With the women sarpanches in Haryana not allowed to function independently by the male members of their family, Haryana Rural Development and Panchayats Minister O P Dhankar said the government was introducing reforms to empower them and bring a change in the situation.
He said that the while the government was playing its part, it had limitations and the women should also assert themselves and exercise the powers given to them. The Haryana government had in 2016 introduced amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act as part of which a minimum educational qualification was made mandatory for those contesting elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The Indian Express, in a three-part series, has highlighted how women elected sarpanches as a result of these amendments are not being allowed to function independently. In an interview to The Indian Express, Dhankar said the aim of bringing the amendments was to ensure that educated people become sarpanches. “This time when the elections were held, there were more women elected than their 33 per cent quota. Further, the average age of sarpanches reduced to 33 years. Young people got a chance to come forward. We are trying everyday, but to bring about change is difficult. Changing oneself is difficult and bringing change in society is even more so,” he said.
The minister said that to ensure that elected women sarpanches are empowered, the officers ensure that in all meetings, the men are made to sit outside. He said when he went to a village where there was a women sarpanch, he ensured she was present at the event.
“The government is making efforts. But it has its limitations. The women will also have to come forward and exercise the powers given to them as sarpanches. At many places, they are coming forward and doing it. At places they have taken charge of dealing with women issues or have picked up some particular areas where men do not interfere. A beginning has been made,” Dhankar said.
To make the sarpanches well versed with the functioning of the panchayats, the Haryana government has started a three-month certificate course in five universities in the state. The sarpanches will be taught about the various acts and rules, how to pass budget, maintain account and pass resolutions among other things. Apart from this, computer training will also be provided.
“In places where women and sarpanches from schedule castes were elected, they did not have social power and would succumb to pressure. So the government decided that having educated panchayats is important. We also wanted they should give their best without getting into trouble,” the minister said.