Kargil, Mar 20: “I knew I will not win for I was a woman contesting against a male Ullema (Religious Leader)” says Zahra Bano, the first ever female candidate, who despite being conscious of the chauvinist approach of the society she is a part of, contested for the Kargil council elections in 2007.
Governed by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil District, 204 kilometres from Srinagar has come a long way since the 1999 catastrophe.
With the formation of the LAHDC, and renewal of Panchayat systems, Kargil has taken its first step towards development. Socio-economic and political betterment gained major currency amongst decision makers. Education was rigorously worked upon.
A number of schools proliferated from a few handful of government schools into a total of 385 primary, middle and higher secondary schools.
Having evolved from an orthodox “no education for girls” to an immensely desirable “education for all” society, this town had women coming out of the protective walls of their houses into all kinds of jobs.
However, despite such considerable progress in achieving this feminist utopia, women were and surprisingly continue to remain missing from one of the most crucial bodies of the town leading to an inevitable waning of the utopian ideal.
The decision making bodies of Kargil, with its upsetting female-male ratio, have women still struggling up the hierarchal ladder.
India has adopted bold affirmative action in seeking one-third reservation for women in all institutions of local governance through the 73rd Amendment Act 1992. The primary objective of this initiative is to encourage and enhance the participation of women in decision making bodies.
While many states assimilated their womenfolk in the political arena, Kargil has succeeded in acknowledging and manifesting it only superficially.
Despite being granted 33 percent reservation at the Panchayat level various block Panchayats in Kargil continue to remain an all-male zone.
While the Panchayat bodies by granting reservations for women, are making efforts to dissolve their boundaries, making way for them, the LAHDC has so far afforded only nominated positions for women. Out of a total of 30 seats, the council offers four nominated ones, with two seats each for minorities and women.
Kargil being a Muslim dominated district, is a stronghold of two major religious institutions IKMT (Imam Khomeini r.a Memorial Trust Kargil) and the ISK (Islamia School Kargil). These religious institutes play a dominant role in shaping society’s outlook. These religious institutions play patronages to the Council as well, resulting in most decisions being taken under their supervision, catering to their demands.
The nominated seats are recommended and allotted by the council members and is sadly through sheer nepotism, rendering the whole nomination initiative redundant. These male leaders, in order to avoid dilution of their autonomy, prefer women who are happy to follow rules prescribed by their male counterparts and their respective religious patrons, maintaining the status quo.
The rapport shared by the council members and Aghas/Sheikhs (Shia religious leaders), gives no space for the subaltern’s saga. Interventions by conservative religious leaders lead to imposition and further perpetuation of old age, conservative religious and cultural obligations on women.
Even more disturbing is the fact that this ideological abduction tiptoes over the young minds too. So much so that Student Unions founded for the sheer benefit and assistance of students studying outside Kargil in cities like Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar, by “well educated” students, seem to base all their decisions on the Trust/School dichotomy.
The ratio of male/female members in the union is upsetting with girls participating as mere decorative pieces only during annual ceremonies. Only recently, an initiative for appointing a girl representative was turned down thoughtlessly by male members in the students’ union, Delhi, and naturally girls continue to stay under-represented in the union.
Given the baggage of old conventions and political parties subscribed to ideologies of their respective religious groups; raising social and economic status of women seems unlikely to be addressed any sooner by these male leaders. Assigning their nominated female candidates with mere soft portfolios with not much say in the fund distribution and major policy/scheme framing the council gives ample reasons to worry about women development of the town.
Furthermore, with a sexually polarised audience, a woman with no reservation stands far from being accepted as an efficient candidate as opposed to the “khyoghabutsas (efficient males)” of Kargil.
While Fida Hussain, Deputy Commissioner of the District, blames the lack of a sense of collective identity amongst the womenfolk for the low level of participation, Zahra Bano asserts social disapproval and unawareness as major impediments.
Fiza Bano, a resident of Akchamal village, refused to be a part of her village Panchayat for fear of society harassing her with their “moral” harangues.
“Young boys used to pass lewd comments when they saw me around while the grown-ups denounced me for having stood against an Aghaa” laments Zahra.
Unfettered by these criticisms, she contested only to pave way for her fellow females, to motivate them to participate and to help them cultivate a sense of affective/collective identity amongst these women.
The LAHDC is assigned tasks like formulation of development programme for the district in respect of district component schemes, as notified by the government and centrally sponsored schemes, periodical review of the progress of developmental plans and schemes, implementation of schemes at the grassroot levels, employment generation, constitution of notified area committees, education, funding of small scale cottage industries, vocational trainings, maintaining public health and sanitation to name a few.
And, to make sure these issues are well looked after, each councillor is granted funds worth Rs. 18 lakhs. However, despite having ample funds under various schemes, women often do not receive their share.
“We are made to run from one office to the other with no positive response to sanction fund for our centres” says Zahra who also runs a women welfare committee.
Exhausted over the unresponsive nature of their male leaders, women in Kargil have resorted to a “women for women” jingle. A place like Kargil where people are hesitant to let go their male/female essentialist assumptions, gender inclusion through reservation and its effective implementation emerge as the sole saviour.
Political participation of women at all levels needs to be ensured in order to integrate women development into the mainstream development discourse and to generate an alternate gender sensitive hegemony. By Gizala Shabnam(ANI)