|Accountable and Transparent Local Governments : Addressing Violence Against Dalit Women in Haryana, Phases I and II|
Violence Against Women (VAW) is one of the most brutal consequences of the economic, social, political and cultural inequalities that exist between the sexes. In India, every 51 minutes a woman is sexually harassed and every 21 minutes one woman is molested. Eve teasing is something that a woman has to contend with everyday. There are several laws and supporting mechanisms available in India to protect women against violence in the country. The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is the first significant attempt in India to recognize domestic abuse as a punishable offence. But there has still been a steep increase in the incidences of violence against women, particularly against those who belong to the lower strata of society, like Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Dalits.
Dalit women are among the worst sufferers of socio-cultural, political and economic exploitation, injustice, oppression and violence. Studies on violence against Dalit women in India present clear evidence of widespread exploitation and discrimination against these women subordinated in terms of power relations to men in a patriarchal society, as also against their communities based on caste. Rape and sexual abuse of Dalit women by dominant castes and classes is quite common. The everyday discrimination of Dalit women is further marked by mental, emotional and physical violence. Therefore, an understanding of the intersection of gender and caste discrimination incorporated into government policies is vital to ensuring that Dalit women’s right to life and security of life are respected and protected.
A number of measures and initiatives have already been adopted to address this caste- and gender-based discrimination in India. The state and national government departments dealing with development of the SC community also offer a number of schemes and provisions for their upliftment. However, impact of these measures has remained limited to a great extent in terms of reducing the discrimination or atrocities.
Legislation and programmes alone can never bring about social change. For this, it is important that the institutions representing society and those that provide contemporary leadership, namely, locally elected bodies become active in combating VAW. Panchayats and municipalities are the nearest government for the people. The 11th and 12th schedule of the Constitution (73rd and 74th CAA) lists out 29 and 18 matters respectively for which panchayats and municipalities are empowered to function as units of self-government. Women and child development and violence against women and children are one of the 29 areas for which a panchayat is responsible. Similarly, under the 12th schedule, municipalities are responsible for social development in their areas.
Past experience suggests that not enough has been done to engage local governments on social issues like violence. Village panchayats regard violence against women, particularly domestic violence, as customary and an issue that is the private matter of a family. It is important that panchayats and municipalities fulfill their constitutional obligation and begin to recognize violence as a concern for them to address which is an obstruction not just to women’s development but overall social development.
It is in this context that PRIA began a project to work with panchayats and municipalities in Haryana so that they can function as true units of self-development to help them achieve the goals of social justice and equity for women and the millennium development goal of gender equality and empowerment.
This initiative aims to engage local governments at all levels to become effective in addressing the issues of violence against women, particulary Dalit women in their respective areas. Efforts have also been made to bring together all actors (civil society organizations, media, academics and the administration) to collectively voice the issues of violence against women at different levels. Supportive mechanisms at the grassroots level are being created for effective implementation of laws and mechanisms for the protection of women, particularly Dalit women, against violence.
Phase 1: Dalit Women and Social Justice Committees of Panchayats and Municipalities.
Phase 2: Relief to the poor.
Phase 1: Outreach would be in 20 Gram Panchayats from Sonepat and Gannaur blocks and 2 wards from Sonepat and Gannaur urban local bodies.
Phase 2: Dalit population, especially Dalit women, adolescent girls and youth from 20 villages and two wards of Sonepat and Gannaur districts.
Read a report of Phase 1 of the project: “Addressing Violence Against Dalit Women : Field Insights from Haryana”
Manoj Rai, Director