Sanwar Lal of Dadiyag ram panchayat in Ajmer wished he was born five months earlier or the panchayat polls were held five months later. Only then, he could have become a sarpanch. Similarly, Kali Bai of Majawad village in Udaipur rued the fact that she did not go to school for one more year to complete middle school.
No one else in both these villages had the mandatory formal education needed to contest the polls. In Bhadu village of Bhilwara, there were two Class 8 students, but they were only 16 and hence ineligible to contest.
The Rajasthan government’s decision to insert an eligibility clause in The Rajasthan Panchayati Act, 1994 mandating minimum educational qualification for candidates has given rise to this situation where at least three villages have not been able to elect a sarpanch.
In other villages, where the post of the sarpanch was reserved for ST like Chandji Ki Khedi and Makredi gram panchayats in Bhilwara, the residents could barely manage to find a candidate who had studied till Class 8.
These panchayats have emerged at a random glance. A study could point out many more such instances.
Petitioners, who moved the Rajasthan high court challenging ordinance number 2 of 2014 promulgated four days before the polls, said the rule would deny the public at large the opportunity to contest the elections.
There is data too to support the view. As per the 2001 Census only 17.51% people in rural Rajasthan are 20-plus and Class 8 passouts and hence eligible to contest the sarpanch elections.
The percentage of women is 5.06%. A similar data from 2011 census is not available, but the fact that these villages could not find at least one woman, who had middle school education, proves that nothing much seems to have changed in the last decade.
State election commissioner Ram Lubhaya said, “We are collecting data for all such seats and will look into the issue. The norm is to hold a re-election within six months from now. We hope that in six months, we will have candidates meeting the eligibility criterion. If not, the government will have to handle the issue through law.”
The situation in these three panchayats reflects a problem which is prevalent at a larger level. It is especially true in tribal areas which are not part of the scheduled area (in scheduled areas, the eligibility for contesting the post of the sarpanch is Class 5 passout).
“It is difficult to find educated women in rural areas, especially among the tribals,” Norati, the sarpanch of Harmara village in Ajmer district, said.
She is one of the petitioners, who moved the court against the government rule. She belongs to Raigar community and had never been to school.
However, Norati, had attended adult literacy classes and made herself computer literate facilitated by Barefoot College, Tilonia. But to contest the panchayat elections, she needs formal education.
“Look at the paradox. I teach computer at Barefoot College and my participation in public life has been internationally recognised by the United Nations, but I cannot contest,” she added.
The 2001 census says as many as 82.5% people, who were above the age of 20 in rural areas of Rajasthan, did not have a formal education beyond Class 5. In the case of women, almost 95% of rural women did not pursue education after Class 5.
“The imposition of a minimum educational qualification (Class 8 passout) is leading to Percentage of those above 20 years and educated up to Class 8 and above in rural Rajasthan Percentage of those above 20 years and educated up to the primary level or illiterate disqualification of majority of the candidates,” Kavita Srivastav, the secretary of PUCL, said.
The former sarpanch of Majawada, Prem Kanwar, said, she made a lot of efforts during her tenure of 10 years to motivate the tribals to send their children to school, but it did not help much.
Former sarpanch of Bhadu Ajit Singh said the village had 60 ST families out of a population of 4,525. “I wonder why this seat was reserved for a ST woman in the first place,” he added.