The panchayat, while not without flaws, has been a primary vehicle for the empowerment of marginalised citizens.
The panchayat, while not without flaws, has been a primary vehicle for the empowerment of marginalised citizens. / Picture from Indian Express

 


TEXT AND PICTURE FROM INDIAN EXPRESS FEBRUARY 23 2015 Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner


 

Chandibai is a rarity in Rajasthan, where women’s political participation is limited. As an ST woman with little formal education, she is all the more unusual. Chandibai’s story starts 10 years ago, when she was elected to a seat reserved for an ST woman. Her experience in the panchayat, coupled with support from an NGO working to empower female leaders, gave her skills and confidence that she took with her after leaving office. She explained, “I know the system. Even men, who did not think a woman could do this work, know that I can assist them.”

Last month, Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh issued two ordinances restricting who can run for local office that make the emergence of leaders like Chandibai less likely. First, he required that panchayat candidates have a “functional sanitary toilet” in their home — an almost laughable requirement in a state where, according to the National Sample Survey, 73 per cent of rural people lack access to a toilet. Second, he made it mandatory for candidates to be at least Class VIII pass. State-wide,…continue reading

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