Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Attacking real democracy

The Hindu, May 6, 2007

The Other Half

MORE than a million women are quietly working away and demonstrating a
different form of governance than the top-down centralised forms that
generally prevail in this country. A decade ago, in the honeymoon period
after the 73rd Constitutional amendment was passed devolving powers to
the panchayats, there was excitement at this democratic development,
where power was literally being handed over to the people. The media took
note of the fact that women, who had been kept out of systems of
governance, were finally being given a chance. The one-third reservation for
women in panchayats guaranteed their presence in numbers, something
that has still not been achieved at the national level.

The result was a virtual revolution as thousands upon thousands of
women got elected. Many of them were Dalit women. They challenged not just
the patriarchal hierarchies but also the caste hierarchies. A decade
later, these women are no more "new kids on the block", so to speak. Many
of them have been re-elected, they now know the system and they are
more willing to assert their views than in the early years. Of course, not
all the women elected to posts are enlightened and many of them
continue to be mere front people for their powerful husbands. But even if half
the women elected are like that, you still have another half who have
begun to understand their rights and are beginning to fight for them.
This is an immensely exciting social revolution that is quietly taking

Given the import of these developments for India's future as a working
democracy, one would imagine that the Minister for Panchayati Raj would
be considered an important post. Not so. Ask the Union Minister for
Panchayati Raj, Mani Shankar Aiyar. Speaking to the Confederation of
Indian Industries (CII) on April 4, Mr. Aiyar complained, "There is nobody
so marginal in a government as the Minister of Panchayati Raj. I count
for nothing. Nothing! When I was Minister of Petroleum, I used to walk
surrounded by the media. But just try to get them to write two words
about 700 million Indians."

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