Kontha Khabam Gram (Manipur): It's a big first across all the major democracies of the world.
The Government, in its zeal to include a higher percentage of women in participative democratic process, has overshot its plans of having 33 per cent reservation for women in panchayats.
As a result, panchayats in India have the largest number of elected women, with 43 per cent of the nearly 2,50,000 panchayats being a silently taken over by the fairer sex.
"It is important for a woman in society to get an opportunity to discuss the family problems as well as social problems," says a female member of a Manipur panchayat.
The statistics are indicative of the silent, yet a tremendous undercurrent of change:
- In Uttar Pradesh, 40 out of every 100 elected representatives are women.
- In Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and West Bengal nearly 35 to 45 per cent panchayats are run by women.
- In Bihar, there are an astounding number of 62 women out of every 100 elected representatives.
And as more and more women are coming to the forefront in the panchayats, the language of local governance is definitely witnessing a change like never seen before.
However, there’s also a flipside to the rosy picture. A significant percentage of these women are mere fronts for their male relatives, who continue to pull strings in the background.
But women deny this allegation fiercely. "No, no, the men have to do other work and go out," says one member of a Manipur panchayat.
But despite of some of them being proxy candidates, the great Panchayati Raj system is making the right noises, in the right places.
"The percentage of women in panchayats which is the largest is in the Union Territory of Lakshwadeep, where 100 per cent of the population is both Muslim and tribal," says Panchayati Raj Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar.
Though the complete picture might not be captured just by figures alone and issues like decentralistaion of power and funds remain huge deterrents, there’s no doubt that a silent revolution is gaining ground and women power is here to stay.