The Constitution (One Hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on November 26, 2009 by the then Minister of Panchayati Raj, Shri C.P. Joshi to amend Article 243 D of the Constitution of India. Article 243 D of the Constitution of India mandates that at least one-third of the total number of seats filled by direct elections in the Panchayats shall be reserved for women. The Bill seeks to amend the article to enhance the proportion of reservation for women from one-third to one-half of the total seats in the Panchayats. The provision of seat reservation will also extend to the positions of offices of the Chairpersons
The States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tripura and Uttarakhand have already provided for 50% reservation for women in Panchayats through amending their state Panchayati Raj Acts. In most of these states where elections were held after on the basis of 50 % reservation, the percentage of elected women representatives is more than the stipulated 50%. In fact, after completion of first phase of Panchayat (1995-2000), effectiveness of women leadership in Panchayats was seriously noticed in almost all states.
This reflects ‘social acceptability’ of women leadership in governance at local levels. It could be rightly argued that in India (where caste, gender, corruption, lack of resources and entrenched bureaucracy are more significant) governance at local level is more challenging than the governance at provincial or country level. Though there were/are also cases of proxy women elected representatives. Concept of Sarpanch-Pati (husband of Panchayat chairperson) came into being. Proxy-representatives are not new to democracy but perhaps in cases of women in Panchayats, this was noticed and to an extent was also strategically exaggerated by patriarchal forces to undermine the leadership of women. All possible tricks (including passing of no-confidence motions to remove women from their positions) were employed to discourage women.
But despite all socio-political and administrative odds against them, women came out of shadows of the men and performed better. Studies after studies have proved that in general women have been more sensitive, responsive and efficient in performing their leadership roles. This also led to social acceptability of women leadership, as reflected by ever-increasing proportion of elected women representatives in local elections.
The social acceptability of women leadership in patriarchal India is not without reasons. Various studies have found social sector inclinations and achievements of elected women representatives. These social sector developments are what people feel inclusive growth and inclusive development. This is a reality totally different from our armed chair planners and policy makers who synonymize inclusive growth with growth in the GDP.
Reservations of seats for women in local elections have been perhaps most significant political step taken by independent India to provide overdue political spaces for women. It also helped to give local development a much desired direction. In its own report(s) on Women in Panchayats, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has pointed highly commendable works by women elected representatives and highly condemnable resistances from local elites and bureaucracy. In its official documents government of India rightly feel proud on providing reservations to women and thus mothering silent social revolutions in villages and cities. The whole world accepts this fact and many countries have imitated Indian concepts of reservations for women.
But same government which seeks credit for systemic changes through decentralization and affirmative actions by strengthening Panchayats and women leadership therein has not shown commitments in getting this bill passed. Policies are often made to catalyse social practices. Here despite visible changes in our social system in accepting women leadership at local levels, our own system and processes have not been able to change themselves. Reservation for women in Parliament and legislatures is continuously negated on flimsy political grounds. Even on 110th Amendment Bill, our parliamentary procedures and systems have already taken almost 4 years to formalize enhanced reservation for women in local governments, which people of India have already consented for.
It may be mentioned here that current bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on 26th November 2009. The agenda for Budget session of Parliament in 2013 includes 35 bills for passing and considerations in 34 sittings of Parliament. 110th Amendment bill is one of the 35 bills. If one is optimistic enough, this bill may be passed in this session of Parliament and then President of India would stamp it to make it a new statutory provision. If all these things actually happen, even then as citizens of India we would not be answering the question, ‘how come it took almost 4 years for this bill to be re-tabled in Parliament again?’ Does it reflect on inefficiency in our policy system or it is a commentary on seriousness or ignorance of our policy makers who seem to be centralization centric and elitists in actions.
* This article has been written in conjunction with Nishu Kaul, Programme Officer, PRIA.
(Manoj Rai is Director, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA). He has specilised in local governance and has vast experience of working in local self-government institutions. )