News Analysis   /   Sarpanch-Patism

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Published on: July 12, 2023

Source: The Hindu

Why in News?

The Mundona Rural Development Foundation, an NGO, recently approached the Supreme Court of India about the issue of "sarpanch-patism" in the panchayat system.

However, the Supreme Court reiterated that it does not have the authority to handle the problem directly. Instead, the court directed the NGO to approach the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and urged the government to take proper action to empower women and achieve reservation goals.

What is Sarpanch-patism ?

  • Sarpanch-patism is a term used to describe the situation where men act as “sarpanch-pati, sarpanch-devar, pradhan-pati” etc. while wielding the actual political and decision-making power behind women who are elected as sarpanchs or pradhans in the panchayat system.
  • Sarpanch-patism undermines the spirit and purpose of women’s reservation in panchayats, which was introduced by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to empower women at the grassroots level and improve their socio-economic conditions through representative democracy.
  • Sarpanch-patism also violates the constitutional rights and dignity of women, who are reduced to “faceless wives and daughters-in-law” in grassroots politics.
  • It deprives them of their agency, autonomy, and voice in public affairs.
  • Sarpanch-patism also affects the quality and effectiveness of governance and service delivery at the local level, as it creates a gap between the elected representatives and the people. It also leads to corruption and misuse of funds.

What are the Challenges in Tackling Sarpanch-patism?

Overcoming patriarchal norms, attitudes, and practices that hinder women’s participation and empowerment in public life.

Resisting political interference, pressure, and violence from dominant groups or parties that seek to control or influence panchayats.

Socio-economic barriers such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of mobility, etc., limit women’s access to resources and opportunities.

Balancing domestic responsibilities and public roles for women without compromising their health or well-being.

What are the Constitutional Provisions for Women Representation in PRIs?

  1. The Article 243D of the Constitution of India, inserted through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992, mandates a reservation of not less than one-third for women in PRIs nationwide.
  2. This has been increased to 50% reservation in several states like Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, etc in their respective State Panchayati Raj Acts.
  3. Article 243D also provides that one-third of the total number of seats and offices of the Chairpersons in PRIs at each level shall be reserved for women to be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat.
  4. Such reservations of seats and offices of the chairpersons for women are also within the reservations for SCs and STs in all three tiers of PRIs.

What are the Efforts by the Government to Promote Women in PRIs?

Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (RGSA):

RGSA was launched in 2018 to enhance PRIs' capacities for responsive rural governance, leveraging technology and resources for sustainable solutions aligned with SDGs. It also incentivized women's participation in PRIs.

Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP):

GPDP guidelines that are relevant to Women's Empowerment include the proactive participation of women in budgeting, planning, implementation, and monitoring of GPDP and convening Mahila Sabhas prior to the general Gram Sabhas and their inclusion in Gram Sabhas and GPDP.

Way Forward

  1. Providing capacity building and leadership development programs for women representatives.
  2. Strengthening the role and functioning of gram sabhas (village assemblies) to ensure participation and accountability of women representatives.
  3. Creating awareness and sensitization campaigns among men and women on gender equality and democracy.
  4. Ensuring adequate financial and administrative support for women representatives.
  5. Enacting laws and policies to prevent and punish sarpanch-patism and other forms of proxy politics.
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