Part of the International conference on Maharashtra in September 2021 - Dhanmanjiri Sathe, Azeem Premji University, Bangalore
In tune with the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, Maharashtra passed its own local governance law in 1993 which put in place local, elected governing bodies in the rural areas called the gram panchayats. Under this, 27 per cent of the gram panchayat seats and the posts of sarpanch (i.e. the head of the gram panchayat) were to be reserved for the SCs and STs; and 33 per cent for women. Later in 2011, the share of women was increased to 50 per cent. This Amendment was made with the idea of including the hence-forth marginalized sections in the grass-root level decision-making practises. The objective was also to bring about first a presence and then preferably upward mobility, of the hence-forth disregarded sections in the political spaces and processes. In this paper we try to explore to what extent this has happened?
To that end, in this paper, we compare the dalit-women (D-W) sarpanchs, who undoubtedly belong to the lowest rung of India’s society with the upper caste- male (U-M) sarpanchs who belong to the upper-most end of the Indian society. After surveying 26 D-W sarpanchs with the same number of U-M sarpanchs, in the Sangli and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra, we arrive at the following results.
On the whole, we find that while becoming a sarpanch does give the D-W a certain kind of upward mobility, this mobility seems to be somewhat constrained.
We find that the U-M sarpanch is significantly better off as compared to D-W sarpanchs with respect to material assets (like land, other assets like TV, vehicles etc); and with respect to non-material assets (like education, who operates the bank account). Also, in the context of discrimination, the D-W sarpanchs have to face much more discrimination (like being called by first name in a derogatory manner, not allowed to sit on the sarpanch chair). The U-M sarpanchs are much better politically connected as compared to the D-W sarpanch.
Interestingly, we find that effective participation as a sarpanch is better in case of U-M sarpanchs than in case of D-W sarpanchs. A further delving into the significant factors explaining this are the discrimination faced by D-W sarpanchs, higher ownership of non-material assets by the U-M sarpanch and then the higher assets ownership of material assets by the U-M sarpanchs (in the given order). Thus, we find that daily discrimination i.e. insults, humiliations that the D-W sarpanchs face play an important role in their less effectiveness as a sarpanch.
We have preliminary evidence that shows that the ‘environment’ in which a dalit-woman sarpanch is working has an important negative bearing on her performance. This arguably limits her political mobility also and therefore there is a need to improve her working environment.