Dalit Women's Right to Political Participation
in Rural Panchayati Raj
A study of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu
Aloysius Irudayam sj
(Research done in Collaboration with Navsarjan Trust, Gujarat and Evidence, Tamil Nadu)
"More and more Dalit1 women should contest the elections and get elected to the panchayat, and help the Dalit community become liberated from their bondage. Like the dominant castes2, the Dalits should join hands with other Dalit sub-groups and stand together against the dominant castes. They should be able to work independently in the panchayats and stop being proxies for the dominant castes. We Dalits need to focus on our progress, throwing off our subordination."
- Annammal, village panchayat President in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu
"Reservation has meant little difference other than formal elections: it has not meant any real change for women other than their ability to move outside the house."
- Dalit women elected representatives, Ahmedabad district, Gujarat
Direct political participation of Dalit women in local governance (Panchayati Raj) is a central human right in itself and enables the realisation of a host of other human rights. Political voice and decision-making power concerning basic services, economic development and social justice are critical factors in challenging and transforming structural caste-class-gender discrimination, and enabling Dalit women to realise their fundamental rights. Political participation also demands accountability from state and non-state actors to guarantee and respect these women's equal political voice and development. This requires a transformation of power relationships both within institutions of governance and in the women's social environment.