Women's Political empowerment
73rd & 74th Constitution Amendments promulgated in 1993 are a landmark
for two reasons, (1) local empowerment, and (2) women empowerment.
Until 1993, panchayats and municipalities functioned virtually as
subordinate offices of the state governments that controlled senior
appointments, finances, planning and programmes, and could supersede
them anytime for any flippant reason. These amendments not only
gave constitutional status and fair amount of autonomy to them but also
tried to empower women by providing them one-third reservation in
election not only as councillors but also chairpersons. As a result,
about one million women stand elected to panchayats. This legislation is
indeed a landmark in the history of women’s movement.
Institute of Social Sciences1 has since its inception in 1985 been
intensively working to strengthen grassroots democracy through action
research, awareness programmes and advocacy. Since 1994, it has
been celebrating April 24 as Women’s Political Empowerment Day.
Its principal objectives are create awareness about rights and
responsibilities of elected women representatives, express solidarity,
exchange experience among voluntary agencies, create awareness in
the media about the issues, and evolve strategies for future.
The ninth Women’s Political Empowerment Day Celebrations were held this
year from April 23 to 25 in Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi.
Over one thousand four hundred delegates participated. Elected
women representatives from various states, academics, numerous voluntary
agencies, human rights activists, delegates from the neighbouring
countries, foreign dignitaries, parliamentarians and members of donor
agencies participated in the three-day event. PACS, a DFID funded
programme managed by the Development Alternatives and consortium of
Pricewater House & Coopers, sponsored about 500 elected women
representatives from six states to attend this convention.
The celebrations comprised cultural activities, display of panchayat
related literature and three-day deliberation. A fascinating film, “The
Little Republic”, produced by Institute of Social Sciences can be
ordered from it. Outstanding women panchayat leader were given
awards in recognition of their work.
Women & Law
I was invited to
address the session on Women & Law. Explaining the logic of
democracy, I said that in democracy the sovereign people retain
resources at the local level to handle all local matters such as
administration of justice, police, education, healthcare, land, water
system and forests. They devolve a fraction of their revenues to
the state for higher level functions and coordination, but not to
interfere in local matter. According to Hindu and Buddhist
scriptures, the state can demand not more than one-sixth of local
revenues for higher level functions and coordination. Symbolised
in Ram Raj, the rule of the epic monarch Ram, Gandhi called it Gram
Swaraj, that is village republics. Controlling five-sixth
revenues, the local governments prosper, the one-sixth of the state
shoots up, and it too becomes prosperous!
The women sarpanchs from most states, notably, Tamil Nadu, Orissa,
Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Uttar
Pradesh and Maharastra were touched by the presentation. I
explained that People First can file a PIL on behalf of the women
sarpanchs praying that the constitution now mandates that the Union and
state governments shall devolve funds to local governments through the
objective processes of the central and state finance commissions without
conditions and stipulations. Local government will prepare draft
local plans covering socio-economic and environmental issues expressed
in spatial form. District Planning Committees will coordinate the
local plans leading to state and national plans. Such spatial
planning will be an iterative ongoing process as in western democracies.
Devolution of funds in the form of schemes with conditions and
stipulations through the Planning Commission based on faulty Soviet
practices is thus not only flawed but also totally unconstitutional.
Most women sarpanchas understood the issue. They agreed to give
their power of attorney in favour of People First to enable it to file
PILs in superior courts contending that Right to Life guaranteed under
Article 21 had been denied to the common people living in villages and
urban slums, and praying that the Court may enforce the mandate of the
73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.
The elected women sarpanchs understood the issues, much better than most
educated elite who often suffer colonial mindset. They vied with
each other in offering to sign the power of attorney in large numbers.
People First is now in touch with leading advocates for handling the
case in superior courts. The task is difficult. It truly is
a second freedom struggle. It can succeed only through impassioned
demand from the common people living in villages and urban slums led by
their women leaders, and legal battle in superior courts. A
simpler course is that the two major political parties should jointly
vote for Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj in the parliament.
Our educated youth who have joined violent movements such as ULFA, NAXAL
& PWG will then give up arms and join the mainstream of society
for nation building. India’s glorious past will be restored.
Gandhi will lead a peace loving egalitarian world order with social
justice and equity.
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