This year’s Panchayat Raj elections saw several candidates using their spouses’ goodwill to garner support. Despite the government making reservation for women, the harsh reality is that politics continues to be a male bastion, more so in rural areas. Dancing to the patriarchal tunes, in Panchayat Mansar Khedi under Bassi tehsil of Jaipur district, Indira Devi Sharma and Seema Devi contested using posters containing the photographs of their husbands to seek the villagers’ support. Indira Devi went on to win the election.
But this is not just a oneoff case where the husband’s name has been used to garner support. Such instances have been observed at other places too. Entities like ‘sarpanch pati’, ‘parshad pati’ and ‘mayor pati’ have been in existence in the state in the past too, but it wasn’t as blatant as it is now.
“I am active in the fields as I deal with artificial cattle insemination. Voters know me, so they would recognise my wife if it is published along with my photograph,” said Surrender Sharma, husband of sarpanch Indira Devi.
“I have the experience of being a panch so I can guide her,” he said, adding that he believed women should be independent, nevertheless.
Seema Devi’s husband Babulal Sharma said: “People do not know her, as women in villages are under veils. My wife would be recognised along with my photograph.”
When asked about the Sarpanch Pati (husband), he said the actual work was done by husbands, while the women signed the required documents. Babulal, whose wife lost the elections, said he would not be contesting elections in the future as it had become all about money and liquor. Commenting over the Sarpanch Pati issue, MBA graduate and Sar panch Chhavi Rajawat said things were changing and husbands were not allowed to sit in gram sabha meetings. However, she added that things could not be changed overnight, as there was the ‘parda’ (veil) system in rural areas which acted as a hindrance and women were not known to all. Social activist Nikhil Dey said: “Things like proxy candidates, family members running the show do exist. It is up to the government to ensure that the elected representatives are given autonomy.”