A Supreme Court
bench has upheld the Haryana Panchayati Raj
(Amendment) Act, 2015. Its pronouncement, seen through the narrow bifocals of judges, might be correct in law, but is morally abhorrent and anti-democratic. The Haryana law seeks to prevent “illiterates“ -defined as anyone who has not cleared Class 10 in the general category , Class 8 for Dalits
and any Dalit woman who has not passed her Class 5 examinations -from contesting elections at the panchayat level. It also says that all candidates for these polls -the lowest of three-tier electoral structure -must have a toilet at home. The Constitution, adopted in 1950, made it amply clear that the political arena was open to all. We adopted universal adult suffrage
, irrespective of caste, religion, gender, wealth and property rights 15 years or more before Britain and US.The Representation of the People Act
, which spells out who can and cannot contest polls for the Parliament
and state assemblies, is quite clear that education, material status or social standing are irreleva nt. In this great democracy , anybody is free to throw her dupatta into any ele ctoral contest, unless she is a convict ed criminal or has violated the poll code in some way . Unfortunately, pan chayat polls are not covered under this, and each state can write its own rules, within limits. Haryana -and Rajasthan
earlier -are using this loophole to limit the entry of India’s
poorest and most disadvantaged groups into the most accessible arena of democratic contest.
If this judgment is not contested and reviewed, it will rule out more than 83% of rural women under 20 years, and 67% of urban women. Around 70% of scheduled caste women and 41% of men will also become ineligible to contest in Haryana. The lack of literacy and proper sanitation is a gigantic failure of the state, no fault of citizens. Nobody wants her kids to be illiterate. Everybody would use toilets if they were available, affordable and designed for rural India. It is tragic that this failure of the state is being used as a blunt instrument to bar its victims from the electoral process.