Assam: Brief Profile

State Boundaries:

East : Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur

West : West Bengal and Meghalaya

North : Arunachal Pradesh

South : Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura

International Boundary:

North : Bhutan

West : Bangladesh

Demographic Indicators:

Population (2001): 26,655,528

Literacy rate: 64.28% (2001 census)

Sex Ratio: 1000: 965

Health Indicators:

The Total Fertility Rate of the State is 2.6. The Infant Mortality Rate is 64 and Maternal Mortality Ratio is 480 (SRS 2004 – 2006) which are higher than the National average. The Sex Ratio in the State is 935 (as compared to 933 for the country).

Development of Panchayats in Assam

Assam has a fairly old historical background of local self-governance. Villages in Assam had a strong Panchayat in different names or forms since long past The Assam Local Self – Government Act of 1915 proposed the establishment of the village panchayat for the first time on a formal basis (SIRD, 2004:1), but this provision was not implemented. Instead the Gaonburhas (officials) appointed by the British continued to be the sole village authorities and as such continued to elect their representatives to the District Boards. Thus throughout the British period participation in local self-government in the rural areas of Assam was restricted to the Gaonburhas.

After independence, up till the passing of the Assam Panchayati Raj act 1994, several acts were passed to introduce local self-government and better provisions for administration, reconstruction and development of the villages. Finally with the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 which came into force with effect from 24th April, 1993 Panchayati Raj was established as a mandatory third tier of governance throughout India. Following this the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 was enacted with a three tier system of Gaon Panchayat, Anchalik Panchayat and Zila Parishad (Bhattacharjee and Nayak, 2001).

Women in PRI in Assam

Women form about 38% of the total representatives at the Gram Panchayat level in the state. The participation of women at the gram Panchayat level compares well with the higher levels- There are no women members of the Lok Sabha and the proportion of women in the Vidhan Sabha is only 10.3 %. In all the tribal autonomous district councils both in the plains and the hills where there are no reservations for women their representation is less than ten per cent. However, states such as Bihar, MP with a lower gender index have greater representation of women in Panchayats

The two significant factors that are responsible for comparatively lower participation of women in Panchayats

Lack of state support:

Reservation: Several states such as Bihar, MP and Uttarakhand have taken the lead in providing 50% reservation for women in Panchayats. Compared to such states, women’s participation in Assam is low at about 38%.

Non implementation of programs

The pressure created over the years by grassroots movements for democratic decentralization and the women’s movement and the work of various NGOs, especially that done by THP in association with its partners, has led to the central and state governments throughout India adopting much of the rhetoric of democratic decentralization and women’s empowerment generated by these movements and organizations. As stated in the Devolution Document of the Government of Assam published in September 2006 (http://pnrdassam.nic.in/DEVOLUTION.htm), Mahila Shakti Abhiyan of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj should be implemented in full, the main provisions of which are

– Promotion of Panchayat Mahila Shakti Abhiyan in association with NGOs

– Conference of EWRs, drafting a charter of demands

– Discussion on charter of demands and meetings with EWRs at gram panchayat and anchalik level

– Conclave to adopt charter of demands

– Discussion of charter at the national level and adoption of a common charter for presentation to the Government the date for this would be in June 2007

– The EWRs at the above levels will meet regularly thereafter to implement the Charter and to pursue their common objectives.

– As is well known, government programmes, plagued as they are by a top down approach, go only so far as to put the emancipatory and empowering rhetoric on paper without fostering any genuine grassroots mobilization for the implementation of these provisions.

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