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Local Governance and Political Rights

Navsarjan provides training to help Dalit members of the "Gram Panchayat" village system fight discrimination in their villages.

Though the Panchayati Raj Act of 1993 officially reserves seats within the Panchayat village government for Dalits and women, in practice the power often remains in the hands of the dominant castes.  Dalit or women “dummy candidates” are often fielded by the dominant castes to prevent candidates from taking office who would actually stand up to unequal power structures and work for the betterment of their communities.  There are many cases of a Dalit or woman Sarpanch (chief of Panchayat) never stepping foot in the Panchayat office, and being called only to sign or thumbprint documents the individual cannot even read. 

 

Untouchability practices as well are common within the Panchayat office, as many Dalit Panchayat members and Sarpanches are unaware of relevant laws designed to protect them.  The same power hierarchy that exists outside the Panchayat in the rest of the village is replicated, and a Dalit, Sarpanch or not, is told to drink from a separate cup and sit on the floor while the rest of the Panchayat members sit on chairs.

 

Navsarjan’s Local Governance and Political Rights campaign aims to empower Dalit and women Panchayat members and Sarpanches by educating them on relevant laws, their legal rights, and the necessity of standing up to represent their issues within the Panchayat.  If the individual’s legal rights are being violated within the Panchayat, Navsarjan will provide legal advice.  The goal of these activities is to make lasting changes in village power structures according to the purpose of the Panchayati Raj Act.