Panchayat Raj And
By Goldy M. George
09 May, 2007
of Panchayat Raj is perhaps the best transformation in democratic India
to realize the participation of ordinary people in power sharing. Amendment
of Article 73 of the Constitution was envisioned as the best among decentralization
polity in democracy. Theoretically Panchayat Raj would mean the power
distribution from a stringent centralized set-up to a decentralized
one, gazed with radical change both at the level of delivery of goods
and in the social composition.
After the new generation of Panchayats have started functioning several
issues have come to the fore, which have a bearing on human rights.
The important factor, which has contributed to the Dalit situation vis-à-vis
the Panchayat system, is the nature of Indian society, which of course
determines the nature of the state. The Indian society is known for
its inequality, social hierarchy and the rich and poor divide. The social
hierarchy is the result of the caste system, which is unique to India.
Therefore caste and class are the two factors, which deserve attention
in this context.
At another level it is essential to look into the question: who are
the victims of the social system and nature of the state? They are women,
the Dalits, Adivasis and the poor. How can the process of decentralization
through strengthening the democratically elected local bodies tackle
these issues along with defining rural development in compressed way?
Whether the decentralization process and the decentralized institutions
increase human rights violations or enhance the possibility for respecting
and observing human rights?
Empowerment of a different kind!
In Chhattisgarh there has
been a sharp increase in violent manifestations of casteism ever since
the local government system began it’s functioning. When the Panchayat
Raj institutions have been seen by the upper castes as the tool for
the lower castes to assert their right as individuals living in a democratic
polity the latter have become targets of caste based discrimination
and violence. This rising unrest at the local level has become a common
Aghru Suryavanshi, a Dalit is not in his village Goud for the past one
year. His major crime is that he had defeated his rival Ballu Singh
Thakur on a general seat during the last Panchayat election, which drew
wrath of the upper caste. Goud is a Panchayat in Janjgir district of
Chhattisgarh. Dalits in this village have long-standing story of caste
assault and aggression to tell.
In the Panchayat elections of January 2000, Mithailal Lahare was elected
as the Sarpanch under the reservation quota. The dominant upper caste
people, who disliked his stay in the office, dismissed him after a no-confidence
motion. This is yet another classical example of harassment and humiliation
of Dalits in achieving their political rights under social compulsion.
He stayed in the office for about 2 years after which the power automatically
came back into the hands of the non-Dalits who could better manipulate
the village politics.
Even after duly getting elected, the Dalits are not getting the power
and status they deserve. “No confidence motion is the best way
invented by the upper caste to takeover from the Dalits”, says
Awadh Nawrang Sarpanch of Nangaridih Panchayat in Janjgir. Devkuwar
Sarith Sarpanch of Bada Darha Panchayat expressed her ambiguity saying,
“untouchabilty practises are touching unpredictable magnitudes
and there is an unvarying threat from the upper caste segment to bring
in no-confidence and overthrow me. Women face it the worst. How will
I work freely under this circumstance?”
In the last one-year there were 34 cases of no-confidence motions in
Dalit Panchayats. Reservation being the modus by which Dalits could
get into power sharing is seen as a means of disgrace by the upper caste
segment thereby instigating a lobby to dismantle all reservations. What
has happened in the last few decades is a gradual, sensible and rationale
growth in the level of awareness among the Dalits. Questions relating
to caste issue have been challenged that intimidates the very existence
of the caste politics within the Panchayat Raj itself. In recent time
these question were more related to the aspects like delivery systems,
mid-day meal, etc. Scores of such cases frequently occupy space in the
Mounting Caste Violence
Violent attacks on Dalit
bastis have been reported at many places in the state. In the background
of these cases, in some way or other, is the power equation in the Panchayat.
In 2004 there was an attack on Dalits in Gumka of Durg district by the
upper caste segment. According to a report by Dalit Study Circle, the
setting conditions of this began with the last Panchayat elections when
the Dalits supported a candidate against the whims of the caste Hindus.
Similar incident happened in Goud in 2005, here there were several rounds
of violence against the Dalits, beginning with the social boycott to
refusal of worship rights of village goddess and finally converging
into several rounds of violence. However the tension was set much before
with the coming of a Dalit to power as Sarpanch.
In 2005 September a third incident of similar style was reported from
Bhokludih village of Mahasamund district. Here the tension detonated
with the mid-day meal scheme run by the non-Dalit Sarpanch. According
to Tamaskar Tandon member of Dalit Mukti Morcha (DMM), “these
assaults are expressions to survive the challenge to the caste hierarchy”.
With strong presence of caste disparity, utilizing the government machinery
like the police has happened in a number of cases. The Pipariya Police
on the instruction of the Sarpanch of Khairwar Panchayat in Kawardha
district on 5th October 2004 detained one Bannu Satnami. Next day morning
his body was found lying in front of the police station. During the
year 2004-05 there were as many as 13 custodial deaths in Chhattisgarh,
of which 11 were Dalits, a self-explanatory figure showing how police
is deployed as a tool of caste atrocities.
In the village there is clear
discrimination on the lines of caste. DMM activist Guddu Lahare says,
“in the Panchayat there are two major means of discrimination.
One is that the Dalits are kept away from the Panchayat proceedings,
developmental work, schemes, etc. and another is that wherever Dalits
are in power by virtue of reservation they are targeted and their posts
are declared null and void after a certain period of time”.
This is seen in good number in many Panchayats. For example the development
work in the Panchayat in the Dalit bastis are not properly done. Nor
the Dalits are involved in the planning and implementation process.
Hence these settlements are still lying under bad condition.
Secondly the Dalits who are in positions like Sarpanch or Panch they
are toppled within a short period by bringing in a no-confidence motion.
This has barred many Dalits off exercising their rights in the Panchayat
institutions. Those who had survived are only based on the principles
set by of the caste masters or by applying corrupt politics.
In Hasda village of Raipur the Panchayat has served the Dalits cultivating
the land since 1965 with a notice of evacuation. Paul Ratre served with
a similar notice says, “it is another form of discrimination synthesised
with the Panchayat Raj, where the power at the grassroot is being manipulated
by the caste Hindus to take away even the remaining resources and subjugate
the Dalits.” Dalits are socially boycotted; anyone who dares will
have to pay the penalty of 10000/- rupees.
Landlessness and land alienation is a major issue of Dalit reality.
In one village near Baramkela of Raigarh district nearly 200 families
are landless and also their homestead land is also going out of their
hands since they had been notified by the Panchayat to leave the land.
The land is said to be government land. However they had been living
on this land for the past many generations.
Mid-day meal and discrimination against Dalit children in the schools
are very high. DMM and other Dalit organizations have undertaken the
fact-finding investigations in several villages. Similar investigation
needs to be undertaken in different places too. Here again there is
a social boycott imposed on Dalits.
In earlier days the boycott was mostly imposed by the caste Panchayats,
but in recent time the Panchayat itself is undertaking it, under the
guise of land encroachment. Scores of such cases from each district
had come into the limelight through local media. Hirri village of Bilaspur,
Salkhan in Raipur are the latest victims.
While analysing these cases,
such incidences happened only when Dalits began to assert their political
rights through Panchayat institution. It is evident that the upper castes
controlled the affairs of the village cannot tolerate the changes being
brought about by the decentralized democratic institutions. In the backdrop
of such incidences an array of question raises with reference to Panchayat
Raj vis-à-vis Dalits. The initial prediction of decentralization
envisioned through Panchayat Raj hasn’t become a reality. It also
tells us how Panchayat Raj is utilised as a tool of disempowerment of
Dalits and consolidation of caste system.
In conclusion one may say that the new Panchayat Raj in so far as it
will weaken the bureaucratic stranglehold is welcome and attempts should
be made to strengthen it against the feudalist casteism, bureaucracy
and state government. But how far it has helped the Dalits to come into
the centre stage is absolutely questionable.
Dalit Study Circle,
A unit of Dalit Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh
Creation of a casteless and peaceful society is indeed the first step
towards just, egalitarian, and harmonious society. A society of equals,
neither unequal nor more-equals, beyond the strings of caste, class,
gender, race, etc. Otherwise it leads to social oppression, political
exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination,
class isolation, deliberate exclusion. Lets’ believe in a society
beyond this. Dalit Mukti Morcha is a mass based Dalit Organisation in
Chhattisgarh. For further information on DMM, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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