Machi­avel­lian moves

Ra­jasthan's de­ci­sion to bar il­lit­er­ate peo­ple from con­test­ing elec­tions to pan­chay­ats is one more ex­am­ple of a state gov­ern­ment dom­i­nat­ing in­sti­tu­tions of lo­cal gov­er­nance

Down to Earth - - GOVERNANCE - JI­TEN­DRA |

O2014,the Ra­jasthan N DE­CEM­BER 21, gov­ern­ment passed an or­di­nance which barred il­lit­er­ate can­di­dates from con­test­ing pan­chayat elec­tions. Ear­lier that month, on De­cem­ber 8, it had passed an­other or­di­nance that made it com­pul­sory for peo­ple con­test­ing pan­chayat elec­tions to have a toi­let in their house.

On the face of it, the laws ap­pear pro­gres­sive.But ex­perts say that they are just a mech­a­nism used by state gov­ern­ments to keep in­sti­tu­tions of lo­cal self gov­er­nance in check.The trend is not new and Ra­jasthan is not the only state in the coun­try to have passed such laws. On Novem­ber 9, 2014, Gu­jarat made vot­ing com­pul­sory in mu­nic­i­pal and pan­chayat elec­tions.The law goes against an ear­lier pro­vi­sion of the same gov­ern­ment which called for elect­ing lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives by con­sen­sus,in­stead of polls. Un­der the pro­vi­sion, ti­tled Sam­ras, a vil­lage gets 10 lakh if pan­chayat mem­bers are

` cho­sen through con­sen­sus.

The be­gin­ning of such laws can be traced to the late 1990s when sev­eral states barred peo­ple hav­ing more than two chil­dren from con­test­ing mu­nic­i­pal and pan­chayat elec­tions. The rule was con­cep­tu­alised as a mea­sure to check pop­u­la­tion. Whether it helped or not is yet to be as­sessed, but many stud­ies have in­di­cated that marginalised classes—women, dal­its and mi­nori­ties— have been tar­geted by such pro­vi­sions. A study by Delhi-based non-profit Hunger Project showed that till 2007, about 900 women in Mad­hya Pradesh and 800 in Chhattisgarh had been dis­qual­i­fied for vi­o­lat­ing the two-child norm.

“We have doc­u­mented hun­dreds of cases where elected women, dal­its, and peo­ple be­long­ing to the mi­nori­ties were made to re­sign. Cases of forced abor­tion, aban­don­ment of chil­dren,di­vorce,forg­ing of birth cer­tifi­cates also be­came ram­pant due to such laws,”says Sha­heena Parveen of Hunger Project. “The 73rd amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion en­sured reser­va­tion of 50 per cent seats for women at the lo­cal level, but such pro­vi­sions have come un­der attack by dra­co­nian laws made by states,”she adds.

Parveen is work­ing in Bi­har on is­sues re­lated to women em­pow­er­ment. There are cases that sub­stan­ti­ate her point. In 2011, Re­hana Khatoon, 35, was re­moved as ward coun­cil­lor in Patna’s Phul­wari Sharif mu­nic­i­pal­ity af­ter the birth of her fourth child. “I had three daugh­ters when I was elected ward coun­cil­lor,”says Re­hana.“De­sir­ing a boy,my hus­band com­pelled me to have an­other baby. Later,the state elec­tion com­mis­sion re­moved

SORIT / CSE

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