(GIST OF YOJANA) Empowerment through Political Interventions [AUGUST-2018]

(GIST OF YOJANA) Empowerment through Political Interventions


Empowerment through Political Interventions

Empowerment is considered a contested concept, and used in different contexts to denote different kinds of social and psychological changes. In its much wider connotation, the concept has been defined as ‘the expansion of people’s capabilities and choices, the ability to exercise choice based on freedom from hunger, want and deprivation; and the opportunity to participate in, or endorse, decisions that affect their lives’. The idea of empowerment is invoked in many contexts like human rights, economic insecurity, and disadvantaged groups and about their capacity building, and also in addressing the problems of rights.

Empowerment involves two important aspects: developing capabilities, negotiating skills and the ability of people on the one hand; and obtaining authority to make decisions or participate in decision making on affairs that affect their lives on the other. Theoretically, empowerment is a process that helps people to gain control over their lives through raising awareness, taking action and working in order to exercise greater control.

Empowerment necessarily demands political inclusion in the institutions of decision-making and a change in the existing power relations, where certain sections of society remain outside the decision-making arena due to their specific historical socio- cultural experiences. In a democratic political structure, empowerment, therefore, entails proper and effective representation in the institutions of governance, so that people can voice their concerns and participate in decision making on matters that affect their lives.

Historical Background

The task of strengthening the panchayati raj system fell on the Indian government after independence. To strengthen democracy, villages had to be strengthened because India is a country of village panchayats. Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in Gram Swaraj. According to him, the villages should be governed by themselves through elected panchayats to become self sufficient. But surprisingly, they were not included in the draft Constitution. Due to Gandhiji’s intervention it was included in Article 40 of the Directive Principles of the State Policy.

In the beginning, they failed to generate popular interest and enthusiasm. To bring enthusiasm in panchayats, the Planning Commission appointed a study team headed by Balwant Rai Mehta in 1956. The committee had recommended that "only grass root level agency can establish a link between local leadership and the local people" and it recommended three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in the country.

By mid 19605, Panchayati Raj had reached all parts of the country and the people felt that there was a system which could attend to their issues at local level. However, within two years of its reach it failed to strengthen further. It has also been said by the experts that they were lacking constitutional sanction and clarity and most of the PRIs functioned as government agents rather than self governing institutions. According to Mathur, these institutions were not seen as institutions of people's’ participation that played a role in deepening democracy, but rather seen as
instruments to facilitate the implementation of national policies.

73rd Constitutional Amendment

In September 1991, the Panchayati Raj Bill was introduced and later it was passed in 1992 as the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act with minor modifications and came into force on 24‘h April 1993. The significant 4 feature of this act is that it gave Constitutional status to Panchayati Raj Institutions and it became mandatory to all the state governments to implement this act. This Amendment brought uniformity in structure, composition, powers and functions of PRIs. It gave impetus to Panchayati Raj to promote social and economic development and improvement in living conditions of rural India. Creation of Panchayati Raj is perhaps the best transformation in democratic India to realise the participation of ordinary people in power sharing.

The act provided a three-tier system of panchayat at Village, intermediate and district levels. The Act says that there should be gram sabha in each Village. A landmark feature of the act is that in all the panchayats, seats should be reserved for SCS and STs in proportion to their population and 1/3 of the total number of seats will be reserved for women. Reservation of seats and choices 0f the Chairpersons for scheduled castes (SCS) and scheduled tribes (STs) in proportion to their population has the potential to bring radical change in the socio-political structure of this country. The reservation policy has given a chance to elect nearly 18.51 percent of SCs, 11.26 per cent for STs and 36.87 percent for women in all the 2, 39,582 panchayats in the country.

Marginalised Sections in PRIs

At present, seventeen states are implementing 50 per cent reservation to women at all levels of Panchayati Raj.

According to Alok (2013-2014), there are 15 percent of SCs, 19.28 percent of STs and 43 per cent of women who are getting elected through mandatory reservation out of 2,770,755 village panchayats across the country. This has brought about a virtual democratic revolution with more than 50 lakh representatives getting elected at local level every five years; out of which 13 lakh are women and more than 5.5 lakh are Scheduled castes. Within the 5.5 lakh, the Scheduled caste women are also getting elected as presidents and ward members.

It’s an important planning approach regarding minimizing the traditional feeling about the SC and ST: in our society, particularly in terms of keeping them away from society. With new generation of Panchayats starting to function, several issues have come to the fore, which have a bearing on human rights. The elected representatives of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are actively participating in decision-making and implementation of different pro-poor programmes at panchayati level. This has been observed from different scholarly studies of both published and unpublished works in India. The SC elected representatives are giving importance to loan and credit for agriculture and animal husbandry related activities. They equally pay attention to the matters of creating and maintaining facilities like roads, drinking water and streetlights in their localities. It is understood that SC leaders accord priority to the developmental activities which leads to benefit of their community. (This has been noticed in Venkata Ravi and Sunder Raj study in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh.

Article 243D also specifies the mandatory rotation, i.e., the structural constraints of reservation of seats among constituencies from one election to the next election in the 3-tier Panchayati Raj system. Though the act failed to provide second term to the contestants in the same constituency but it has helped the same group/ community to contest in neighboring constituency under reservation. This is the real transformation of participatory democracy for the marginalized sections of the society.

The awareness level among the rural masses of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Sikkim has brought significant changes in the functioning of Gram Sabha and its decisions, and they are successfully implementing the decisions of the Gram Sabha. In this connection, Dwarakanath has cited an instance from Tamil Nadu government, which has issued orders to conduct the Gram Sabha on 26 January, 15 August, 1 May and 2 October every year without fail. Another significant feature in Madhya Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act is that they should conduct more than sixteen Gram Sabha meetings annually. This is a good way of self governance at the grassroots level.

Another interesting factor on women in panchayati raj is that political empowerment has enhanced their social status. It has enabled them to participate in all matters connected with the society on an egalitarian basis. The panchayati membership has given better status to women in the public sphere. They are invited to participate in all the social functions of the panchayati area. This can be observed from Padmanabha Bhat study in Udupi district.

The experience of functioning of the Panchayati Raj bodies over the last two decades suggests that stability-cum-continuity is being achieved, including execution of civic functions. However, many Chairpersons and members of PR bodies feel deprived not because of their direct or indirect elections but lack of meaningful stake in local governance.

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Marginalized Sections: Challenges

The states such as Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have also introduced the two-child norm as eligibility criteria for contesting elections. Though this norm goes against both men and women, it is more detrimental to women especially to the scheduled castes and schedule tribe community because majority of the families follow the big and joint family norm.

The continued dominance of traditional/dominant groups in rural India and the constitutional provisions of 73rd Amendment have intensified the antagonistic or conflict ridden rural situation which result in, more often than not, the violations of human rights on mass scale including violence, bloodshed and loss of life. Widespread violence preceded and followed the panchayats election in most of the states and many seats were won without being contested. This shows that the tussle of power exists not just between state and panchayats, but also between the traditional dominant power structure and emerging new leadership from the marginalised groups at the grassroots. The dominant groups vehemently oppose the weaker sections, particularly scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, to exercise their constitutional rights by participating in the process of voting, campaigning, attending meetings, running for office, lobbying their own representatives, etc., independently.


The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act intends to empower the marginal sections of the society. Though, in the initial period the act could not bring a change as expected due to a number of factors like hierarchical division of society, traditional institutions, proxy’s involvement and poor economic condition of the marginal communities. Of late, the marginalised communities themselves are actively participating in the decision making and implementing process particularly in developing their communities and also their localities. Despite all these there are still some issues which need to be addressed sincerely like sharing of power with women. A positive step in this direction would give impetus to the empowerment of women in PRIs, particularly of the marginalized communities.

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