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
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
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