In Uttar Pradesh, there are more male beneficiaries than female beneficiaries when it comes to reservation for women in politics. Out of the 9.1 lakh representatives in the state, 3,04,638 are women. However, the contributions of grassroots women leaders are often overlooked in favor of stories about failure and co-option.
One example of men trying to maintain control over seats reserved for women is the story of a man who broke his vow of celibacy in 2021 to marry and make his wife contest in the panchayat election. The husbands of elected women panchayat heads are known as “Pradhan Pati” and are often more well-known in the village than the Pradhan herself.
There are cases where women in these positions feel deprived of their authority. They may not know much about the work allotted to them and rely on their husbands to handle everything. During elections, the husband’s photograph is often displayed as prominently as the woman’s on campaign materials.
Social activists believe that women in panchayats can make a difference if they assert themselves. They bring a human touch to governance and focus more on social and human development issues. One example is Pankunwar, who served as an elected panch of Mamna village panchayat and raised important issues like access to water and girls’ education.
On the other hand, there are women like Namrata who have become disillusioned with politics. Despite winning in the panchayat polls, she feels that the local administration is against her and tries to create obstacles. She believes that the system is too strong for an individual to make a difference.
According to a retired official from the panchayati raj department, simply having a 33% reservation or more for women is not enough. Actual power needs to be ensured for women in order for true empowerment to happen. Currently, only a small percentage of elected women in panchayats exercise their authority.