Situated 40 kilometres from district Nuh of Haryana is Raniyala Firozpur and another panchayat called Hamjapur lies in its close proximity. Both the panchayats come under Jhirka Firozpur block. There are two women from these panchayats who wanted to contest the panchayat election but couldn’t as they did not fulfil the new eligibility criteria of minimum educational qualification.
In the region of Nuh, Mewat where the social status of women is already considered low as compared to men, this new law of minimum education will only make things worse for them. Where on one side women already have to fight just to live with dignity, Haryana government has come up with the law where a person who has not completed class 5th, 8th and 10th will not be allowed to contest for the panchayat elections. As per the 2011 census, the literacy rate of women in Haryana is 65-94 percent whereas in Mewat the literacy rate is between 36-60 percent.
Bunty is a 30-year old woman belonging to the Raniyali Ferozpur Gram Panchayat in Firozpur Jhilka block and belongs to the other backward class. Bunty is illiterate but knows how to run her family. Her family includes her husband and 3 children. The population of Raniyala Firozpur is 1700 out of which females would be 900. The panchayat comprises of 11 members out of which 8 are male. Bunty’s husband Suresh Baldari is a labourer and the sole breadwinner of the family.
Bunty says that in the last panchayat election the panchayat seat of her village was reserved for women from scheduled caste. Bunty wanted to contest for the post of sarpanch but the new eligibility criteria restricted her. According to Bunty being an illiterate has snatched away from her the opportunity to exercise her democratic right. She wants to raise a very pertinent question – is an illiterate person, not a human? Our Constitution gives all the citizens a right to equality, so on what basis is the government discriminating?
Bunty says that the trend these days is as such that no one employs an illiterate. She says that education is important and people should get educated. She does realise that education is a must for a normal living but is it really necessary for becoming a panch or a sarpanch? She is doubtful of the capabilities of educated sarpanch. She asks, “are they all doing proper and nice work? Deepika was elected as the sarpanch of the village in the elections but the actual sarpanch was her husband, Mahender. Deepika herself never went anywhere.” According to Bunty, in many matters, Mahender went to the extent of signing official documents on behalf of Deepika.
We asked Bunty that if she would have won the elections what she would have done first. In reply, Bunty said that first and foremost she would have provided a water supply connection to each house because of it a huge burden for the women of Raniyali Firozpur village to deal with the problem of water shortage. Then she would have got the toilets constructed. The women do not attend the Gram Sabha meetings, so she would have motivated women to attend the meetings. She believes that women in village hesitate to attend these meetings because men fight among themselves in such meetings and they avoid getting involved in it. Because of these factors, the problems of women are not addressed in the meetings. According to her, the patriarchal society does not want to empower women. In the end, she says that she wants to contest the panchayat elections but the law restricts her from doing so.
Next story is of Kulshum, who lives in Humjapur panchayat which is in the same Ferozpur Jhirka block as Raniyala and the villages themselves are in close proximity to each other. Kulshum is an ASHA worker and was sitting outside the Manikheda hospital in Ferozpur Jhirka along with fellow ASHA workers protesting for the increase in their honorarium.
Kulshum’s village has a population of almost 1800 with approximately 600 women. She is 26 years old and has been living in this village for past 12 years with her husband and her five children – one daughter and four sons. Kulshum has never received a formal education from school but can read by joining letters. In 2015 elections, Kulshum wanted to put forth her candidature for the post of sarpanch, but she was not able to do so because of the minimum education regulation. At present, the panchayat at Hamjapur consists of 8 panch – 3 women and 5 men and is led by the sarpanch Shahid who has studied till class 12.
Kulshum says that as an ASHA worker she has served people tirelessly and this is the reason she wants to win the post of the sarpanch so that she can help people more efficiently. Unfortunately, she couldn’t achieve her goal as she does not have her passing certificate for class 10. Talking about the work she has done as an ASHA worker for the village, she mentioned about 3 widow pensions and 45 ration cards she helped getting issued. It was due to her efforts that the village now has a middle school instead of the previous primary school. She has always ensured that pregnant women in the village get all the benefits provided by the various government schemes. Kulshum is also responsible for helping two families, get an amount of rupees eleven thousand and twenty-two thousand respectively under the Kanyadan Yojna.
According to her, most of the villagers still practice open defecation and that needs attention. Her desire is to have a high school in the village for which the orders have already been passed but she says it’s due to the sarpanch’s complaisance that the work has not yet started. Further, she feels that the village should have one more transformer as the one that is present is not sufficient. She also wants to bring transparency to the work of ration depot where the responsible person doesn’t provide proper ration to the villagers and is not uploading the names of the beneficiaries online.
When asked about what according to her holds more importance – being experienced or being educated? She replied that for all this work she doesn’t require education. She believes that illiterates work from their heart and have the zeal to actually work. And no power in this world can stop such people from fulfilling their targets.
While talking about the regulation of having minimum compulsory education for the panchayat elections, she answered that she is amazed that the people who are responsible to make this law are themselves illiterate. “They should first create a rule for themselves stating that ministers should be qualified to this level and only then are they eligible to make such a law for people like us,” rues Kulshum.
Kulshum also said that she is well aware of the fact that in Gram Panchayat meetings, members of all the committees, B.D.O as a government representative and all the panch should be present alongside the sarpanch. She adds that in her Gram Panchayat a women panch has no say. Under the rule of the present sarpanch, the women panch have been completely neglected.
Kulshum says that she never went to school but today because of her willpower she knows how to read and write in Hindi. She says that if she can do this with her willpower, why then she cannot work as a sarpanch? While speaking about the responsibilities of the sarpanch, she says that she is well aware that a sarpanch gets a budget for construction of roads, deepening of wells, construction of toilets and installation of a water tank. She further says that it is the responsibility of the sarpanch to conduct the Gram Sabha meetings for which the villagers should be informed in advance. The sarpanch should get houses built for homeless, should make sure that the mid-day meal distributed in schools should be regularly monitored and properly allocated. According to her if he knows the roles and responsibilities of a sarpanch then she can work as a sarpanch as well. Even Bunty feels the same about the rule of minimum education. According to Bunty this rule of minimum education has been introduced to prevent the empowerment of women. Rejecting the new rule, she says that if she knows each and every detail of her village then she can definitely address the issues of the village. The new rule of minimum education is affecting many women in places like Mewat. The government have further bound many women by passing such new rules like of minimum education in such regions where the literacy level of women is already so low.