By Team FI
Activists, in a statement issued to condemn the new ordinance, argue that fixing a minimum educational qualification for contesting Panchayat elections is discriminatory to a large section of the rural population, especially women among whom the literacy rate is the lowest
Here is the full text of the statement;
This is with regards to the recent move made by the Rajasthan Government to introduce a minimum educational qualification for candidates contesting the forthcoming Panchayat elections in 2015. An ordinance to this effect has been issued by the Governor of the state- Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, Second Amendment, Ordinance 2014) on 20th December, 2014.
As per the provision, for contesting the Zila Parishad or Panchayat Samiti polls, a contestant should have the minimum qualification of secondary education (Class 10) from the state board or any approved institution or board. In the Panchayat elections to contest for the post of Sarpanch, a candidate should be 8th Class pass (general category) while in the scheduled area of panchayat, the contestant should have passed 5th Class to become a Sarpanch.
We, the undersigned strongly oppose this drastic measure that has come in effect three days prior to the announcement of the Panchayat election code of conduct. Introducing a disqualification measure of this nature goes against the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution of India. It violates the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen of this country that acts as a check from any arbitrary action of the state that attempts to place anyone in a disadvantaged position. Most importantly it violates the principle of affirmative action that is guaranteed under the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution as well as the CEDAW Convention – Article 7 (States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country) of which India is a signatory Country.
In the state of Rajasthan the literacy rate of women in rural areas is only 45.8%, which is lower than the national literacy rate of 57.93% (Census 2011). In tribal areas, the situation is even worse with literacy rate of women 25.22%( ST, Census 2001)
By introducing such a discriminatory disqualification criteria, it excludes the rest of the non-literate women from the possibility of exercising their political right to contest elections for the post of sarpanchs- at Panchayat level thereby defeating the very purpose of the 50% reservation of seats for women in the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act
By taking out such an Ordinance the state government is absolving itself of its primary responsibility of realizing the Right to Education Act (which only came into effect in 2009). Many of the current potential candidates have voiced their discontent and anger at being excluded from accessing their fundamental rights. Moreover, potential and current candidates re-contesting elections have expressed their ire against the government by citing that literacy should not be equated with their capacity to be effective elected representatives of people.
If such a disqualification measure is not applicable for the MLAs, MPs or even the President of our country, then why Sarpanchs?
In a democratic country, introducing selective disqualification measures such as the two child norm and now the minimum education requirement is hindering inclusive participation of all in the grassroots development and governance of the country. One is witnessing a paradoxical trend wherein on the one hand there are promises being made by the government to empower women while on the other the spaces for women to participate in decision making roles is shrinking.
We urge the government to take immediate action and retract this Ordinance at the earliest.
In Solidarity: Advasi Vikas Manch Kotra, Udaipur, Rajasthan; Aruna Burte, Solapur; Astha Sansthan Rajasthan; Adivasi Mahila Jagrati Samiti Jhadol, Rajasthan; Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan Rajasthan; Gorwar Advasi Sangathan Bali District Pali, Rajasthan; GRAVIS Jodhpur Rajasthan; Jarjum Ete, Arunachal Pradesh; Jhuma Sen, Delhi;Juhi Jain, Delhi; Jatan Sansthan Rajasthan; Kalyani Menon Sen Delhi; Kamla Bhasin, SANGAT; Mahila Manch, Rajsamand, Rajasthan; MMBS Barmer Rajasthan; Mahila Panch Sarpanch Sangathan, Rajasthan; Nandini Rao, Delhi; Rakhi Sehgal, NTUI; Radhika Desai, Hyderabad; Rohini Hensman, Mumbai; Rohini Ghadiok Foundation, Delhi; Runu Chakraborty, Delhi; Saheli Women’s Resource Centre Delhi; Sheetal Sharma- North East Network; Shilpa Vasavada, Gujarat ; Soma K P, Delhi Former advisor UNDP gender and livelihoods; SPECTRA Alwar Rajasthan; Shradha Chickerur, Sudha Arora, Delhi; Vagad Majdu Kisan Sangathan, Dungarpur, Rajasthan; The Hunger Project, Poornima Chikarmane