By Inbarasan K G, General Secretary, Institute of Grassroots Governance & Gurusaravanan M, Chairperson, Institute of Grassroots Governance
In the Indian scenario, reservation for women in Assembly and Parliamentary elections is still a myth due to the continuous lapsing of Women’s reservation bill (108th Amendment bill) in the parliament. Hence, the political participation of women was minimal. But their participation in local government elections was comparatively high due to the one-third of reservation accorded in the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Act, a path-breaking reform for India’s Governance.
The presence of women in local governments provides a major scope for women to engage in the politico-developmental decision-making process. This breaks the existing stereotypes of women’s roles in our society. Women participation in local government delivers gender equity and ensures gender justice in society.
Based on the infographic prepared by Institute of Grassroots Governance, one can see the real scenario of women participation in Tamil Nadu from Parliament to Village Panchayats. In the Rajya Sabha, out of 18 MPs from Tamil Nadu, not even a single woman was representing. In case of Lok Sabha, only three women MPs were present out of 39 MPs from Tamil Nadu, which is very less. In the present 15th Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly, 9.4% are women MLAs i.e., 22 out of 234 are women.
In the recent local government elections held in December 2019, around 56.33% are women, indicating that 50% reservation of women paved the way of utilizing the leadership positions in the Village Panchayats. Here, 5421 out of 9622 elected village panchayat presidents are women.
Let us now hear from a woman Panchayat President who inspires many other village Panchayat Presidents with her transparent and accountable work for her village development.
Mrs Poornima Rangasamy is a first time elected Women Village Panchayat President from the Uthukuli Panchayat Union, Tiruppur District working as an efficient Village Panchayat President with her 1.5-year-old baby. Basically, she migrated from the nearby town Bhavani to this village after her marriage.
Before contesting in the election, one fine day, she met an old lady crying in a road-side where she enquired about the reason and came to know that a government official in her village is asking for a bribe to process the Old Age Pension.
This incident majorly motivated her to contest in the village Panchayat President election to eradicate such corrupt practices that exist in her Village Panchayat. She had the handholding support from her brother and husband even before the elections to learn about the general administration after which she got elected in the Village Panchayat.
The interesting aspect is that 2019 was the same year when she even got a voter ID for the first time and fought the election and won. Initially, she could see the developmental gaps exist in her village and thought of doing the needful things for people and the overall development of her own village panchayat.
Her main source of income is through livestock rearing where she works daily for two (2) hours in the early morning and (two) 2 hours in the late evening.
In the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) scheme of the village panchayat, she found the wrong utilization of benefits by the beneficiaries by same members of the family even after the completion of 100 days. She appointed a group of educated women to avoid the corrupt practices in the MGNREGS scheme.
She also conducted a separate Gram Sabha meeting with all the people so that the functioning of MGNREGS with clear cut accountability could be ensured. She also updated most of the village developmental activities on her Facebook Page to promote transparency in her Village panchayat administration.
In another incident, she complained about the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) in the Chief Ministers Special cell who had not been cooperative in giving the First Marriage Certificate for the poor women in the Village Panchayat for availing the benefits of financial support for their marriage. After that, action has been taken up by the government in a week’s time and the concerned official has been transferred.
Even during the COVID-19 Scenario, the Panchayat President gave her own money to the sanitary workers, economically weaker sections and also did other charity work through her own income.
The infographic shows that the huge potential of women in local government can bring socio-political transformation in Tamil Nadu and instil the spirit of good governance at the grassroots. There is a general opinion that women are a proxy candidate at the local government level. That’s when stories like that of Mrs Poornima provide greater hope for the women community.
Plenty of issues pertaining to women are unnoticed and unsolved where a Panchayat President like Mrs Poornima can do a meaningful intervention to solve these issues.
Apart from this, other women Panchayat Presidents also face a lot of problems, especially women Panchayat Presidents from Dalit communities who face caste-based discrimination. This is why the participation of women matters in local government, where more and more women should come forward and uphold their rights meaningfully in their respective Village Panchayats.
Seeing the importance and need of empowering the women panchayat presidents, Institute of Grassroots Governance recently initiated a project titled “Strengthening Young Women Village Panchayat Presidents of Tamil Nadu” especially to identify the needs of the young educated female Panchayat Presidents in their villages and to empower them to handle the socio-political barriers faced by them in Panchayat administration.
On this International Day of Democracy, Team IGG has come up with a report titled “Analysis on Demographic status of Elected Village Panchayat Presidents of Tamil Nadu 2020” as one of our efforts in strengthening grassroots democracy of Tamil Nadu. In this report, one can also see the participation of women in every district.
To read the complete report, click here.