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In Rajasthan, Dalit Women Fight Panchayat Poll Rule That Has Spared MPs, MLAs

Originally a daily wage labourer, Naurti was elected as the Gram Sarpanch in 2010 after a campaign that cost just Rs 2,200. However, with the Rajasthan government mandating Class 8 certificates for candidates from now, it won’t be smooth sailing as before.

Rounak Kumar Gunjan | News18.com@Rounak_T

Updated:March 26, 2018, 1:29 PM IST
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In Rajasthan, Dalit Women Fight Panchayat Poll Rule That Has Spared MPs, MLAs
File photo of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje. (PTI)
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New Delhi: Naurti Devi is popularly known as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Harmara village in Rajasthan. But the 62-year-old celebrated Dalit leader has been forced to procure a fake certification to fight the Gram Panchayat elections.

Originally a daily wage labourer, Naurti was elected as the Gram Sarpanch in 2010 after a campaign that cost just Rs 2,200. However, with the Rajasthan government mandating Class 8 certificates for candidates from now, it won’t be smooth sailing as before.

“Though the villagers want me to contest again, the government’s new rule is stopping me. I have no education whatsoever, but how does that stop me from contesting elections? If the rule stands, what will I do? Come up with fake certificates perhaps,” she jokes.

“I am no less than any other educated individual. I know how to operate the internet, I can search on Google, download material and also have an email id. The only thing missing is that certificate,” she says.

The 73rd constitutional amendment, which introduced the Panchayati Raj system, provided for one-third reservation for women and seats proportionate to their population for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

However, in December 2014, the Vasundhara Raje government issued an ordinance amending the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, setting Class 10 as minimum qualification to be elected to the Zila Parishad and Class 8 for Gram Panchayats. The ordinance was later challenged in the Rajasthan High Court, but the constitutionality of the decisions was upheld.

Naurti is not the only one affected. Rukmini Devi Salvi, the former sarpanch of Vijaypura Panchayat in Rajsamand district, has not been able to contest elections for the same reason.

While Naurti has represented India at the United Nations and bagged several awards, Rukmini was recently honoured at the Outstanding Woman Panchayat Leaders Awards held in New Delhi by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS). She was elected sarpanch in 2010 after a Rs 2,000-campaign.

“It is unfair on their part that they are coming up with such a rule. Isn’t the leader supposed to be a choice of the people? With this rule, there is hardly anyone left to lead,” says the young Dalit, who had won by a margin of 770 votes.

Rajasthan’s Election Commission data reveals that even after the Panchayat polls in January 2015, seven sarpanch seats in the state lie vacant, five of which are reserved for ST women and one for a General category woman.

Apart from vacant seats, the second impact of the ordinance has been unopposed winners due to lack of candidates with the required educational qualification. The data reveals that there are 260 unopposed Sarpanchs compared to 97 in 2010.

“The rule is derogatory in more than one ways. When a woman, especially Dalit, leads the village, there are several things that happen. One, women are encouraged to walk out of the house and become economically independent. Two, issues in the village are treated in a different manner. Most importantly, caste-based issues are addressed in a more respected manner,” says Kamla Devi, sarpanch of Tilonia district in Rajasthan.

According to the 2011 Census for literacy rates, over 70 percent of the overall rural population over the age of 20 years have been barred from contesting the sarpanch elections in Rajasthan. More than 93 percent of ST women over the age of 20 years in Rajasthan have been barred from contesting elections in the state.

“The ordinance is discriminatory at multiple levels. Which of us would not like to go to school or get a good education? One has to accept that the state has failed to provide free and compulsory education to its poor and marginalised communities. Now, it takes a decision to punish the already discriminated for their lack of schooling. And interestingly it does not apply the decision to its own elite colleagues — the MLAs and MPs,” says Aruna Roy, founder Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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