Male Proxies For 5,000 Women Sarpanches Attending Panchayat Meetings In Punjab

Panchayat minister Dhaliwal says stop the practice at once or face action.

Women attend a public meeting in a village. Image for representational purpose. (ANI Photo)

Chandigarh: Out of 12,700 village panchayats across Punjab, 7,100 panchayats have men as sarpanches and there are 5,600 women sarpanches. But the records suggest that close to 90 per cent of the women sarpanches or about 5,000 of them do not attend the meetings of the panchayats or any Panchayati Raj Institutions. Instead, their husbands, fathers-in-law, or brothers-in-law attend as proxies, so much so that they even sign the documents. Though, in some cases even if women sarpanches go, they are accompanied by a male member who takes decisions on their behalf.

Now to empower women sarpanches, the rural development minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal has issued orders to end this practice immediately.

Dhaliwal has categorically said that the Divisional Deputy Director Panchayats, ADCs (Development), District Development and Panchayat Officers, Deputy CEOs, Zila Parishad, BDPOs had been issued orders to implement the orders. If the practice continues legal recourse would be sought against the violators, both the woman sarpanch and the impersonator.

Minister Dhaliwal said men sitting as proxies for women sarpanches at the meetings nullified the reservation policy meant to empower women.

Prof Sukhwinder Singh, Professor at the Centre for Rural and Industrial Research at Sector 19, Chandigarh who works at the grassroots level to strengthen the panchayati raj institutions in Punjab, said, “Panchayati Raj institutions functioning in Punjab was a total farce. Men would come and sign for their spouses. It was a complete forgery going on. In fact, State Institutions for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (SIRDPR) carried out a programme to make people aware of the empowerment of women at the village and panchayat level sometime back. Now that it has happened it is a welcome step.”

Other experts said, since 1992 when the Panchayati Raj Institutions came into place, women were just dummies at panchayats. This will give a big fillip to the empowerment of women.

Prof Mohammad Khalid a keen watcher of Punjab affairs has an interesting nugget to share. He said, “There was one instance during the previous regime in Punjab of a woman minister who had a chair adjacent to her’s where her husband would sit. So if a minister had her spouse in the room, it is obvious that at the panchayat level women are treated as dummies.” He elaborates further, “it is a nationwide issue, in fact so much so that in one case a women sarpanch had signed on a non-judicial paper that her husband can represent her.”

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