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#Voices: Haryana To Introduce 50% Quota For Women In Its Panchayati Raj Institutions. Is There Hope For More Women’s Issues To Be Addressed After All?

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In an effort to further embolden its initiative to remedy the gender imbalance in the state, Haryana is amending its Panchayati Raj Act to offer 50% reservation to women in its Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). While addressing a press conference in Chandigarh on Thursday, Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala announced that apart from the quota, the women will also be given incentives like free two-wheelers for doing outstanding work in the villages. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve read that the state of Haryana has the most skewed sex ratio in India—850 females to 1000 males (2014). And this has played a major role in perpetuating crimes against women, such as forced marriages, abductions, sexual assault, sex trafficking and others. Over the past few years, government records have suggested that the ratio has improved to 930 females to 1000 males. However, this hasn’t been an easy victory. From incentivising families that are raising girls to educate them to educating, spreading awareness and giving women a chance to rise up in the system, there’s a lot that has been done to make way for this imbalance to be rectified.

The 50% quota provision has already been introduced in almost two-thirds of the states’ Panchayati Raj Institutions in the country. And now, this announcement by the deputy CM, who also holds the portfolio of rural development and panchayats, could be a substantial step for Haryana in its mission to improve women’s condition in the state.

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Apart from the reservation, there’s also incentives that are likely to encourage more women to step forth to rise to the occasion. According to Chautala, 100 women, who show exemplary work in the rural areas will be rewarded with one two-wheeler each. These 100 women will include 30 female Sarpanch, 40 women associated in other ways with PRIs, 20 Block Samiti members and 10 Zila Parishad members. 

While this seems like a much needed boost to the existing efforts for women empowerment, I can’t help but be reminded of the show Panchayat from Amazon Prime Video. In the show, as the amended Panchayati Raj laws, a woman (Neena Gupta) is elected as the Pradhan (Sarpanch). However, while she is the Pradhan on paper, the Panchayat’s business is conducted IRL by her husband, who is called ‘Pradhanpati’ (Raghubir Yadav) by the villagers. He does consult his wife on matters that trouble him, and she doesn’t seem to have been forced into this arrangement. In fact, I often felt their dynamic was a partnership where he took care of one aspect and she, the other. However, things went a little too far when all banners and posters would have the Pradhanpati’s photo in prominence and the actual Pradhan’s in the background.

Panchayat actor Neena Gupta: Younger generation of actors are ...

Source: Amazon Prime Video

This jhol crescendos to a point where the flag hoisting on Republic Day is also to be done by the Pradhanpati, until an unexpected visit from a higher Panchayati Raj official (also a woman) forces the real Pradhan to step in and take her rightful place. When she does this, she surprises everyone, even her husband, by showing that she is capable of handling a difficult situation.

The point of recapping this show here is to highlight the extent to which we Indians are prone to do jugaad to get our way. While these reservations and incentives are alluring, I hope that this attracts the right kind of leadership—women leaders who actually want to make a difference to the scenario and use their position to help uplift other women. Crimes and injustices against women are much worse (in numbers and degree) in rural areas. At least in urban settings, women are educated or independent enough to speak up, or have means like social media to propagate their issues.

We need more strong female leadership in Panchayati Raj, who can also serve as aspirational role models for rural women, and show them the doors that literacy and education can open for their future. Female representation is having a moment right now globally, and it would be almost utopian to see this provision be used to its fullest potential.

Come on, women of Haryana! Get it!

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