Following reports of husbands or male members of families taking oath instead of the elected women representatives in newly formed Madhya Pradesh panchayats, the State is coming out with an advisory to prevent a repeat of such instances.
Such violations have come to the fore in Dhar, Damoh, Sagar, Panna and Rewa where the women concerned were among the spectators or at home while their husbands or other relatives took the oath on their behalf. Videos of husbands, fathers or brothers-in-law taking oath had surfaced.
“This is completely unacceptable and against the rules. The officials and the staff at the ground level are responsible for ensuring that the right candidates take oath. We have already taken action or are in the process of doing so. We are also issuing an advisory that will be sent to all the gram panchayats to block any such attempts by family members in the future,” says Madhya Pradesh Principal Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Development, Umakant Umrao.
Earlier, in Sagar’s Jaisinagar village, only three of the 10 women who were elected to the panchayat were present in the oath-taking ceremony on August 5. The hue and cry that followed led to the suspension of the Village Panchayat Secretary Asharam Sahu who could be seen administering oaths to the male relatives in one of the videos. He later reasoned that the women’s reluctance to take oath led to the violation.
Similar scenes were also witnessed in Dhar’s Sundrel Panchayat where even the oath was allegedly administered by BJP leader Radheshyam Kasrawadiya.
As of 2020, 20 States in the country provide 50% reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). Madhya Pradesh has been one of the earliest adopters of this provision as it has been reserving half the Sarpanch posts for women since the 1990s. In the just-concluded elections, more women were in the fray than men for Sarpanch posts. However, the latest videos and the administrative response has prompted many to question if such violations make the aim of empowering women at the grassroots futile.
“Article 243 of the Constitution talks about reservation for women and this has been endorsed by Madhya Pradesh in its M.P. Panchayat Raj and Gram Swaraj Act, 1993. A Pradhan Pati culture, however, thrives in the hinterland which defeats the purpose of the exercise that is adequate representation for women and their empowerment,” says Quazi Fakhruddin, a lawyer who practices in the Jabalpur High court. Last week, Mr. Fakhruddin was among the two lawyers who successfully argued and got overturned a controversial decision that declared a winning candidate as the one who lost despite him securing more votes. In that case, too, alleged administrative connivance had come to the fore.
During the campaigning for these Panchayat elections too, the men had been projected as the future sarpanches (or sarpanch patis, as the term goes) with their faces featuring on the publicity material, many a time without the spouse who was actually contesting.
On such allegations, Mr. Umrao called them as exceptions and said that once local bodies are formed, there is a seven-month-long training and orientation programme. “Gender sensitisation is a major part of this programme and this time, we will provide additional emphasis,” he said.