The Flip-Side Of Haryana’s Village Election Reforms

Mewat
Mohammed Hanif married Sajida just because she could contest the election in his place. She lost. (Photo by Ketki Angre).

MEWAT, HARYANA: : He was the chief of the Singaar village council in Mewat district of Haryana for years. But, when elections were held in January this time, Mohammed Hanif could no longer eligible to contest for the panchayat. With the seat reserved for a woman, he found an unusual, if convenient, way out. He married someone who could contest the elections.

“My wife was illiterate and wasn’t eligible either. So I found a girl who has completed her class 10 and she stood for elections. I only got married so I could get to contest the elections (via her),” he told NDTV.

Mr Hanif sees nothing wrong with his decision. He says he did it to save his family’s honour.

“My wife felt that her honour was at stake. For five years, I had served the village and now if we couldn’t fight this election, it would be a big insult. I’m not the only one who has re-married. In Neemka village, Asgar’s son was married off. In Akhlimpur, one person got his brother-in-law married a second time,” he said.

Even though Mr Hanif’s second wife, Sajida, was contesting the election, the campaign was all about him. It did not have the desired impact on voters because Sajida lost the election by over 500 votes.

In the neighbouring village of Neemkheda, 55- year-old Ashubi Khan was the village head or sarpanch for 10 years. She became ineligible to contest this time after the government’s decision to set a minimum educational qualification for candidates contesting the polls.

She is upset. “Our right has been snatched from us,” she says angrily. “For 10 years, we put in all the hard work. We got motors installed, pucca houses built, school built, powerhouses set up. I’m not against education, but the government should have at least given us an education before implementing the law. Make the announcement and then give people 5 years, 10 years to work towards it. This was announced and implemented overnight,” she said.

The mandatory educational qualification became a major stumbling block for women who wanted to be a part of the political process but got left out. Nearly half of those who wanted to contest had to drop out.

A member in Ms Khan’s all women panchayat or village body, Sakuran asks, “Now that only the so-called educated are allowed to contest, what does the government expect this 60-year-old to do? Go to school?”

The anger is not misplaced. Analysts say what is missing is the government’s focus on the state of education in the backward districts of Haryana.

General Secretary of AIDWA, Jagmati Sangwan, explains, “The literacy rate of Haryana is higher (than that of many states). It is about 77 per cent. But if we go into the details, the real picture emerges. The literacy rate for women is about 65 per cent. In the rural areas it drops to 55 per cent and for Dalits it comes down to 33 per cent.”

According to Ms Sangwan, in a region like Mewat, the literacy rate for rural women is around just 18 per cent. “More than two lakh posts of teachers are lying vacant,” she says.

According to the census of 2011, the Mewat district has the worst literacy rate in all of Haryana. At the secondary school in Neemkheda, some of the classrooms have no roofs and students were studying out in the open on straw mats.

Out of a total number of 62 students on the rolls, only one was a girl. Besides, there was only one teacher to teach classes 9-12 where the total sanctioned strength was of seven lecturers.

But the government says this was an election of many firsts. “It’s the first time that 41 per cent women candidates have been elected when there is a 33 per cent reservation for women in these elections.” It’s a statistic the government is proud of. In addition, more than half of all candidates were elected unopposed.

“Panchayat elections would divide villages earlier. Now they are the uniting factor. Villages are arriving at a consensus and we have actually incentivized the process,” said O P Dhankar, Panchayat Raj minister in the Haryana government. “We have no criminal elements at all among those elected.”

As the government plans training sessions for the newly elected members for these grassroots posts, there are close to 2000 panchayat posts that are still vacant, including those of sarpanches, since not a single eligible candidate was found.

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  62. If we think differently then may be the literate wife of the man question, if was elected, will also use her own mind for her daily tasks rather than blindly following what husband says. Also, somebody can also argue that even with law for woman reservation being enforced we could run into situations where a man marries a woman solely for the purpose for running the election. In short there is no ‘perfect’ world and we need to do the right things for better future and ignore short term downsides.

    I definitely agree with the argument that some time could be given to the woman who have already shown leadership and willing to invest their time in education if needed.

  63. I’m one the recently elected Panch from Mewat and yes hadn’t it been for the change of rules I would never have considered contesting but I do have to say changes are not always welcome but they are truly necessary.

  64. This news amused my English friends but embarrassed me. My country ruled by Modi ji, people can go to the extent of dumping a wife to get elected for local panchayat. Why no change in the centuries old law. This is good governance to appease the vote bank. How different are we today than the Congress misrule?

    • What is wrong with that ? Unless everything is legal ? Anyone can do anything in free country. Just because Modi is the PM and Kanhiya is bashing the PM you folks are trying to protect him for what ?

    • Balbir, I was also flabbergasted (embarrassed / amused / exasperated … many ways to describe it) when I saw this news item on TV. But you’ve got one thing wrong… the person in question did not dump his first wife.

      Anyways, this is common knowledge that where ever there are seats reserved for women, they usually end up as proxies for their menfolk, who occupied these positions erstwhile. On the other hand, there seem to be several examples of young, dynamic, well educated women, in different parts of the country returning to their villages & contesting as well. So this whole exercise is a Work in Progress. Here & there, there is a need for some course correction. What may appear to be mere tokenism today, may tomorrow be real & tangible empowerment, as these very women gain experience & mature as leaders within their societies.

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