Despite 50 per cent reservation in panchayat bodies, most of the elected woman representatives still get a raw deal, whether it is at the hands of their 'powerful' colleagues, or government officials. Many of them have endured being stripped in public, physically abused, chased and threatened.
Sample this. Two day's after a woman Panch, Chanda Khatoon, was stripped in public at Siswa village under Banjaria police station in East Champaran district, a Panchayat Samiti member of Verma Oraiya village in Chanpatia block of West Champaran district, Gayatri Devi, accused a bank employee of her village of twisting her thumb and refusing her a loan. Gayatri Devi alleged the bank employee had humiliated her when she went to apply for a loan at a nationalised bank in her village. She needed the loan to start a self-help group (SHG). Gayatri said that none of the members of her community received the BPL card despite her recommendation.
A woman mukhiya of Vihat Dakshini Panchayat under Lakhnaur block of Madhubani district, Radha Devi, had managed to secure over 400 job cards for poor people in the hope that they could be given work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
However, the BDO and the DDC did not give her any money to begin construction of roads or some other work in her locality where the 'job card holders' could get work. "Whenever I approached the DDC, he demanded a bribe. Three months from now, the entire area would be flooded and then it would be virtually impossible to find work for the 'job card holders'," she told Hindustan Times at women panchayat representatives' conference.
A woman Panch of Gyan Niwas Mandal village in Nawada district, Pyari Devi, said none of the government schools near her village gave mid-day meals to children. "When I tried to draw the attention of officials towards this, they shouted at me and chased me away. Even the mukhia ignores my request to give ration cards to the poor," she claimed.
A District Board member from Rajnagar block in Madubani district, Sangeeta Thakur, alleged discrimination by government officials and said that her male colleagues on the District Board did not take her official status seriously.
The situation has reached such a pass that the chairperson of Bihar State Women Commission (BSWC) Manju Prakash has appealed to the government to direct all District Magistrates (DMs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs) to ensure strict implementation of relevant rules to protect dignity and basic rights of elected Panchayat women representatives.
"I have received many cases in which women representatives were beaten up severely at public places either by their male family members or the dominant persons of the society. When victims approach nearby police stations, police have refused to file FIRs against the accused. Some FIRs were filed after the intervention of BSWC," she said.
Panchayati Raj Minister Nagenra Narayan Yadav blamed the state bureaucracy for denial of rights to women panchayat representatives especially those belonging to the lower strata of the society. "Bureaucracy does not want the Panchayati Raj system to gain roots. That is the main reason why elected women representatives of the system are being harassed. But to save dignity and rights of these elected representatives the plans were afoot to open women cells at districts and at block levels," the Minister said.
Director Panchayati Raj J Sharma, however, said that the government had received no such complaint of harassment of women panchayati raj members. "If we get some complaints, we will take strong action against the officials or people," he said.
Kiran Sharma, programme director of the Poorest Area Civil Society Programme said reservations were unlikely to be of much use to illiterate women. "They needed to be educated if they were ever to make use of their rights effectively," she added.