I desperately have been wanting to focus on the positives the past few days. As the stories and opinions on the Guwahati molestation case trickled in on Friday and the twitterati made infinite comments on the regressive UP panchayat, I felt my heart sink deeper and deeper. I was delighted, therefore, to hear that khap panchayats can be positive as well. (I’m referring to today’s news coverage of a panchayat in Jind district, Haryana resolving to fight against female foeticide and the institution of dowry.)
In fact, in light of the 73rd amendment and from whatever little I know of community development across the world, local governments are immensely impactful. Chidambaram’s request that State government take action against panchayats that impose undemocratic diktats sound like damage control measures, but can hardly be effective. Once again, I think it is a case of the negatives getting picked up by the media. I am sure panchayats across the nation resolve many situations in justly, and more importantly in a manner that is acceptable to citizens.
Wikipedia tells me that panchayats are in place in some 96 percent of India’s villages and that the gram sabha system in place now is “largest experiment in decentralisation of governance in the history of humanity.” In a nation as large and diverse as India, ground realities and local priorities will always differ hugely from the policy and economic needs as perceive at the Central and State levels. The challenge is in reconciling these differences and establishing a clear line of communication and process.
The conflicts between traditional mindsets and the modern (perhaps more liberal, but hard to say at times!) value system is glaring. Not just in rural India, but in urban situations as well. It is easy for many to correlate the decreasing safety of women to this new social order where men and women socialize more freely. Needless to say, it is easy to impose restraints on women than educating men to honor a basic code of right and wrong. I find it hard to entirely blame panchayats for taking the easy way out. Mostly, they do not have the exposure to know better. There is where campaigns and initiatives to increase awareness should come in. The long-term benefits of creating a secure environment for women to study, work and live even within the family structure, must be communicated to local leaders and citizens alike.
We live in a new India where there is a tremendous drive to prosper. We must learn to use the aspirations of the people to our best advantage. An educated mother makes for substantially improved chances of the second generation succeeding in life. A woman who gets respect in her home nurtures children who have strong values and are more likely to have stable marriages and a normal family life. The world over, family values are given high social priority. It is through this lens that we must talk about women’s rights.
In the same context, the commoditization of women in any form must be strictly censured. The urge for men to control women (wives, daughters, daughters in law, even mothers) in the name of safety would come under the same umbrella. The “:we do it because women don’t know any better’ is an archaic way of thinking and no man who thinks he is fit to live in modern society must subscribe to it.
Who would implement all of this? Us, for starters. And hopefully, in some version of the future, governments and civil society would actively work towards mechanisms to put in place a new social code with the intention to create a world fit to live in.