NGOs to 'monitor' polls for Dalit protection

By K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI, SEPT. 16. A few NGOs have decided to informally ``monitor'' next month's local bodies elections to ensure ``free and fair polls, as well as protection for Dalits and women''.

The idea is to ensure that these vulnerable sections are assured full participation and empowerment in the political process, say NGO organisers.

They will look for human rights and Dalit rights violations. What seems unsaid on the agenda is that the Dalits and women who are seeking political power do not want to rely on the officialdom alone.

Senior coordinators of voluntary, women and Dalit organisations', besides elected heads of rural bodies, who met at a 2-day `trainers training programme' organised here last week by the Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF) decided to craft a charter for the panchayat polls. The NGO representatives will hold prior talks with block level officers seeking provision of identity cards to the ``monitors''.

The initiative for bringing about transparency and ``fairness'' to weaker sections in the local bodies polls was kicked off at the HRF- convened meet, which decided to base its work on some real-life experiences of women and Dalit panchayat heads.

Ms. Kalpana Satish, a senior coordinator in the HRF, notes that 90 per cent of the rural local bodies which had Dalit or women as heads, could not function smoothly in the last five years and each meeting led to a ruckus or ended indecisively.

``Last time, in 1996, our initiatives were to get the weaker sections elected from wards. We achieved the objective to an extent. But we found that the Dalit and women heads had a difficult time taking on powerful vested and caste Hindu interests. So we are changing tack and nominating persons as both ward members and presidents. Dalits and women backed by our NGOs will contest in all wards,'' she adds. The NGOs are key players in several of the Government's rural development programmes.

The whole effort is to show that panchayat heads are not to be treated as `agents' in implementing government schemes, but that their constitutional position as local self-government leaders needs strengthening. What seem to be coming between this ideal and practicalities are the problems which women and Dalit ward members and RLB heads faced in the last five years. At least two Dalit heads were killed and several overt reasons put forth. But clearly, class interests were behind a campaign of violence which led to the murders, note representatives of the women and Dalit panchayat heads.

Putting the present initiative in perspective, Ms. Kalpana Satish says the effort is a campaign to remove the existing weakness in the RLB administration system. ``We want Section 205 of the Panchayats Act (that enabled Collectors to dismiss an elected head for certain reasons) revoked.'' Higher funding through a steep increase in devolved resources is a big challenge the NGO initiative has taken up.

The Gram Sabha should act as local Parliament, to work out development schemes for people's full participation. All local and natural resources should remain under the control of the panchayats and used for local development.

The NGO leaders hope to make Dalit and women's organisations resource units in grass roots democracy and to enhance the skills of elected members in micro-planning, resource mapping and eradicating poverty.

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Referred by:Benjamin P Kaila
Published on:sep 17, 2001
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