local administration by women of Jharkhand

The world’s largest democracy consisting of 29 states, 731 districts and 649,481 villages is not just a number but projecting the length and breadth of diversity that it holds in it. Spanning across huge land mass forming different topography is just one aspect of this diversity. The number of traditions, culture, practices that people employ in their daily lives go beyond even a prediction. This diversity along with democratic values is a distinct feature of the Indian homeland. The constitution rests on the principles of justice, equity and liberty. The Preamble of constitution which starts as “We the people” have deeper connotations in regards to the idea of India that it embraces. The democratic institutions are the key role makers towards striving these principles. The institutions are the soul where resides the dreams and aspirations of millions of people to live an equitable, dignified and peaceful life. There are larger hopes imbibed in the functioning of these institutions. A country which is diversified and at the same time stratified in so many ways, accommodating the choices, decisions and participation of different ethnic groups, minorities, cultural groups, traditions is not less than a milestone to be accomplished by the democratic structures. For an idea of a nation which shall fulfill not only the demands of majorityy but should also respect the needs of minorities, these democratic structures will stand as the pivot in between these two. So, strengthening of these democratic structures on both these aspects would be very crucial in the present for a bright future. To have a better understanding of these local institutions is of utmost importance and relevance in our Indian context where the dreams to form village republics are seen with great hopes and aspirations.

India must strengthen local democratic structure to promote inter-connectedness among the varied culture, economic and ethnic groups and also to build share interest on common pool resources like forest, schools, watershed etc. Irrespective of different cultural affinities, dependency on resources and political identity, a local democratic structure provide space for ethical sense of care for people living in an area and also creates environmental consciousness among the people. In western countries local government is only restricted to providing services to its people. Wherein in India, local government not only provides services but also extends economic development and social justice. Therefore, India must strengthen local democratic structures for inclusive development and social justice. Political participation beyond the ballot paper is what actually constitutes a true democracy. The idea of political participation is more of raising collective voices and participation in debate, discussions and deliberations. And this political participation must happen at the local level where democratic structures and processes are available. In order to widen the democracy and social equity, steps should be taken to move from participation at local level to assertion at non local level. Moreover, local democratic structures build a safety net against tyranny i.e. over centralization of political power. In realm of cooperative federalism power structure must be decentralised to the local level wherein people get an opportunity to think, act and behave in a democratic way.

Another aspect is that while embedding development in local democracy, the development actions must improve human conditions both economic and social, provide social equality and also make state locally accountable through gram Sabha’s, social and community audit. The idea of strengthening local democracy is not only about deepening of democracy but also making the development action more democratic. The case of better governance and distribution of water by self-created rules of two Water Users Association on Waghad Canal in Maharashtra project is a typical example that shows the exemplary potential of a dispersed decision-making power to address a local developmental issue. Another example that proves that despite having limited autonomy the local governance system can embark the society towards a new transformation is the efforts from Durgapur Gram Panchayat in Bardhhaman District of West Bengal in controlling Tuberculosis which became successful welfare-development action by a Gram Panchayat.

Local democratic structures are by default site of power play existing social arrangements. There are always cases and remains the possibility of dominance of caste, culture, ethnicity and other such factors that tilt the power structure away from marginalized, minority communities in villages and other local spaces. Their voices go silent, rights restricted and suffer many other discriminations. But at the same time these places serve as a medium of assertion by such communities to restore their legitimate rights and power in the democratic structures. More strong assertions are likely to take place when local structures exhibit more democratic values.

However, shaking of social arrangements make assertion different from participation. Here latter is just a dominant discourse without shaking the political, economic and social arrangement. And without social and political consciousness assertion will not take place. It will only be participation. Now the question is assertion deepening democracy? And only possible answer lies in a fact that assertion deepens democracy only when it is a socio-political process of collective action and mobilization wherein people are conscious enough to know their right to question and This argument can be substantiated by taking the example of MendaLekha village in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. The first village to win community rights over forests under the Schedule Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The Gond tribe which is the local resident in this village asserted their rights over the forest especially the cutting and selling of bamboo under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 as their livelihood depends on the part of the forest which comes under the village area. In this they change the claim that forest department is the custodian of forest and took the control over the manage ment of forest resource in their gram Sabha. Moreover, the claimed individual forest rights which means control over forest resource rather than just land. There are many such cases like Niyamgiri hills case, Pipalantri Gram Swaraj in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan wherein assertion was made by the citizens for their own rights, entitlements, political and social space. Therefore, keeping in mind, the wide diversity of the country and complex local democratic structures India must look into strengthening representative institutions which enable locals a space for collective decision making, platform for free, fair and open deliberative process, accountability and autonomy. This makes democratic institutions to work in a better way in deepening and widening democracy and social equity.

Aman Walia & Taniya Samtani

( Azim Premji University Bengaluru)


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