Sexual harassment against Dalit women panchayat leaders rampant
Sexual harassment and physical violence against women panchayat leaders from Scheduled Caste households is “widespread”, according to ‘The State of Panchayats: 2007-08’ report presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the recent panchayati raj conference in Burari.
An independent assessment by the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA), Anand, Gujarat, said that half a million panchayat representatives get elected from the Scheduled Castes at the three tiers in every round of panchayat elections and nearly 40 per cent of them are women.
Despite various constitutional provisions and legislative measures, subjugation of Dalits in the social and economic spheres continues and in some cases has “even further intensified,” the IRMA report says.
Panchayat representatives from SC communities also face enormous discrimination and harassment in performing their public roles effectively. The experiences of women representatives from the scheduled caste households are even “worse,” the report said.
“Provision of no-confidence motions are very deviously used to further dominate elected panchayat representatives from the scheduled caste households,” the report says.
While continued discrimination in society has a very complex reality, what is really worrisome is that government officials also treat such representatives with “disdain, neglect and apathy”.
Upper caste domination and harassment of the scheduled caste representatives get support from lower level government functionaries at the ground level.
Such attitudes and practices further limit the effectiveness of elected panchayat representatives from the scheduled caste households, the report says.
The report has suggested several steps to further empower SC panchayat representatives.
Social justice committees should be legislated to be an integral part of each tier of the panchayati raj system in all states, the report has recommended. A consensus among state governments to this effect has already been secured through the round table discussion convened in 2004.
The Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj can target its Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF) to gram panchayat samitis headed by scheduled caste representatives.
The provision of no-confidence rules in each state legislation should be amended so that it is not misused against scheduled caste panchayat leaders, the report says. Such provisions can restrict the connivance of higher castes leaders in subjugating Dalits, the report says.