Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Book Review of Sarpanch Sahib

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the social and economic status of women in India is woeful, if not downright pitiable. It is fair to assume that in a democratic set up, involving more women in the democratic process, would lead to balancing out these inequalities. Moreover, what good is a democracy if half its population is left out of the decision making process?

However, the way it is structured, Indian democracy is deeply flawed. It vests power in those already powerful, while the marginalised are often left out in the cold. Women happen to be one such group.

The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act 1992 mandated reservation of seats for women in at least one third of all Panchayat councils and a third of the Pradhan (or head of the Panchayat) seats.
The idea was that having confirmed seats in elected bodies would enable women to better engage in the democratic process at the grassroots, change the systems and help mould the laws that govern them.

Beginning in 2000, the NGO The Hunger Project-India has worked to encourage women to participate in the political process. They trained women representatives in 14 states across the nation, in order to equip them with basic knowledge and impart skills training.

The book "Sarpanch Sahib" is a project to document the stories of seven of these remarkable women leaders in the panchayat system, across the country. The seven different women leaders were interviewed by different authors or journalists who went out to meet them. Putting these stories out in the public domain helps make us aware of the struggles these women face. Their successes are all the more noteworthy, considering the odds stacked against them. At the same time, as these stories show us, leadership can't always be imbibed; some are born leaders.

As the stories unfold and we visit these women in their villages and homes, one is struck by the grit and determination the women display. The authors bring home to us the fact that despite little or no education, these leaders bring their own unique perspective to the problems at hand. Almost each of these ladies has prioritised funding schools, and bringing access to water, roads and electricity for her village or block.

The support for these women leaders, from their people, is usually palpable; though a few times there is hostility in evidence, too. Yet each woman soldiers on, fighting the good fight, determined in her belief that her work will benefit her people in the long run.

This is a book that should be made mandatory reading for high school students. Copies should be distributed in Parliament, specially the Lok Sabha. The accounts in this book are proof that women make as good people's representatives as men-if not better- given a chance. Closing the gender gap in political representation is but a small step in improving the overall gender imbalance in our society. Now that panchayats have shown the way, it's time we stepped it up to the next level. Maybe, some sense will prevail and the bill for reservation of seats for women in Parliament which has been hanging fire for over a decade now, finally gets to see the light of day.

Book                   : Sarpanch Sahib, Changing the Face on India
Edited by            : Manjima Bhattacharjya
Published by       : Harper Collins
First Published    : 2009
Number of pages : 150


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