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Two-child norm costs 32% of panchayat reps in MP their jobs: survey
Madhya Pradesh's controversial two-child norm can hardly be regarded a success, with hundreds of women, dalits and disadvantaged panchayat members summarily removed from their posts for 'violating' the norm
Thousands of women panchayat representatives in the state of Madhya Pradesh have lost their jobs after having a third child because of a state government policy that bars people with more than two children from holding panchayat posts, says a recent study entitled 'Implications of the Two-Child norm on representatives in PRIs (panchayati raj institutions) especially women in Madhya Pradesh'.
According to Sama-Resource Group for Women and Health, a New Delhi-based civil society organisation (CSO) that conducted the survey, 32% of panchayat representatives in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh who were disqualified because of the controversial two-child norm, were women. Of the 50% of dalits and adivasis disqualified, nearly 40% were women.
This has adversely impacted the political representation of women in a state where their participation is already low, says Sama. This, despite the fact that under the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution -- known as the Panchayati Raj Act -- 33% of panchayat seats are reserved for women.
'Implications of the Two-Child norm on representatives in PRIs (panchayati raj institutions) especially women, in Madhya Pradesh', conducted by Sama in 2003-2004, included interviews with 128 men and women, former PRIs who were subjected to the coercive two-child norm. The study also involved discussions with members of the community, documentation of violations and narratives from secondary sources.
The objective of the survey was to examine the impact of the two-child norm on the political participation of economically and socially disadvantaged groups in society. It also attempts to assess the extent to which the policy has affected the autonomy of women, their position in the family and their participation in the political process. And to study the policy's impact on women's lives, both in the public and private sectors.
Twelve of Madhya Pradesh's most underdeveloped districts -- Betul, Harda, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur, Katni, Raisen, Ratlam, Shivpuri, Sehore, Sivni, Vidisha and Panna -- were selected for the survey, conducted in collaboration with the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS). The findings were released on World Population Day, July 11, 2005.
Key findings include:
Nearly 50% of the 128 respondents were dalits and adivasis (SCs and STs), of which almost 40% were women. Most were non-literate, landless and were from the lowest average monthly household income category.
Forty-five per cent of respondents had an average monthly household income of less than Rs 750; around 33% had an income of between Rs 750 and Rs 1,000.
Fifty per cent of dalits and adivasis in the study had an average monthly household income of less than Rs 750; another 35% were in the income category Rs 750-Rs 1,000.
Nearly 25% of respondents -- 33 out of 128 -- were non-literate, of which around 65% were women. Dalits and adivasis comprised approximately 87% of non-literate respondents. Furthermore, 90% of non-literate women were dalits and adivasis.
Approximately 44.53% -- 57 of 128 -- of respondents were solely dependent on daily wages through agricultural activity, stone-breaking, working in sand quarries, etc. Of these, nearly 65% were dalits and adivasis, and nearly 51% were women.
Worryingly, the study revealed how younger men and women in the reproductive age-group are adversely affected by the two-child norm. For example there is an emerging trend of older women (mothers or mothers-in-law) filling posts vacated by their daughters/daughters-in-law.
Many men and women interviewed said they would not have contested if they had been aware of the two-child norm -- an indication that the norm does not seem to have succeeded in changing decisions regarding family size. This is particularly true in the context of those who expressed a preference for a male child.
The Sama study also found that the two-child norm was being misused as a tool to settle political and personal scores and maintain caste, class and gender hegemony. It is being used to usurp power and dislodge representatives, especially women from dalit and adivasi communities, who challenge the dominant power/caste structures and assert themselves. The study shows that women, especially first-time leaders who tried to challenge and change the functioning of the panchayat, were particularly targeted.
"The upper caste people lodged a false complaint against me. I used to take independent decisions without being in their control. They don't want any developmental work done in our area...this was unacceptable to me. They got this order against me despite the fact that my last child was almost six years old at that time," said a dalit woman sarpanch.
Manipulation and misrepresentation of births is common because of the high prevalence of deliveries at home and the non-registration of births, the study found. Where records do exist, tampering of records was recorded as a means to pre-empt potential political rivals.
There have been cases where a child was born before the date of enforcement of the norm. One woman member had her child five days before the stipulated date and yet was removed from office. "I had my third child on January 21, 2001, whereas the norm was implemented on January 26, 2001. I was removed from the post. I produced the immunisation card as proof. Since the child was born at home I did not register the birth. I was asked to produce the birth certificate but I could not get it...It is an irony to prove the birth of the child to save the post. I did not go to the court as I could not afford it," she said.
The study reveals that there are a number of instances of dispute over the age or date of birth of the last-born child; tampering with records and evidence; and providing false certificates. A dalit woman sarpanch was removed from her post even though she had only two children. "The upper caste people sent false information and I was disqualified. I got a stay order as I could prove that I had only two children."
The two-child norm is unclear about the issue of stillbirths and twins. There were two instances of disqualification where the representative had twins. "We had twins and I was removed from the post. We did not know that we would have twins. I got a stay order from the high court. I challenged the norm on the issue of twins," said a dalit male sarpanch.
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