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Women's Democracatisation and Democracy in India

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Problematising Democracatisation and Democracy in India

Visions of political development demands/desires democracy and participation as innate to its discourse. Development in this sense thus needs democratic decisions making, informed and active civil society and inclusive political structure to reach its goal. In the Indian context the process of democratization with inclusive participation is desired through the 73rd- 74th amendment Act of Indian constitution, 1992. The Act fosters the strengthening of local government by creating opportunities for inclusive participation. It provides rights to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and women, the most marginalised in the hierarchical Indian society to participate in local government. Aiming to redress the gender and caste inequities the Act provides 33% reservation to the aforementioned categories to participate in local bodies.

Post implementation of the Act that has now passed sixteen years, women's participation has been remarkably visible. This has recently resulted in Union cabinet approving a proposal of a constitutional amendment bill for increasing quota (50%) for women in Panchayats at all tiers (DNA 29th August, 2009). Media reports estimate more than 1.4 million women to occupy 2,52,000 Panchayat seats in future. It also states, at present out of the total elected representatives of panchayat numbering around 2.8 million, 36.87% are women. The Panchayat raj ministry report indicates a significant role played by reservation in bringing women into mainstream (ibid). According to this report, about four-fifth of all women representatives in panchayat elections got elected from reserved seats and about 83% of them entered politics through quota. Positive impact of entering politics and working as a panchayat raj functionary is visible as 79% of women representatives reported better self-esteem, 81% reported confidence building and 74% stated increase of decision-making abilities (ibid). Such a positive report gives a picture of better and inclusive governance that India is moving towards by applying 'gender and development' approach. This step foresees increased active-participation of women in public sphere and their empowerment.

However, we need to look critically at the political participation that is envisioned and the actual implementation. Would political participation also facilitate women's participation at decision-making? What would 'participation' entail especially for Dalit women in terms of the dire consequences of their earnest assertion to realize their rights? What is the role that the 73rd Amendment Act envisages for Scheduled Caste and what is the role they end up playing? At the backdrop of increased efforts from the state for inclusive governance these are the lines of enquiry I intend to draw upon. 

Dr. Ambedkar in the constituent Assembly, 1948 expressed his views on Indian villages 'What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism?' (Mathew,G. Nayak,R.1996: 1). He questioned the why should the village become the locus of the political structure?(Palanithurai 2003: 27) Villages ruled by its dominant elites and upper caste have been very conservative and are based on traditional caste structure. Local self government thus would reinforce the villages as unites of elite captures exploiting the downtrodden at grassroots.

Problem Statement/Justification/Purpose of research:

Sixteen years of the passing of the 73rd constitutional amendment Act has brought about a remarkable change in local governance. The formal participation and involvement of Dalit and women has increased in local politics. At this juncture there is a need to undertake a reality check. Does formal participation means actual representation of Dalit women? Is the process of political participation inclusive and empowering? Does assertion of Dalit women leads to violence against them as they are not meant to participate actively?

The paper looks at Dalit women's experiences of political participation in panchayat raj and its impact on their empowerment. My interest in the issue of Dalit women comes from a number of different sources.

First, from a personal experience as inter alia a Dalit woman. I, see several facets to the Dalit women's experiences having been brought up with this identity and being from the same background.

Secondly, experience of working with civil society organisations on Gender Justice and rights of Dalit women during the graduation as a part of field work, internship with CHR and volunteering in Dalit movement in India drew my attention to Dalit women's issues more prominently. During the process I met Dalit women activists from rural Maharashtra working at grass-roots and saw the constant problems they faced for they challenged the systemic oppression. The intersectionality of caste and gendered hierarchy that gets intensified as Dalit women enter the public sphere came forward as a new learning. The socio-cultural positioning and significantly the caste-class-gender interplay make Dalit women's experiences specific. I therefore wanted to document the experiences of Dalit women who enter the public sphere for the first time through formal mean such as political participation.

Finally and most importantly my focus on Dalit women's political participation in Panchayat is because at policy level although the introduction of reservation to marginalised groups (Women, SCs, STs) at local body envisions inclusive democracy and better governance, in practice the local level politics is a crudest unit of oppression.

Thus the need to study Dalit women's experiences of political participation arose from my own understanding and experience of the issue as well as

Specificity of Being Dalit Women: Intersectionality

Dalit women in India today number 80.517 million or approximately 48% of the total Dalit population, 16% of the total female population and 8% of the total Indian Population (Irudayam et al., 2006:1). Dalit women face discrimination on a daily basis, as a Dalit, as women and as a poor they are in extremely vulnerable position (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights 2006:1). Dalit women make majority of unorganised labourer in urban settings and landless labourers in rural. Systemic violence against Dalit women can be seen as a mechanism to keep Dalit in a subordinated position. It is built in to the structure of the dominant society, which does not acknowledge the basic human rights of Dalit in general and Dalit women in particular. There is a clash between the expected role of Dalit women and the role they achieve because of the differential ways in which they negotiate their social status and gender norms. The new public role that the 1992 Act assigns them generates a clash between 'traditional' norms and the 'achieved' political rights of Dalit women. Dalit women who have the ambition to occupy a political position frequently encounter resistance from the society. General discouragement becomes violence as soon as they show too much initiative, speak up and gain support from the larger community. Political participation for Dalit women is seen as a threat by the dominant caste groups. Dalit women's entry in politics is perceived as them securing entitlement to public resources. Strong Casteist and patriarchal biases against Dalit result in violent attacks, restraining Dalit women from exercising their rights through various mechanisms. There fore at academic level, I believe there is an urgent need to study the experiences of Dalit women participating in politics. It is at the village level that caste and gendered hierarchy plays out in crudest forms)

With this premise I form objectives of my study the broad objective being:

  • Study the experiences of Dalit women's right to political participation in rural Panchayat Raj system.

I have following specific objective for the study:

  • Explore the factors that restrain or facilitate participation of Dalit women in rural Panchayat Raj.
  • Examine the impact of political participation on Dalit women in Panchayat Raj.
  • Study the empowerment process of Dalit women through the political participation in Panchayat Raj.
  • To suggest recommendations for effective participation of Dalit women in Panchayat Raj

Research Question:

Based on the objectives of study I formulated my research question for the enquiry

  • What are the experiences of Dalit women participating in panchayat raj?
  • Has the political participation impacted Dalit women's empowerment?
  • What have been the attributing/restraining factors for the empowerment of Dalit women?
  • What are the achievements of their political participation for themselves and for the Dalit community they represent and for the society in general?

Feminist approach:

Within feminist social science research, qualitative data, in particular in-depth interviews have ´held a prominent place in the history of feminist inquiry´ (Rabinowitz and Martin, 2001:44 in Kitzenger2003:126). Focus groups methods are also employed along with such talk about experiences. These are self-report methods. My choice of topic and feminist orientation required to utilize this method.

This goes back to second wave of feminism (1970s) that emphasized the reclaiming and validation of women's experiences through listening women's voices (Kitzenger, 2003:125, Kirsch, 1999:4). The personal experiences of women have also been recognized in political context since then. Further Feminist social science researcher made it general to base their studies on women's voices and experiences. In fact feminist researches aimed at listening to women's 'different voices´ (Gilligan, 1982 in Kitzenger, 2003:126) and ´to address women's lives and experiences in their own terms, to create theory grounded in the actual experiences and language of women' (DuBois, 1983: 108 in Kitzenger, 2003:126). With this historical reference I decided to apply feminist approach a most suitable analytic framework in my study of Dalit women sharing their experiences of Political participation.


This section methodology brings out the processes through which data is collected, collated, analyzed and interpreted. This is aimed at increasing the reliability of the study for the further validation as research is performed in order to be used. The study primarily adopts a qualitative approach as it helps to understand the subject of study through the experiences of the Dalit women.

The paper focuses on the political participation and its impact on Dalit women.  It attempts to look critically at political participation of Dalit women and the trends of political participation at local level since the 73rd amendment Act, 1992. It does it so by documenting experiences of Dalit women and analyzing the complexities involved due to caste-class-gender interplay in the political participation process of Dalit women.

These questions will only be answered by talking to Dalit women who have participated in the political processes. A systematic and comprehensive documentation of Dalit women's experiences at local governance is thus needed. For this purpose I decided to conduct a focused study based on qualitative primary data collected through field work.

Methodology is one of the important sections of my research paper as the process of qualitative enquiry through field work has taught me more about my research topic along with the literature. After a considerable thinking process I decided that the method should be suitable to the research questions that I intend to address. As the research focuses on Dalit women's experiences the best method was to record their experiences through in-depth interviews. I intentionally kept the interviews unstructured as its being qualitative in nature, provides greater breadth. In-depth unstructured interviews allow researcher to explore a theme without being restricted to a series of questions. I being from a Dalit community and having worked on the Dalit women's issues came to my advantages as the discussions with Dalit women were focused at the same time gave scope to them to talk out their experiences without any hindrances. The rapport building and trust was achieved very easily. I lived in the field place with respondents and in special cases (there are three main cases) I stayed with the respondents for more than two days in order to understand and document the various dimensions involved in political participation of Dalit women. I used a question guideline that was formulated through the discussion with the expert in the field of research methodology and local governance[1]

Sampling: The purposive (non-probability) sampling was utilized based on focus of my study to document and assess the experiences of Dalit women's political participation in local politics. Intentional and directed selection of Dalit women at grassroots politics was employed.  CHR, SPMM activists helped me identify data. Only one woman declined to give interview. The reason she declined itself interprets the problem faced by Dalit woman, I was informed by the activists that she

Eighteen Dalit women in total were identified from three blocks of Beed district out of ten blocks and one block of Latur district. I selected ten out of eighteen Dalit women on the basis of sampling objectivity and representation of differences within Dalit women. Also, their diverse experiences of political participation were considered.  The sample was based on following interconnecting criteria.

Panchayats at village level (Gram-Panchayats)

newly elected Scheduled caste women President at village level

SC women who had been Ex-Presidents

Dalit women serving more than one tenure

Dalit woman who tried but not succeeded in accessing panchayat post

Cases where no-confidence motion was exercised on the Dalit women presidents

Cases where abuse, beating up and atrocity inflicted

Success-stories of active participation

Finally 9 Dalit women from Beed District and one from Latur district of Marathwada region were selected. Three cases emerged as a main focus during my field work due to the special experiences of respondents. Though the sample was purposive I balanced sub-castes within scheduled castes by having respondents from Mahar and Mang (major scheduled castes of Maharashtra). Efforts were taken to include respondents with wide range of age in this study.

Data collection:

In the month of July, 2009 I visited the identified field place, Beed District, Marathwada region, Maharashtra. I already had established contacts with a human rights organization Campaign for Human Rights in Beed and its sister organization, Savitribai Phule Mahila Mandal (SPMM) which works on the issue of gender justice and women's empowerment through self help group.  With the consultation of Manisha Tokle (The founding secretary of SPMM) and Ashok Tangade (National secretary of CHR) I identified potential respondents from the selected blocks of Beed Distict. They also put me in contact with the field workers of CHR who handled these blocks. Manisha, Ashok and field workers gave me enriched information based on their field work experiences. Being well-versed with the area made them experts in the psycho-social behavior of people and the cultural challenges. Their guidance and discussions after interviews has been very important as something new would always emerge out of these discussions which I might not had thought during the interview. Their interpretations of the cases gave me crystallized views.     

CHR field activists from respective blocks accompanied me for every interview. They worked as informants. Their good rapports with the respondents, understanding of the region and the cultural meanings made my task easier. My own background being a Dalit woman was helpful in getting support from the respondents, establishing rapport and gaining their trust.

In-depth unstructured interviews

were recorded on the digital voice recorder. I maintained notes during and after every interview which helped me over come the problems in data analysis. The documentation of experiences of women was backed by my notes and suggestions from the field workers who discussed their interpretations after every interview.

Informed consent:

Before using the recorder I fully informed the respondents about the purpose of my study and the necessity to use the recorder

Pictures of the respondents and the evidentiary documents wherever needed were taken for documentation.

Interviews with expertise/ Key-Informants:

I also consulted my ideas and paper with expertise as well as I interviewed key informants to gather their experiences in the field, on the issue


Area of study:

The area of study was identified based on the characteristics of the region. The Marathwada region of the Maharashtra state was selected for the very peculiar reasons. First, Marathwada region being one of the most backward, feudal and atrocity prone regions of the Maharashtra state, second, a very special history of Dalit movement and violence against Dalits in the region and very importantly the right based work of Human rights organisations such as CHR, SPMM for the Dalit and women's upliftment. According to the first hand investigation and identification of cases I selected the following Blocks in Beed District and I took one exceptional case from Latur district that comes in Marathwada region itself. 

1.1 Introduction

The paper looks at how Dalit women, compared to women in general, are a 'different entity' when they participate in India's local self-governing institutions, known as Panchayat Raj Institutions. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitutional Act 1992, came into force in April 1993, providing an opportunity for Dalits and women – the most marginalised in the hierarchical Indian society – to participate in local-body elections at the village level. The Act, seeking to redress gender and caste inequities in rural India, provides 33% reservation to women, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes in local bodies. Within this 33%, Dalit women are provided reserved seats on a rotating basis (meaning, every five or ten years the constituencies reserved for dalits and women are changed). After more than 15 years of the Act, Dalit and Dalit women's participation has been remarkably visible. However, we need to look critically at the term 'participation' and what it entails—especially in terms of the consequences dalit women face when they earnestly assert their rights. What is the role that the 73rd Amendment Act envisages for women and what is the real role they end up playing? There is a clash between the expected role of women and Dalit women because of the differential ways in which they negotiate their social status and gender norms. The new public role that the 1992 Act assigns them generates a clash between 'traditional' norms and the 'achieved' political rights of Dalit women.

Violence exercised against women, and specifically against Dalit women, when they participate in political work, in indicative of the stratifications that obtain in the Indian social order. Vulnerably positioned at the bottom of India's caste, class and gender hierarchies, Dalit women experience endemic gender and caste discrimination and violence as the outcome of severely imbalanced social, economic and political power equations (Irudayam et al 2006, pp.3). Within the oppressive social structure Dalit women become victim of violence if they transgress their rights and try to challenge their lower status. As gender violence, like any violence there are contexts, in relation to violence against Dalit women, the nature and dynamics of these contexts, relating to power and force, make them vulnerable and functions as a constrain to their agency and voice. This structural violence is an outcome of gender based inequalities perpetuated by patriarchal power relation also shaped, compounded and intensified by caste discrimination. Violence acts as a crucial social mechanism to maintain Dalit women's caste-gender subordination to men and that of the dominant caste men thereby subjugating both Dalit women and through them their community.

'Violence against women is gender-based and gender biased' (Irudayam et al., 2006: 17) in the sense it the devaluates women's status in social order perpetuated by patriarchy and justified on the basis of perceived differences between male and female sexuality. In Indian context the caste ladder descending from purity to pollution, purest Caste men being on the top of the ladder whereas the polluted caste placed on the lower rung women are pushed even further down to the lowest rung. It works against their integrity as an individual; this is a violation of women's rights, such as their identity as a woman and dignity as an individual. Therefore violence in this sense means denial of rights as an individual and hindering woman's development at various levels of integrity, as an Individual, as a woman in a family, a woman belonging to certain community and culture. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung defines Violence as 'avoidable insult to basic human needs'; he identifies the basic human needs as survival, well-being, identity, and freedom (Galtung 1990 pp 292).

1.2 Being a Dalit and a Woman:  Caste-Gender Nexus

Dalit women face collective and public threat or act of violence which discourage them from demanding their rights, it is effects of structures on individual agency that results in the gap between potential and actual fulfilment of rights. Retaliatory violence is exercised in response to dalit women's assertions for their rights by defying caste, untouchability norms or asserting their rights to cultural, economic and political resources. Dominant caste women tend to be subjected to violence more within the family due to strict control over their sexuality and freedom of movement again due to the caste factors, in order to preserve the purity and status of their caste.

There have been movements through out the country making Dalits aware of their rights and also there have been feminist movements in India which took up issues of women subordination however looking at Dalit women as an 'imagined category' (Rao, 2003: 1) and analysing the premises which prevent them from exercising their agency is yet the area of exploration. Imagining 'Dalit women' as a different category as Bhagvat mentions is needed, because these feminist movements and Dalit movements lack a critical dimension from Dalit woman's standpoint. Guru emphasises on this Point while he talks about 'politics of difference' to bring out the specificity of Dalit women's subjugation. 'This subjugation is characterised by their experience of two distinct patriarchal structures a Brahmanical form of patriarchy that deeply stigmatizes Dalit women because of their caste status, as well as the control by Dalit men over the sexual and economic labour of 'their women' (Guru in Rao 2003: 1).

Political Participation for women means securing their entitlement to public resources, the economic resources they will avail as a result of participation for them and their community, the social and political benefits such as Development of the Dalit community in village, implementation of government schemes for Dalit more democratically due their representation.  With the strong patriarchal biases against women and marginalised Dalit, the dominant caste male members would not want these sections to equally enjoy the resources over which they had monopoly since long.

There has a lot been written and debated around political participation of women and Dalits, conclusions are made that there has been fairly good representation in terms of number but the mere participation doesn't help these sections to exercise their rights. Nature of participation and effectiveness of the act has been assessed too, although with limited vision of looking only at the quantitative aspect of political participation. Very little has been studied on the gender-Caste nexus which denies the right of economic, political, social liberties to Dalit community as a whole and Dalit women within it. Political participation through Panchayat Raj Institution has given space for women to come out and talk about their grievances. The reservation has limited itself to space creation even though it implied the empowerment of women and there by making them equal partners in enjoyment of political, social, economical resource.

It is seen that the oppressive social structures have reaffirmed their superiority by attacking women through new ways of oppression such as criminalisation of politics, starting right from the election process to making women mere proxies of their male counterparts. Violence in the process of Political participation to ensure women's non- participate and exercise their agency is a crucial aspect to study and to enhance policies which will cut across the structural inequalities of caste-class-gender and give dalit women an equal status. I want to study Violence experienced by women at different levels of participation and look at the specificity of violence experienced by Dalit women being trice oppressed due to their marginalised status as a Dalit, as a woman and as a lower class.

Doing so my focus is at specificities of violence, Violence faced by women in general which is within their families and is built around the family prestige, there by controlling women's sexuality for the purity of their lineage and superior status. whereas dalit women not only face violence from their own family and community also from the dominant caste forces who ensure their superiority and control over resources by keeping the Lowest strata at its place who according to them are worth no social, economical and political rights.

1.3 Problem Statement

According to the 2001 census there are 167 million Dalits (referred to the census as 'scheduled castes') in India, who remain vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation, and violence because of their socially marginal position assigned by Hindu social order. India's 'hidden apartheid' relegates Dalits to a life time of segregation and abuse. Caste-based divisions continue to dominate in housing, marriage, employment, and general social interaction—divisions that are reinforced through economic boycotts and physical violence (Hidden Apartheid 2007).

The dalit woman faces Caste, Class and Gender discrimination because she is an untouchable, of a poor class and is a woman.  (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights 2006) Dalit women in India today number 80.517 million or approximately 48% of the total Dalit population, 16% of the total female population and 8% of the total Indian Population (Irudayam et al., 2006). They make majority of unorganised labourer in urban settings and landless labourers in rural. They face discrimination on a daily basis, as a Dalit, as women and as a poor they are in extremely vulnerable position. Systemic violence against Dalit women can be seen as a mechanism to keep Dalit in a subordinated position. It is built in to the total structure of the dominant society, which does not acknowledge the basic human rights of Dalit in general and Dalit women in particular.

The 73rd -74th Amendments, former being for rural local bodies and later for urban local councils brought about radical changes in women's representation in local bodies. The method of co-option where women are elected for the reserved seats on the consensus of the members of local panchayat body or nomination, Balwant Rai Mehta committee report proposed two women representatives each from Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe to be co-opted, these two procedures through which women's representation was ensured hitherto in the local bodies, has changed. Under the previous system, women's representation in local bodies was low and most women nominated to these bodies could hardly perform any functions. All the states except for Bihar (Santha, 1999) had conducted the elections to the local bodies in accordance with the 73rd-74th Amendments act, 1992 and almost one million women have been elected to the Panchayat Raj institutions and urban local bodies (I am focusing only at 73rd constitutional amendment act 1992 and PRI's and not on urban councils covered by the 74th Amendment, where he dynamics are different). This brought about a social change in terms of the traditional role of women; which used to be to take care of house hold chores and raise children and be inside the four walls all her life. Women's political empowerment finally seemed to be receiving some attention from both government and non-government organisations. Serious efforts are being made towards documenting women's political participation although it is limited to the Local self government. Questions of feasibility remain unanswered such as women's active participation, hidden domination (gender blindness) for instance in the budgeting process but also even in considering women as political entities, many treated women elected through reservation as a temporary members in Local body. The consequences of assertion resulting in discouragement, fragmentation and discrimination inflicting violence are yet to explore.

Violence against Dalit women is utilised to deny them opportunities, choices and freedoms at multiple levels, undermining not only dalit women's dignity and self respect, but also their right to develop.

An intersectional caste violence and atrocities against Dalit women occur at two levels: as an inherent part of the caste system whereby violence is utilised to reinforce caste norms and Dalit women are seen as legitimate target for all forms of violence, especially sexual violence, and when they transgress caste norms, such as caste endogamy or untouchability norms, or assert their rights over resources, public spaces or cultural spaces. In other words, the process of Dalit women's empowerment itself is perceived as a challenge to caste and patriarchal structures, and provides fertile ground for punitive violence committed by dominant castes. (Irudayam et al., 2006)

Factors such as socio-cultural notion of women's role act as impediments in effective political participation hindering political empowerment of Women; When it comes to Dalit women these factors play much intense role and are specific for Dalit women due to their social status, denial and even no recognition to Dalit women's political rights result into violence.

Cases such as denial from villagers' for flag hoisting by Dalit women councillors on Independence Day, not being allowed to sit on the chair along with other members let alone talking in the meeting, Ignoring while they talk, use of abusing and discriminatory language, and humiliation on daily basis are experienced by most of the Dalit women who participate as elected members in local political arena.

After encountering this reality one would question that would the thousands years old socially, culturally, economically and most importantly politically entrenched patriarchal caste system ensured the representation of disadvantaged groups in politics? 

1.4 Rationale: Being a Dalit and a Woman

My interest in the issue of Dalit Women comes from several different sources; first and foremost me being a Dalit woman. Being brought up with this identity and background, I got exposure to the problem faced by elders of the family and community. I feel my study would contribute in critically assess structural inequality causing Dalit suppression and specifically of the Dalit women in local politics.

In the name of social discipline, 'social balance' and to maintain this 'social balance', Dalits in general and Dalit women in particular are denied basic human rights. Dalit women who have the ambition to occupy a political position frequently encounter resistance from the whole society. General discouragement becomes violence as soon as they show too much initiative, speak up and gain support from the larger community. There fore on academic level, I believe there is an urgent need to explore the issue whether in the Indian context, political restructuring alone will restore power to a category such as that of Dalit woman. To what extent passing of a constitutional amendment on paper will necessarily ensure implementation of democratic practice in this caste ridden society. The Central issue which need to be examined is to what extent these institutional arrangements of local governance have been successful in changing caste, class and gender relations, to examine this, it is relevant to study the stronger form of deprivation, the violence against Dalit women which ensures and maintains power in the hands of the dominant caste. There is a strategic need of Intervention quota alone will not ensure to weaken if not annihilate, the impacts of cultural, structural and direct violence as termed by Galtung.

There are very few studies available on the discrimination faced by women participating in panchayati raj and even fewer focusing on the specificity of Dalit women therefore my objective for this study are:

  • To bring out the specificity Dalit women vis-à-vis Women in General in India in terms of theory, policy and future study.

The reports from the institutions mentioned above, literature and evidences of violence faced by Dalit community itself are the indicators that Dalit community is vulnerable to violence and with the introduction of political space for them they have faced tremendous challenges to exercise these rights equally. I will talk more about it in cases, Tamil Nadu for instance balances between the agitating history and the equally agitating present, past Dalit movements have made effort to bring in Dalit women in Political sphere but the path is hard and harder when they are assertive. I show in the case of Karnataka the efforts of Government project 'Mahila Samakhya' and how Dalit women deal with the day to day violence, right from the family, community and state official and are asserting themselves through the collective actions.

Chakravarty remarks that the upper caste women regarded as a gateways of caste system in Brahmanical patriarchy are needed careful surveillance to prevent upper caste purity and thereby controlling their sexuality. Lower caste communities are inherently considered polluted and so sexual violence against women from lower caste to punish the community if a member of community deviate from the set caste norms automatically gets legitimised and thereby justified. . To study the intricacies of gender-caste-class intersection resulting in a legitimisation and enforcement of violence for the Dalit women vis-à-vis women in general, also looking at the effect it leaves on their political participation I have the following research questions:

Women Globally

'When women achieve an equal share of political power, many things around politics will have changed profoundly. Some further breaking-down of the range of human resources available to meet society's needs would have taken place. In this respect, women's increasing political participation is both a source and a signal of social change. As a global trend, rising numbers of women in politics will indicate that human beings are making progress towards more humane world, not because women are necessarily more humane than men, but because any society that categorically excludes half its members from the processes by which it rules itself will be ruled in a way that is less than fully human'.

The Beijing Declaration and platform for action adopted by 181 UN member states underlined 'women realities and perspectives are central to all issues of global development' (United nations division for the advancement of women, 2000).

Marginalised status of women is an established historical phenomenon in the world. Women constitute nearly 50% of the population of the world, but when in comes to the representation at higher levels of political positions in the government, they account for only less than 10% (Singla, 2007: 1). Gender discrimination leads to the inequality against women in decision-making. There have been attempts globally to ensure equality of two sexes. United Nations being a key forum for women's advocacy upheld women's rights. Its charter (1945) calls for equality of sexes and enjoins on the member states to eliminate discrimination based on sex (Dhaka, 2005: 2). In 1979 the 'Convention on all forms of discrimination against women' (CEDAW) was formed. There were several international conferences held to discuss issues concerning women's development, the four very important were at Mexico City (Mexico) in 1975; Copenhagen (Denmark) in 1980; Nairobi (Kenya) 1985; and Beijing (China) 1995.

Through the UN decade of women (1976-1986), and the international conferences and summits of the 1990's women participated actively to shape economic, social and political development.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) issued by UN Secretary General in 2001, reflects a global acknowledgment for the empowerment of women and the achievements of gender equality which are treated as a matters of human rights and social justice. Goal 3 of MDGs talks specifically about promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and all the other goals have incorporated gender equality (Women's Environment Development Organisation (WEDO, 2004) On the other hand women are still vulnerable entities in war and conflict areas, victim of ethnic crimes, human trafficking, are malnourished and under represented in social political and economical realm.. Majority of the world's poor are women. Of the 150 million children aged 6-11 who don't attend school, over 90 million are girls, of the world's 876 million illiterate people over 15 years two-thirds are women; working women have less social protection and employment rights; a third of all women have been violently abused; over 500,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth; and rates of HIV/AIDS infection among women are rapidly increasing (WEDO 2004). In such a situation political empowerment will ensure women's development. Active political participation from the masses, from grassroots and within it from women is mandatory for their political empowerment and development.

Women in India

Women constitute about 49% of India's population. Their position in a patriarchal society has never been equal to that of men. There have been number of social reforms and efforts since pre-independence which tried to improve the status of women, but within the set customs and norms. Improving their status only to the extent to which women can serve as better housewives, mothers, Social reformists who carried out the reforms to improve women's status were limited to the mainstream women, women who became part of reform were also those who had their male counter parts in reform movements and were educated elites.

During the independence movement and later, the efforts to bring women in social, economical and political foray removed a few gender biases but reinforced other. The Constitution of India addressed the issues of women's development through special provisions for women in fundamental rights and directive principles of the state policy. Article 14 for instance talks about equality before law, and Article 15 of no discrimination on the grounds of sex, specifically in the matters of gaining free access to public places, Article 16 gives equal opportunity to public employment, Article 42 ensures humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women. Such legislative measures continue to be an important mode to safeguard against women's oppression. There are several laws to protect women's rights and interests, the maternity benefit act, the medical termination of pregnancy act, the dowry prohibition act and marriage law are some such legislations. Besides these, the Department of Women and Development was formed in 1985 as a part of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to ensure the development of women and children. This department undertook many activities to benefit women, including the setting up of committees and commissions (Sujaya, 1995 cited from Singla, 2007: 36). There were also programmes introduced for the benefit of poor and asset-less women such as economic programme for women in 1982, launched with assistance from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Support to training and Employment Programme for Women of 1987 (STEP) and the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh in 1993 (RMK)

The Indian policy framework also includes, efforts of The Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Women & Child Development, and Govt. of India which circulated The National policy for Empowerment of women 2001. The goals of this policy are  to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women, the de-jure and de-facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom by women on equal basis with men in all spheres - political, economic, social, cultural and civil; Equal access to participation and decision making of women in social, political and economic life of the nation. Swaymsidha 2001, is an Integrated Programme for Women's Empowerment with objective of the all-round empowerment of women, especially socially and economically, by ensuringtheir direct access to, and control over, resources through a sustained process of mobilization. The Swarnjayanti Gram Swayrojgar Yojna (The Rural Self Employment Scheme) 1999 aims at establishing a large number of micro-enterprises in the rural areas, building upon the potential of the rural poor, self help groups by women is one of the successful activities under this programme. These are some of the recent efforts aiming at women empowerment in general and rural women in particular to ensure direct access control over resources. The new approach focuses on improving women's own understanding of national issues and their contribution to the economy and policy. This is a very important shift in contemporary India which has potentials to 'de-marginalize' women. One milestone of its kind is setting up of Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2006.

Despite all these efforts discrimination against women still persists. These efforts have very little scope to get translated into reality with the strong hold of caste-class and patriarchy. It was to 'de-marginalise' women and the oppressed section of society that the reservation policy was introduced in India. Political empowerment by the means of 'space creation', i.e. giving women capacity to influence the decision-making process by integrating them into the political system was the main concern of Panchayat Raj. Political participation implied the empowerment and equality of women and marginalised, though case studies and discussion with J. Mangubhai indicated that women and Dalit women in reality have not been given proper representation at rural local government levels, their rights are threatened at every level of participation due to the criminalisation of politics, patronage of dominant caste and corruption entrenched in the system.

Local Self Governments and Panchayat Raj in India

a) History

Traditional local self government is as ancient as Aryan civilisation in India. The rig Veda's mention the role of elected bodies like sabha whose task was to legislate as well as to dispense justice. This community-based management of local affairs was known as panchayat in most of the country which meant a council of five persons. Their functions were similar to the local governance like the Russian mir, German Mark, and the medieval manor of England. In most parts of India the panchayat system was based on the caste system social status and family. During British rule in India, in 19th century the local self government (decentralised government) was introduced first in town and later in villages, it took more than 100 years for Local self government to become part of Indian Constitution. These bodies are called Panchayat Raj system. Although the Local self government functioned in India, it was highly based on 'Jat Panchayat' where in the lower caste and women didn't have place to voice their grievances nor could they take part in decision making. Panchayat was held and monitored by the dominant caste male members.

During 1869, the British institutionalised these local bodies into quasi-official committees, but inadequate financial resources and provincial governments' oppositions made them fragile and ineffective. There were attempts to revive Local governments by few British viceroys such as Lord Ripon. He led the foundation of modern local government through his resolution in 1882. There were several legislations passed thereafter to democratise the local institutions.

Mahatma Gandhi had strong faith in rural India, and his view was to achieve village Swaraj. Masses who live in rural India should be decision makers of their own local bodies. He further questioned the possibility of such a democracy in a country with tight and centralised government which would be replaced by Indian elites after the British elite rule, which according to him meant that the educated elites involved in politics and in the making of state as an Independent India would decide for the entire country, whereas Gandhi strongly pleaded for decentralization of economic and political power through the organization of Village Panchayats. He was of the definite view that panchayat system in India, if worked on scientific lines, could not only build up the social and economic strength of the countryside but also strengthen the forces of national defence against the risk of foreign invasion (Narayan, S.)

Ambedkar, a steadfast constitutionalist, who worked within the state and sought solutions to social problems with the aid of the state, being aware of the pernicious caste system, argued that local elite and upper castes were so well entrenched that any local self government would only mean the continuing exploitation of the downtrodden masses of Indian society. He argued that the village was 'a cesspool, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism'. Nehru with his western liberal ideologies shared this view. The total control of upper caste ruling elites in unregulated decentralised system meant reinforcement of caste system and oppression of Dalits (Vayasulu, 1999: 3678). Panchayat Raj was incorporated in Article 40 of the Constitution, and is one the Directive Principle of State Policy. Despite the contradicting perspectives between strong leaders of independent India Panchayat Raj found its place in Constitution and has developed further. In practice though, the setting up of village panchayats stayed ineffective since there was no pressure on any state to establish such a system. Later the provision relating to the establishment of Panchayati Raj under the Constitution was relegated to advisory status leading to few states initiatives to implement panchayat elections.

b) Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

The initiation of community development programme in 1952 established institutionalised Panchayat Raj. Objectives of community development programme were to promote self-help and self-reliance amongst rural people and to generate direct process of integrated social, economical and cultural change through transformation in social and economical life of village though the programme failed to mobilise the rural masses. It was more of government assistance than people's initiative. Recommendations by the Balwant Rai Mehta committee in 1959 observed lack of people's participation and suggested a set of institutional arrangements. The three-tier system was thus introduced to organise and manage the rural development activities and to make participation meaningful and effective. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, called it a revolutionary and historical step. After few years of enthusiasm this attempt of self-government also stagnated. The committee on the status of women in the year 1974 strongly recommended the establishment of statutory women's panchayat at village level that would remove the cultural and social inhibitions and ensure initiative of women's participation through the exclusively women's bodies. It was recommended that the transitional measure be taken to break the traditional attitudes in rural society, by being integral part of panchayat raj system and claiming autonomy and resources of their own for management and administration of welfare and development programmes for women and children (Santha 1999).

c) Ashok Mehta committee

Ashok Mehta committee was set up again to revive the Panchayat Raj in the 1977 during the Janata Government at the centre. It recommended the creation of two-tier systems, Zila Parishad at district level and Mandal Panchayat for cluster of villages there was no Panchayat Samiti at block level, as a link between Gram Panchayat and district administration, the three tier system proposed by Balwant Rai Mehta. Second the constitutional sanctioning of Panchayat Raj institution, also it proposed that the political parties should be given free role in the rural government. These recommendations were not accepted by many states, though this report created nationwide publicity for Panchayat Raj.

Both the Balwant Rai Mehta committee and the Ashok Mehta committee gave less emphasis on women's participation, if any. The former provided for the co-option of two women members in the constitution of panchayat: one from general category and one from SC/ST. Only two women were co-opted/ nominated for their reserved seats alongside the male members in the group of 15 to 19 members. Besides gaining a symbolic space, women couldn't exercise participatory rights. They were still largely under-represented and the few who were represented were co-opted as they relatives of the rural elite. They were thus kept out of the day to day functioning of the PRIs. Co-option or nomination of women was not democratic, and served as a drawback. Women were chosen by dominant caste male members who would choose elderly women from within their families; these women would be mere dummies who did not know their functions as a elected members. Women from Dalit background, if they made it, would be mostly the employees of the dominant caste members and their economic dependency would circumvent their potential to be assertive. It still meant protecting the interests of the dominant political and social groups as if women were not capable of running the Village government and they were treated as temporary members in local politics.

States like Karnataka took a drastic turn; it became the first state in the country to introduce the policy of reservation for women, in panchayat raj institution. The act of 1985 provided a reservation of 25% to women at the district level and at the Mandal Panchayat level. The southern state of Kerala provided women with 30% reservation out of the total seats in the district council. Panchayat Raj Institutions in Tamil Nadu came into force in November 1956, In North Madurai union, later Madras Panchayat act of 1958 and the district Development council's act 1958 were passed, which mentions co-option of women, The panchayat raj system in Tamil Nadu is three tiered structure, Panchayat at Village, Panchayat Union at Block level, and district development councils at district level.

73rd Amendment and Women's entry in Panchayat Raj

The 73rd Constitutional amendment act enacted on 24th of April 1993 provided an opportunity for involving women and Dalit women in particular in mainstream political, social and economic decision making process.

There was a drastic change in women's representation in 1996 election after 73rd amendment was enacted.  Overall participation in Karnataka was 46%, Kerala 37%, Haryana and Gujarat around 33% the trend was the same through out the country.

The 73rd amendment provided 33% reservation for women, article 243 D of the constitution provides for reservation of Scheduled caste (SC) and Scheduled tribes (ST) in all tiers and levels of Panchayat in proportion to their population in the region, at least one third seats reserved should be for women of SC, ST community. Following the provisions of 73rd amendments state government amended their state panchayat Raj act. The 73rd amendment resulted in to participation of a significant Dalit proportion into panchayat system.

Local self government went through complex processes; women were brought into the system when local self government was yet finding its own functions. Different state government conducted their own experiments with local self governments as we can see from the cases of southern states, their historical background, and the shift in power from the traditional upper caste to the OBCs or intermediate caste as we see in the state of TamilNadu and Karnataka.

Radical thinkers such as Ambedkar and Phule rightly pointed out the histories of exploitation, ritual stigmatisation and political disenfranchisement as constituting the lives of marginalised (Omvedt 1995). Ambedkar's (Gupta) argument about villages being a den of ignorance and units that strengthens, perpetuates dominance of patriarchal caste system stays valid today. India claims of social change, it hails about the schemes and policies for rural and marginalised development but reports in newspapers tell different stories too, chains of events been observed through out the states of India such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and southern state, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh Lady Sarpanch stripped naked, lady Sarpanch gang raped, Up-Sarpanch Dalit panchayat member beaten up. Such a social forces make it evident that panchayat is a part of that larger society of which villages are part, the noble ideas of self-government would not translate into reality with the existence of the inequality. Panchayat Raj would be ineffective on the canvass of stringent caste system, gender inequality and feudal values. But we can not wait until these preconditions are fulfilled, the 73rd amendment and consequent state acts guarantee reservation so as to lead to the empowerment of Dalit and women.

73RD Amendment act enactment is a major step towards women's empowerment, and recognizing their equal rights to participate. The participatory management of welfare schemes can be solved only when marginalized section of society come to play a major role in decision making.

The statistics showed in the beginning of this section suggested participation of women. Government reports brought out the success stories of 73rd amendment; though they failed to see that women's rights to participate equally were being violated by making them mere dummies and proxies by the village dominant male members. Dalit faced different challenges such as their economical dependency on the land owning upper caste, caste as their social handicap didn't allow them to ask for their equal share in democracy.

Gender-caste nexus vis-à-vis Panchayat Raj

Omvedt and Dietrich point out Morton Klass and Dr. Ambedkar's view on caste as a marriage circle and the endogamy norms means of patriarchal control over women, which also regulates access over resources as well as exchange of services based on territoriality and kinship' (Dietrich 1992, 90 cited in Bhagwat,) though the analysis endogamous marriage norms and its relation.

Descent and work-based discrimination, untouchability and violence is arising out of caste system, historically Dalits have been excluded from enjoyment of social economic, cultural civil and political rights, rights denial and violations have been due to the customary restrictions imposed on them under the stratified social hierarchy, born into particular impure, polluted caste.

The supposed polluted nature of the Dalit coming from the lowest rung of caste hierarchy operates as a tool for social exclusion and exploitation of the community. Dalits themselves are not a homogeneous group. In a caste-ridden social order, Dalits too have their caste divisions, and arising from them hierarchical ordering too. Understandably, the distinctions arising from these tend to be region-specific, which makes it difficult to have a Dalit movement for the State as a whole.

The Socio- religious mechanisms to legitimize this exclusion has made Dalits most socially and economically vulnerable communities , lack of access to land ownership, lack of significant political participation and lack of free employment, over half of Dalit workforce are landless agricultural labourers dependent on the dominant caste Ambedkar and Phule view that Caste hierarchies and patriarchies are intrinsically linked.

Violence and atrocities against Dalit women occur at two levels: as an inherent part of the caste system whereby violence is utilized to reinforce the caste norms and Dalit women are seen as available for all forms of violence, especially sexual violence.

Second is when they transgress caste norms, such as caste endogamy or untouchability norms, or assert their rights over resources, public spaces or cultural spaces. In other word process of Dalit women's empowerment itself is perceived as a challenge to caste and patriarchal structures, here we can see the political participation of Dalit women may put them into vulnerable situation (Irudayam, et al 2006).

United Nations report on violence against women has also noted that Dalit women 'face targeted violence, even rape and death from state actors and powerful members of dominant castes, used to inflict political lessons and crush dissent within the community.

In a study report 'Dalit women speak out' the Dalit women's description of social conflict in their communities, autonomous Dalit participation in electoral politics and local self governance emerges as a point of conflict with the dominant castes.

Attempts by Dalit women to participate independently in elections by contesting for office without dominant caste backing, or by simply voting, often provoke retaliatory violence, example is given in the book 'when a Dalit woman and her son informed the polling booth official that someone had fraudulently cast votes in their names, the dominant caste men committing the electoral fraud openly admitted to their crimes, locked the mother and son in a room beat them up for thirty minutes, causing them serious internal injuries. The perpetrators won the election and were never arrested' (Irudayam, et al., 2006: 101 case AP 89).

Political Participation and Empowerment Dalit women

This chapter is devoted to the theoretical framework used to explain violence against Dalit women who are involved in political participation. In the case of Dalit women political participation is seen to be the first step in the process of empowerment; their mere participation could be called the beginning of their self-realisation though this is accompanied by violence that is culturally legitimised. The concept of intersectionality helps me bring out the specificity of Dalit women's experience of violence. It is not just patriarchy or the caste system that oppresses Dalit women, but it is the intersection of these two socio-cultural factors as well as class (as an economic factor) that mediates Dalit women's experience in PRIs.

Participation: Theory

Several authors have argued that there cannot be a universal definition for participation in the context of development. A working definition put together by Oakley and Marsden (Singala, 2007: 62) summarizes participation with following features: voluntary efforts, sensitization, response, involvement in decision-making processes, programme implementation, sharing benefits, and evaluation, assessment of need, initiative and control. 

Participation is fundamental to social life. From a socio-psychological standpoint, Warr and Wall have defined participation with terms like 'involvement', and 'influence' (Chell, 1985: 1, cited from Singala, 2007: 63) Vrum, as quoted by Chell, considers the amount of psychological participation as the amount of influence that an individual feels he has in decision-making'. Thus three elements are central to participation, which are inter-related due to non-unitary nature of the concept of participation: influence, interaction and information sharing.

Participation, at the local level of governance, pertains to the involvement of people of diverse backgrounds pursuing a particular or common objective, though people may have different reasons to participate. There can be several reasons for women to contest a local-body election: it could be for respect, status, popularity, satisfaction, or the opportunity to solve the issues affecting their village. There can also be monetary expectations, the scope for breaking away from traditional roles, or even the possibility of escape from the rigors of daily chores. These reasons could be categorized into three types: existence, relatedness, and growth as explained by Alderfer (Robbins 2002: 161, Singla 2007: 65) The 'existence' needs can be psychological in nature such as payment, food, clothing, shelter and safety. 'Relatedness' has to do with those concerning interpersonal issues such as esteem and belongingness. 'Growth' denotes one's personal development. The major hurdle of theory when applied to the actual context of participation of women in PRIs is that if the needs because of which they participate in this institution are not met, they are likely to discontinue such participation. This could take the form of non-attendance of meetings or reluctance to contest the next election.

Sustainable economic and social development requires that people participate in the political process. India's enabling legislation made it mandatory for local government to include women, lifting the barriers and impediments that curtailed the full participation of women in the political process. Taking our theory into account, we see that with the political participation in the context of Indian women, and Dalit women in particular, the interaction of sexes in the process of decision-making, and especially the differences due to caste dynamics hinder and discourage Dalit women, thus forcing them to discontinue.

Kaushik (1993) prefixes the word 'political' before participation and associates political participation with the concept of power. She says politics is a study of an exercise of power and there for political participation means exercise of power.

Furthermore, she says that analysis of political participation of women would have to combine a few components, such as, extent, level and nature of women's participation in the political processes by way of both formal and informal institutions. Thus the process of political participation is complex, and it's not clear that it is comprehensively inclusive. Reasons for non- participation could range from apathy,  a sense of helplessness or denial of rights to participate altogether.

The impact and significance of such participation is women's rights, better living conditions and the articulation of a range of feminist issues that are raised in the course of such participation. The point is quantity is not important: they are a means to achieving something more fundamental. There are several factors which impede the participation and keep it at a mere representation level. A substantial proportion of women don't receive support from their families in the discharge of their political function. The addition of public sphere responsibilities hinders women's role in domestic work and thus curbs their active participation.


The Concept of empowerment as envisioned and propounded by Kabeer (2003) is pertinent to my study. Empowerment entered into development lexicon some

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