CHENNAI: Even though women get the power and responsibility when elected as panchayat presidents, in many cases the men in the family play the role of president rather than the presidents themselves.
This reality of women empowerment came into focus during the fifth convention of Women Panchayat Presidents held in Chennai on Saturday.
Qudsia Gandhi, former chairperson and MD, Power Finance and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, asserted that it was widespread. "Many women have to fight for their rights in villages. When a woman gets elected, it is the husband and son who handle the real office work, while she only signs the documents and stays at home doing household work," she said.
When the question was raised of how many women panchayat presidents present at the meet had the freedom to work in the panchayat office, only a few lifted their hands.
V Vasanthi Devi, former chairperson, Manonmaniyam Sundaranar University and Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, said, "Dalit women are also given importance now, unlike in the past as they constantly work to succeed by overcoming obstacles. There were also days when women didn't know the power of a panchayat president but later worked to help the people who voted for them."
The conference also saw women panchayat presidents of various districts speaking of the failure of devolution of 29 powers to panchayat government, financial crisis, intervention and control by the State government in panchayat administration, gender discrimination against women panchayat presidents and caste discrimination and untouchability of Dalit panchayat chiefs.
On other issues, Qudsia said that during the British rule, Collectors were assigned to each district to manage the district operations. "Now that we have panchayat raj, the panchayat president has to have the power to be the Chief Minister of the panchayat. Among the 29 sectors handled by the zilla panchayats, education, primary health care (PHC) and roads should be in focus," she said.
"Many panchayat schools are slowly coming under government control as authorities consider panchayat heads incapable. In primary health care, women panchayat presidents should monitor the medicines and see if these reached the people," Qudsia added.
"The biggest issue any person in power faces in society all over the world is corruption. Women should be trained on how to withstand corruption and help people with the funds allotted by the Government," concluded Vasanthi Devi.