The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act came into effect in April 1993, and as a result of this amendment all states changed their laws relating to local self-government. It was the Asoka Mehta-led Committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions (1978) which for the first time in India’s political history stressed the importance of women’s involvement in Panchayati Raj decision-making.
Women in the villages had rarely engaged in public life for a range of cultural reasons. The Act stipulated that at least one-third of all seats be reserved for women at all levels, with one-third coming from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In this context, it is important to remember that at least one-third of all office-bearer positions would be reserved for women at all levels. Although women are supposed to have the same rights as men in all aspects of life, there were no provisions in the constitution for women’s political empowerment. This reservation marked recognition of affirmative action as a necessary component of improving and empowering women in politics.
Panchayati Raj in J&K
In view of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 (now repealed), the provisions of the 73rd Amendment were not extended to the state (now UT). Panchayati Raj institutions were established in Jammu and Kashmir under the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. However, the provision of 33 per cent reservation for women in halqa panchayats for panch constituencies was made only in 2003 by Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj (Second Amendment) Act, 2003. Some provisions of the 73rd Amendment Act, however, were integrated into the already existing State Act by revisions. These provisions did not, however, bring the State Panchayati Raj Act at par with the 73rd Amendment. The first panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir under this provision were held in 2011.
With the passage of this Panchayati Raj legislation in India we saw greater female involvement in village governance. Women’s participation in village governance is relevant in India’s villages for a variety of reasons. Of course, not including them means that half of the community’s intellectual, managerial, and other abilities go unused, but there are other advantages as well. Panchayats led by women mark a significant departure from current political norms. While men have challenged other men for positions of power there have been few challenges to existing styles of functioning as a result the village administration has tended to limp along. Women have brought new ideas, energy, creativity, and a fresh perspective to the problems endemic to rural India. While it is difficult for women to perform administrative duties in male-dominated societies, their participation at the helm of affairs has resulted in the introduction of revolutionary development programs, resulting in a quiet revolution. In Kashmir, women have played a significant role in all facets of society, be it political, social, or cultural. However, their importance and contribution have been overlooked, especially in the political arena and active politics.
Decision-making authority is a key component of empowerment. Is it true that these women have accomplished this? Has the Panchayat’s women acquired decision-making power and political empowerment as a result of their direct participation in politics? In this regard, research results show a sad state of affairs. The majority of female members are dependent on male members to make decisions about them (of their family, Panchayat or political party). This is in contrast to the typical scenario in which EWRs behave as proxy politicians by allowing male family members, mainly husbands, to make decisions for them.
The majority of women enter the poll fray because they are pressured by family members. Local parties have been known to put pressure on existing male party members to encourage women in their families to run for political office. The Panchayat’s important decisions are made by party members and male family members, while women are merely formal representatives with roles but no real power. No doubt they may contribute financially to the family, their empowerment is inadequate. Furthermore, they are forced to give their earnings to their husbands.
Women’s absence from decision-making bodies restricts the possibilities for enshrining democratic values in a society, inhibiting economic growth and discouraging gender equality. Women’s rights and responsibilities are compromised by their lack of participation in political decision-making. From the grass root level to the national level, women’s perspectives on political issues are absent. They often remain unheard or ignored. Women’s active involvement in politics in Jammu and Kashmir necessitates many individual struggles on various levels. It entails a balancing act between their private spheres at home and the public domain of political action. It necessitates a departure from gender roles and the creation of a meaningful political space for women. Women at the grass root level women are unaware of their significance and role in political affairs and decision-making. Women must be made aware of their role in nation-building and leadership so that they can participate fully in democratic processes. Women should be informed about their rights and duties in all facets of life. This process can be carried out in schools and homes.
There are reports that women Sarpanches or even the recently elected female District Development Council (DDC) members are hardly involved in the decision making processes by Govt officers. Their suggestions or requests are taken casually. The police administration is also not building a close rapport with them. As most of them lack confidence and leadership qualities they have to rely on their close relatives like husbands, fathers, brothers or fathers in law. Even the educated elected women representatives from panchayats or district councils feel reluctant to interact with Govt officers in J&K. These elected women need to undergo a lot of training on leadership development and the role of NGOs in this direction is of great importance. I am sure after undergoing several training sessions on leadership for a year or so the situation will be altogether different.
Danish Yousuf is a master’s student at Delhi University. He is an intern at J&K RTI Movement