M A I N   N E W S

A women’s panchayat just gives up
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Members of the panchayat of Neem Kheda village in Mewat district of Haryana will step down during the next meeting.
Members of the panchayat of Neem Kheda village in Mewat district of Haryana will step down during the next meeting. — Tribune Photo by Geetanjali Gayatri

Mewat, May 14
Haryana’s first all-women panchayat of Neem Kheda is all set to fade away into oblivion. Disillusioned with two-and-a half years of their own non-performance, all 10-members of the panchayat, including the sarpanch, have decided to put in their papers at the next meeting.

62-year-old Asubi Begum, who is the sarpanch, says, “It’s a man’s world where women don’t have a voice. We feel helpless at not being able to do anything for our village. We have sent representations, met officials, staged protests, but nothing seems to work. We are tired of waiting for development to reach our village and so is our village. The only way is to hand over the reins of the panchayat to men. So be it.”

The all-women panchayat was chosen in April 2005 and the villagers had collectively decided to elect women since the seat of the sarpanch was reserved for a woman.

In a village with 3000-odd Meos, men had represented the panchayat for nearly 17 years. Fed up with backwardness for nearly two decades, this village had handed over the charge of ushering in prosperity to its women.

All first timers, the panches thought they would be able to turn around the fortunes of their village and that the distinction of being an all-women panchayat would translate into more funds for development.

“On the contrary, we have not got a single penny so far. There is nothing in the name of health facilities, education, water and light in our village. You name the problem, and we have it. I think the idea of a women panchayat was preposterous given the present state of affairs,” remarked Vidya Rani, the only graduate in the group.

Being the village of Haryana deputy speaker Azad Mohammad too did not prove advantageous for its people. His mother, Attri Begum, rued, “The village was very enthusiastic about having women panches but the idea has backfired. We have not been able to bring in any development. The saddest part is to see our little children waste their time for want of a school. Then, the paucity of drinking water is a constant battle everyday. Nobody seems to be bothered about our fate.”

Most tubewells in this village are non-functional and those that do supply water are only supplying saline water, which is of no use to the villagers.

“Broken tubewells, children wandering away in the streets, a compulsory of about 2 km to fetch drinking water, a school that had been under-construction for ages, nothing has worked out,” adds Noorjahan.

The villagers, not comfortable with the idea of boys and girls studying together, maintain that they urgently require a girls’ school. Though Vidya uses her spare time to educate girls, she states that a regular school is very important now.

Even as the logic of giving the panchayat a new lease of life by inducting men into it gains ground, the women have almost given up.

Remarks former sarpanch Ismail, “Trusting the women to deliver was a big mistake. We have finalised the agenda for the next meeting when the panches will resign en masse. After the election of a new panchayat, we will see how long the administration and government can ignore us.”

While the election of a male-dominated panchayat may bring about some changes in the village, it’s another battle lost for the women of Haryana.



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