Sarpanch Pati : The Small Steps, and Giant Leaps of Women’s Reservation : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.

Key Phrases: Elected Women Representatives of Panchayats, Sarpanch Patis, Proxy Politics, Absence of Strong Deterrence Laws to Punish Men, Lack of Political Education, Poor Social Status of Woman, Conservative Social Fabric, Effective Female Leadership

Why in News?

  • Recently, several male relatives of newly elected women representatives of panchayats in Madhya Pradesh took oath on their behalf.
  • During the campaigning for these Panchayat elections too, the men had been projected as the future sarpanches or sarpanch patis, with their faces featuring on the publicity material, many a time without the spouse who was actually contesting.

What is the Sarpanch Pati concept?

  • It is the practice where husbands of women sarpanches exercise undue influence on the work of their elected wives and also sometimes, run the office in place of them.
  • While the women get political representation, the real power is usurped by their husbands, “The Sarpanch Pati” depriving them of any meaningful gains.
  • Article 243 D of the Constitution talks about the reservation for women.
  • However, the Pradhan Pati culture defeats the purpose of providing adequate representation for women and their empowerment.
  • Thus, even after 30 years of granting constitutional status to women’s reservation in panchayats, women sarpanchs remain faceless wives and daughters-in-law.

What are the reasons behind the practice of Sarpanch Pati/Pradhan Pati/Proxy politics?

  • Patriarchal gender norms within households in traditional and parochial societies restrict the emergence of effective female leadership.
  • Lack of capacity building and training for women to take leadership roles in local government.
  • Poor social status of a woman with high levels of illiteracy as well as financial dependence on her male counterparts further inhibit their capacity to perform.
  • Absence of strong deterrence laws to punish men who take control in place of elected women.
  • Due to lack of political education and education in general, women fail to enter politics, and gender equality remains a distant dream in India.
  • Absence of recognition of women and their contributions.
  • The caste and gender-based discrimination are still prevalent and despite earning political positions, women are denied their due respect.
  • Gram Sabhas are unruly and women are not allowed to speak there freely.
  • Many women leaders in Panchayats have been attacked and some casualties too have been reported as their actions are seen as stretching the conservative social fabric.
  • Difficulties in balancing the official work with their home.

Panchayati Raj: 73rd Constitution Amendment Act

  • The 73rd Amendment in 1992 changed the framework and established a three-tiered panchayat system with regular elections throughout India mandating the direct local democracy for effective decentralisation.
  • Major provisions include: As per Art 243D
    • “One-third of the total number of seats reserved under clause (1) shall be reserved for women belonging to Scheduled Castes or, as the case may be, the Scheduled Tribes”.
    • Additionally, it has the provision that “no less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled byb direct election in every panchayat shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a panchayat.”
  • In 2009, the Constitution (110th Amendment) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha to increase reservation for women from one-third (33%) to one-half (50%) of the total seats in panchayats. The Bill, however, was never passed.
  • In 2006, Bihar became the first state to increase the reservation percentage to 50%.
  • Sikkim followed suit and implemented a 40% reservation policy in panchayat elections for women in 2008 (it stands at 50% now).
  • Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand subsequently passed laws to increase reservation for women in panchayats to 50%.
  • At present, 20 states, including Madhya Pradesh, have 50% reservations for women at the panchayat level.

Impact of the legislation:

  • The landmark piece of legislation has made a giant leap in women's reservation and paved the way for the election of around 1 million women at the village, block, and district levels.
  • A significant difference is made in the grassroot level governance where the women in villages with reserved pradhans are twice as likely to have addressed a request or a complaint to the gram pradhan.
  • Villages with female leaders experienced increased female participation and responsiveness to female policy concerns.
  • Furthermore, the village councils with reserved female leaders invested more in drinking water infrastructure, sanitation, roads, school repair, health centre repair, and irrigation facilities.
  • Political decentralization is positively associated with higher probabilities of institutional births, safe delivery, and births in government health facilities.

Women’s representation in Lok Sabha and Legislatures:

  • In the higher levels of electoral representation, their representation remains inadequate on account of lack of political will.
  • The reports put their numbers at over 10% of the total MPs and 9% of all state legislators.
  • In 1996, while a Congress-led government was in power, the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced aiming to reserve one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies.
  • The Bill never passed, with versions of it introduced in 1998, 1999, under the NDA government, and 2008, under the UPA regime, also failing. All four Bills have since lapsed.
  • The issue involved needs careful consideration on the basis of consensus among all political parties before a Bill for amendment in the Constitution is brought before Parliament.

Way Forward:

  • Securing space for women in other prominent roles on the panchayat beyond just president can reduce the likelihood that women presidents will be silenced by men in subservient bureaucratic positions.
  • Connecting first-time female elected officials with more experienced female politicians to build supportive, empowering networks for women who may feel isolated in positions of power.
  • Strict interventions are required to reform the structure of local political institutions which enable patriarchal practices to persist despite laws aimed at giving women a political voice
  • Safe political space for women and demystifying the stereotyped role of women will go a long way ahead in ensuring inclusive democracy and fostering better local governance.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. The prevalence of Sarpanch patis has undermined the role of PRIs as effective instrument of socio-economic transformation and empowerment of women. Discuss. (250 words).