By Bhim Raskar, Director, Resource and Support Centre for Development
Mar 08, 2018
‘Madam Sarpanch’ presents ﬁrst person accounts of elected women representatives highlighting aspects they thought signiﬁcant in their journey and work in the political sphere.
All of them are connected to one another, directly or indirectly, through Mahila Rajsatta Andolan (MRA) - a state level campaign to promote and strengthen women’s role in local governance. Some of them were part of MRA even before they got elected, and some got associated after the election. Either way, they drew energy from MRA collective, and also strengthened it by spreading the movement.
Started in 2000, MRA works on various fronts - from training, capacity building, handholding, and mobilisation of women representatives, to advocacy with the state to ensure necessary policies and support structures are in place. Initiated by Resource and Support Centre for Development (RSCD), today MRA has its independent existence as a movement and has strengthened it support base through partnerships. An associate foundation Savitri Academy focuses on need-based political training to elected women. Today, MRA has a strong grassroots network of women working as elected representatives or aspiring to get into politics.
The provision of reservation to women in local governing bodies was introduced in 1993 through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. This provision marked a new era for Indian women, especially in the rural area. In the passage of past 25 years, many things have changed, including the change in the quota from 33% to 50%. Some changes have been favourable to women, learning and struggling to make their mark in local decision making, while some changes have been regressive. Nevertheless, as stories in this book reveal, the journey has been promising in many ways.
These are representative stories, from almost all districts in Maharashtra, covering women from varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and cut across age, education, caste, and class groups.
Compiled by MRA activists in respective districts, the stories were ﬁrst published as a series of articles in a leading Marathi newspaper. This book has adapted them in English, to transcend the language barriers, to be able to share the spirit of their work.
It is all the more important today, to look at what is happening at the grassroots after twenty-ﬁve years from the inception of reservations to women. Has the women’s entry into ‘dirty’ politics made them corrupt, as was argued by some, or have they been able to make a difference through their participation and leadership? Are majority of them ‘proxies’, as is assumed, or they are learning their independent ways of assertions? What strategies are they adopting to survive within the larger context of gender discrimination and patriarchal oppression?
As these stories show the reservations have unleashed women power in unprecedented ways. Although the stories are short and crisp, they give an understanding of the multiple realities that the elected women grapple with. And reveal how they are translating political representation into real empowerment of women. We are happy to share this document of social and historical signiﬁcance with you.