill districts and, backed by years of experience as student leaders, activists or members of tribal women's welfare bodies, they are also making a difference.

* "Women's reservation needs to be implemented in the hills. While the valley benefits from this - because the Panchayati Raj system exists there - why can't the same be done here?"


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INDIA:
The Lives of Kashmir’s Panchayat Leaders
By Sana Altaf

It was 6.30 in the evening on January 13. After a hard day’s work Zoona Begum, a panch (panchayat member) from Sopore in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, was with her family when there was a knock on the door. As she went to answer it, she found an unknown person standing before her. Within seconds Zoona was shot in her head. Bedridden – the entire left side of her face is damaged – Zoona is trying to cope with physical and emotional trauma now. Suriya, a sarpanch in Tangmarg, too, faces real challenges in discharging her duties although she is more hopeful of overcoming the threats. When panchayat elections were held in Kashmir in 2011 after a gap of 20 years it signified a new beginning for local people. Today, that hope seems to be fading with elected representatives facing violence at the hands of extremist forces. As voices that are demanding better security for grassroots leaders grow louder, it is becoming clear that committed leaders can spur real development but only if they are protected while they discharge their duties.

* “Life is in the hands of God. I do not fear anyone else. I shall continue to work for my people.”


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INDIA:
30 Years, Jharkhand Gets A Taste Of Woman Power
By Saadia Azim

Dorothiya Dayamani Ekka, Shalini Gupta, Rahini Bibi, Archana Mahato, Putul Tigga … the list of powerful women leaders at the panchayat level in Jharkhand seems to be endless. In a country where women‘s political participation at the legislative level is not significant, these grassroots leaders are showing the way. In 2011, Jharkhand held panchayat elections for the first time in 30 years and history was created as women won 56 per cent of the seats - the highest among Indian states. Of course, winning elections has not been the only goal. Today, over 31,000 panchayat representatives have come together to form a state level core committee that is demanding greater policy-making powers. Their aim is to overcome the various bureaucratic hurdles in the implementation of developmental schemes.

* “As panchayats do not have the authority to disburse funds and exercise decision-making powers, most of our schemes get stuck in bureaucratic hassles at the district level."


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INDIA:
Block Level Worker To MLA: Hill Women Wrest Control Of Local Government
By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

To understand the new face of panchayati raj empowerment of hill women, look no further than Uttarakhand - one of 14 states to have brought in 50 per cent reservation for women in all three tiers of the Panchayati Raj system. There are women like Radha Devi, 54, a three-time Pradhan; Mamta Devi, 35, another Pradhan, who filed charges against her husband for embezzling funds in her name; and Shaila Rani Rawat, in her fifties, who has come a long way since her first stint as Block Pramukh of the Khetra Panchayat in Chamoli district. In the February 2012 Uttarakhand elections, she was voted in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

* “We encourage women to collectively address various forms of gender injustice and to lobby for policy-level changes to ensure women’s rights to inheritance, ownership of property and maintenance in case of divorce or desertion.”


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INDIA:
Green Shoots of Power: Twenty Years of Panchayati Women
By George Mathew

In the early nineties, Geeta Rathore of Jamonia Talab gram panchayat in Madhya Pradesh’s Sehore district had been elected sarpanch from a reserved seat. In the year 2000 she repeated this feat – this time from a non-reserved seat. That she could do this testified to her personal growth from being a shy homemaker to a community leader, working hard to change the face of her panchayat. She was able to renovate water tanks, build a school, construct roads – and even fight domestic violence. It been 20 years since the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts - termed as post-Independent India’s most revolutionary exercise in democratic decentralisation and devolution of power - were passed by the Parliament, mandating one-third seats in all local governments be reserved for women. The biggest significance of women’s reservation was that it unlocked the power, talent and commitment of millions of women for the progress of society and the country. Today, the Geetas have multiplied - 1.2 million women are making their entry into public life every five years. A piece by the man who was part of the panchayat raj movement for over 30 years.

* ‘I remember at that time there were fears that women would not come forward to fill these posts. Yet, when I went to observe those elections, I discovered that for every seat reserved for a woman, there were at least three contestants!’


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