Women to the fore in Bihar panchayat polls

Women to the fore in Bihar panchayat polls

In 2006, Bihar became the first state in India to reserve for women 50 percent seats in panchayats, providing a rare opportunity to nearly half of the state's 10.38 crore population to empower itself.  
"(Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar's bold step in 2006 is showing results now," woman activist Kanchan Bala said.

An official of the state election commission told IANS that nearly three lakh women are in the fray for 1.31 lakh of the 2.62 lakh panchayat posts in Bihar.

"Reservation is making a difference. Women are seen everywhere, in political circles and at the panchayat level," the official said.

Nearly 40,000 women are contesting for the posts of panchayat head, called mukhiya. Similarly, 80,000 women are contesting for the post of panchayat member, and 55,000 for the post of panch in village councils.

Women in large numbers are also contesting to be elected from  panchayat samitis to zila parishads (district councils).

The 10-phase panchayat polls will end May 28.

However, the reservation rule has also been twisted in many cases, with many influential men fielding their wives or close women relatives.

"I was forced to field my wife for the mukhiya post as my seat was reserved for women," said Nandu Yadav, a resident of Naubatpur in Patna district.
But such cases notwithstanding, experts say reservation has had a positive impact on the condition of women in the state.

According to social researcher A.K. Jha, of the Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Science, women are no longer confined to their homes and are actively participating in the state's electoral process.

It was reflected last year when women outnumbered men while voting for the state assembly polls.  

A total of 54.8 percent women voted in the polls, compared to 50.7 percent men. The turnout of women was as high as 60 percent in nine of the state's 38 districts.
Four years back, the state government also reserved for women 50 percent of teachers' vacancies in government-run primary and secondary schools.

However, there is a disturbing trend as revealed by Census 2011. While the state's population rose from 8.29 crore in 2009 to 10.38 crore in a decade, the sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) declined from 921 to 916.

"All this happened even as so much is being talked about women empowerment, better healthcare and so on. The overall gender ratio in Bihar has fallen to 916, while child gender ratio has declined from 942 to 933," social researcher Soroor Ahmad said.