The participation of the Indian women in the political arena today presents a very gloomy picture. Although, women occupy a very predominant position in our social life and constitute 50 percent of the total population, their political participation is very much limited in proportion to their size in a male-dominated society at all levels. Quite a few studies on the role of women in politics have concluded that while women participated actively in the freedom struggle and social movements in the pre-independence days, the extent and quality of their participation steadily declined in the subsequent period. There is denying of the fact that women who enjoy an equal status with men in the constitution of India have not been able to exercise their equality in letter and spirit in the first four decades of the history of the Indian Republic. They have become ‘objects of oppression’ or ‘subject of welfare’, partly because of the invisibility of women’s issues and partly because of the state’s of patriarchal attitudes and priorities. They have been relegated to the back rows behind the Indian male, getting listed as a weaker section of the Indian society.

                   Participation of the Indian women in the political arena is concerned, a number of constraints have tended to severely limit their participation capacity. As mentioned in the previous chapter, one of the main constraints stems from their depressed economic status, poverty, economic dependence on men, exclusion from ownership of property and modem occupation, and lack of access to resources like land, credit, skills, technology and development assistance have rendered women powerless. For most of them struggle for livelihood assumes an overwhelming importance, and the possibility of their taking an active part in politics seems quite unthinkable. A second constraint arises out of their inferior socio-religious position. The socio-religious institutions impose several restrictions on women, especially on their participation in spheres outside their homes. Women are expected to be submissive and the fear of losing their honour and of likely character assassination in the ‘dirty’ violence ridden politics tends to keep them away from it.



Thirdly, a vast majority of women, especially the rural women, are illiterate and are not aware of their rights and responsibilities under the laws of the land. This makes them ill equipped to become active participants in the political process. Fourthly, the organizational handicaps from which women suffer add to the process of polarisation in favour of men. Organisational mobilisation is especially important for the vulnerable sections like women. It provides them with much needed strength to protect themselves against abuse and deprivation of rights. And last, but not the least, the all-pervasive ‘male hegemony’ acts as an insurmountable barrier to bring women’s participation. It is men who discourage women from participating in the political process. They do not show tolerance to their women folk becoming greater than themselves and tend to treat politics as an exclusive male domain. Apart from these inherent constraints, efforts to bring about effective participation of women in the political and developmental process have largely failed due to lack of official support and inadequate formulation and implementation of women-oriented policies and schemes.

    The CSWI had also reported in 1971-74 that the provisions for women’s participation in panchayats had degenerated to a mere tokenism in most states. First time in 1974, the Committee on the Status of Women in India recommended the establishment of statutory women’s panchayats at the village level with autonomy and resources of their own for the management and administration of welfare and development programmes for women and children as a transitional measure to break through the traditional attitude that inhibits most women from articulating their problems and participation actively in existing local bodies. They could be directly elected by the women of the village and should have the right to send representatives to the PS and ZP.Although this recommendation had not any statutory status anywhere, in some places, for example, in Andhra Pradesh such women panchayats have been formed. The reason for not implementing this provision was that instead of integrating women with the society, it would segregate them from the society.

At the grassroots level also, in the beginning when Panchayati Raj was introduced in India in 1959, very few women have contested, or have got elected to the Panchayati Raj bodies from the very initial phase itself. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957) had recommended co-option of two female members ‘who are interested in working among women and children’ at the PS and village Panchayat levels. Maharashtra in 1961 did make some provisions for women’s representation by providing for the nomination of one or two women to its PSs and ZPs, in case no woman was elected. Some others states resorted to cooption when women did not come forward through elections. In fact, cooption became the normal practice in these states, as women were not normally encouraged to come forward and contest elections. Some forward thinking states like Andhra Pradesh in 1986 and Karnataka in 1985 adopted reservation as the way of bringing about women’s representation. But even this reservation principle was not satisfactory. This was partly because the number of such seats was small and partly because the system did not enable the active and capable women to come forward. It was usually the women relatives of the Panchayat members or other influential members of the village who usurped these seats. These women members were merely proxy candidates with the male member actually wielding the real power.


The Ashok Mehta Committee Report (1978) recommended that two women who get the highest number of votes in ZP election should be the members of ZP. In case no women come forward for election, two women might be co-opted. Similar provision and procedure were recommended for the Mandal Panchayat. After a decade, the National Perspective Plan for Women (1988), among others, recommended 30 per cent reservation of seats for women from Gram Panchayat to ZP levels. Besides, it was also recommended that 30 per cent posts of chairpersons of all Panchayats should also be reserved for women. In addition to this, certain percentage of chief executives of Panchayati Raj bodies at lower, middle and apex levels must be reserved for women.

The efforts of all these committees and commissions fructified when not less than one third seats for women in Panchayats has been guaranteed by the 73rd Constitution Amendment at the different tiers of local government. It may be mentioned here that the subject of women in Panchayats have been debated all along since 1957. The debate has been centered on how to enable women to participate effectively in decentralised governance and development.


Andhra Pradesh Mandal Praja Parishad, Zilla Praja Parishad and Zilla Abhivrudhi Sameeksha Mandal Act, 1986 had a provision of reservation of maximum of four seats for women in Gram Panchayat and some percentage in Mandal Praja Parishad and Zilla Praja Parishad. Some percentage of the posts of chairperson of the ZP was also reserved for women. Himachal Pradesh Panchayat Act also had a provision of 25 per cent reservation for women. The Kamataka Zilla Parishad Taluka Panchayat Samiti, Mandal Panchayat Act 1983 had a provision of reservation of 25 per cent of seats for women at ZP and Mandal Panchayat levels. One seat each in Mandal Panchayat and Zilla Panchayat was also reserved for SC/ST women. Kerala Panchayat Act had provided 30 per cent reservation to women in Panchayats. Madhya Pradesh Panchayati Raj Adhiniyam 1990 provided 30 per cent reservation for women at village level. Among them at least one seat was reserved for SC/ST women. The Maharashtra Panchayat Act had made a provision of 30 per cent reservation for women. Orissa Panchayat Samiti Act 1991 reserved not less than one-third seats for women including SC/ST women. Besides, either chairperson or vice chairperson will be women. West Bengal Panchayat Act also has a provision of not less than one-third seats for women at different tiers of the Panchayat. The Panchayat Acts of the rest of the states had provided berth for women either through co-option or nomination.

The above discussion about women in Panchayat gives an idea of women’s representation in different tiers of the PRis across the country. Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa are the states, which had given comparatively more berths to women in different tiers of Panchayat than the other states. Orissa is the only state which introduced not less than one third reservation for women in Panchayat even before the idea of giving this much of reservation for women at national level was merely been debated.


According to Article 243 D of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution not less than one-third seats are reserved as members and chairpersons for women at all tiers of Panchayats. Among the SCs and STs of the total seats reserved for them, one third from them are also mandatorily reserved for women belonging to these groups. As a result of this provision more than a million women belonging to different castes and communities have been elected as members and chairpersons in the PRIs all over India.

In some states their representation, as members has been more than one third. For example, in Andhra Pradesh representation of women has been 33.84% at Gram Panchayat level, 3 7. 01% at Mandal level and 3 3.21% at Zilla Panchayat level. In Karnataka where reservation for women was in practice before this Amendment, representation of women at Gram Panchayat level was 43.79%, 40.21% at Mandal Panchayat level and 36.45% at Zilla Panchayat level. Similarly, in states like Kerala, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and Tripura share of women was more than the minimum prescribed in the Central Act.


The representation of women chairpersons does not resemble with their share as members in the Panchayats as in most of the states, they do not have their share more than prescribed. It is interesting to mention here that one each in Tripura and West Bengal, 7 in Madhya Pradesh and 13 in Maharashtra have emerged as All Women Panchayats. It is heartening to note that Kulthikari Panchayat (West Bengal), which was an all women.

Panchayat in previous term, retained its status as all women Panchayat this time also in the recently held election. In the context of the prevailing situation, the demand for reservations for women in adequate proportions in various representative bodies as a method of ensuring their entry and participation had been quite pertinent. It was increasingly being felt that in view of the powerless and vulnerability of the Indian women, especially the rural women, reservation and quota may provide the only way of ensuring their presence in the local self-government. Those who oppose reservation of seats for women in panchayats brandish four main reasons in support of their stand. First, women who become members of panchayats and local bodies will disturb the harmony of homes and of family life. Even those men who tolerate women working in offices for fixed hours do not take kindly to them when their roles change to one of community leadership. This is because then the women have to attend to people’s problems and leaders. This means irregular hours of work and a twenty-four hour demand on their time. Therefore, who will look after the children and household chores, the men folk ask second, women will become targets of attacks by anti -social elements when they move out of their homes or go outside their villages for work, meetings, and so on. A case cited of one state where a few local women leaders, obliged to spend nights away from homes during their travel, were attacked by goons and even raped. Will any male family member allow his wife, daughter or sister to take part in a public role, which has such potential dangers, they ask third they mention that whenever women hold elected offices, the male officers are the ones who ‘dictate’ what is or is not to be done. 


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Dr. Santosh Kumar

Dr. Santosh Kumar

Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science. School of Humanities and Social Sciences


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