Shackling the Surge of Women's Power: Gender Based Violence During Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006

Shackling The Surge Of Women's Power:

Gender Based Violence During Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006

1. Introduction

Kajal, the one and a half year old daughter of Uma Devi, had her belly torn open with a knife and then strangled in front of her father Nepali Yadav and her uncles Devi and Raghu. When villagers heard the cries of her father and uncles and came running then the murderous mob of fourteen people ran away with Kajal's brothers - four year old Mukesh and seven year old Vikas, into the fields near the village and strangled them and slit open their stomachs too.

These gruesome murders were committed in the run up to the Panchayat election in 2006 to scare Uma Devi into not contesting the post of Mukhiya from Islampur village in Aliganj block in Jamui district of Bihar. The incumbent Mukhiya and criminal don Krishnanand Yadav along with his brothers Preman and Jairam had been terrorising the villagers at will as they not only bribed the local administration but also had the support of the Rashtriya Janata Dal MLA Shri Prasad Choudhury. When Uma Devi expressed her resolve to contest for the post of Mukhiya once it became reserved for women, Krishnanand first offered her Rs 40,000 not to do so as he wanted his wife to be elected unopposed. Later his associates threatened Nepali twice that if Uma Devi insisted on contesting the election then there would be a massacre of their family. Despite this threat Uma Devi remained in the battle for the Mukhiya's post and even after losing three children she continued her campaign and won the elections (Case number 1 of the studies done by Panchayat Prahari).

This incident vividly paints the stark reality of the violence, of those who are powerful or are criminals, that stalks the common law abiding citizens and especially women who may wish to participate in elections in Bihar. Since fifty percent of the seats were reserved for women in the Bihar Panchayat elections in 2006 these women candidates too became targets of violence. Reports began to come in of widespread violence against women candidates and their relatives and supporters from the day the elections were announced and this prompted the constitution of a citizen's fact finding committee called Panchayat Prahari constituted by social workers and media persons. The immediate objective of this committee was a fire-fighting one of investigating and documenting these cases of gender based violence during the elections. The reports were used for lobbying with the State Election Commission, the government and the administration and the State and National Human Rights and Women's Commissions for remedial action to secure the rights of the victimised women. The more long term goal was the compilation of all these reports and their deeper analysis so as to unravel the causes of this violence. Such an analysis it was hoped would bolster the efforts to initiate remedial policy measures that would ensure the unhindered political participation of women. The present report attempts such an in depth analysis based on the fact finding reports prepared at the time of elections, their immediate impact and a study of other secondary sources related to elections and violence in Bihar.

A total of forty one cases of gender based electoral violence were made note of by Panchayat Prahari. Twenty three of these cases were investigated. Detailed case studies based on twenty of the more important cases have been prepared and are appended along with this report. The data relating to type of violence, region, party affiliation of candidates and assailants, criminality of candidates and assailants, the caste of the candidates and assailants, the action taken by the administration and the details of the sections of the Indian Penal Code and other statutes under which cases have been registered have first been statistically analysed. The patterns and relationships in the violence that has been perpetrated have been discerned through this analysis. These results have then been correlated with the case studies themselves and the results of secondary research to arrive at an overall understanding of the prevalence of gender based violence during the Bihar Panchayat elections of 2006. Finally recommendations have been made on the basis of this analysis for bringing about an improvement in the control of gender based violence in the state in future.

2. Genesis of Political Violence in Bihar

Political violence in Bihar has a long history. Bihar was the bastion of the British zamindari system wherein upper caste agents were given the title to most of the agricultural land and had to pay the land tax on it to the British. In return the British looked the other way when these zamindars used violence or its threat to extract huge surpluses from their tenants who were from the backward castes and the agricultural labourers who were from the dalit castes (Kumar, 2003). After independence the zamindari system was formally abolished and a liberal democratic system of governance by a legislature and executive elected through universal adult franchise was put in place. Theoretically in modern liberal democracy the option to use force and violence is restricted to the state and strictly controlled by laws to prevent their arbitrary use by both the rulers and the ruled. However, in reality this ideal situation rarely exists and in Bihar especially the tremendous control that the upper castes exercised over the populace meant that from the beginning violence has been an integral part of the electoral process and has been regularly used to prevent the Dalits and marginalised sections from exercising their franchise (Sharma, 2001). Polling booth capturing and the stuffing of ballot boxes with ballot papers falsely stamped in the name of the candidate doing the booth capturing became a common practice in elections.

From the late nineteen sixties onwards two new phenomena began surfacing in this scenario. The backward caste peasants who became land owners as a consequence of the abolition of zamindari built up their own power base in the two decades after independence and began to challenge the upper castes on the one hand and oppress the Dalit labourers on the other. The Dalits were simultaneously organised by the ultra left parties gaining inspiration from the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal to demand payment of minimum wages and an end to untouchability which still held sway in Bihar. Both these developments led to increased violence which spread from elections to everyday life and a culture of massacres and counter massacres between the upper caste and backward caste armies and the dalits organised under the banner of ultra left groups prevailed (Bhatia, 2005b).

The failure of the Bhoodan Andolan of the nineteen fifties and sixties to apportion the land surrendered by the upper caste landlords to the landless dalits and also the later hijacking of the Sampoorna Kranti Andolan led by Jayaprakash Narayan by the backward castes disillusioned the dalits and the extreme backward castes so much that they readily adopted the violent politics of the ultra left groups. The internecine and essentially political violence that this gave rise to weakened the authority of the state to such an extent that many criminal gangs proliferated giving rise to a situation of utter lawlessness not only in the countryside but even in the major towns and cities and so it became difficult to differentiate between criminals and politicians. This was the prevailing situation in which the Panchayat elections were held in 2006.

In recent times the Election Commissions both at the national and the state level have set a trend of trying to ensure violence free elections in Bihar regardless of the extent of duplicity and incompetence of the administration and the government. Thus the strong steps taken by the State Election Commission of Bihar to curb violence by holding the elections in ten phases so as to be able to deploy adequate security personnel did have an impact and except for the first phase, the polls were fairly peaceful and fair. Nevertheless some violence did take place and as we shall see from comparison of the data of overall violence with that involving women only collated by Panchayat Prahari, the violence was considerably more in those seats in which women were candidates. Thus before going into the detailed analysis of the Panchayat Prahari reports our understanding will be enhanced by a study of the causes of gender based violence in society that get reflected in election violence also.

3. Contours of Gender Based Violence

Violence against women is an ancient and universal problem occurring in every culture and social group. It originally began with property accumulation and inheritance which necessitated the strict delineation of the line of descent through male descendants and so led to control of female sexuality and the gender division of labour with men doing external work and women restricted to do home and care work. This gave rise to the institution of patriarchy or men's control of women's work and sexuality through the threat of violence (Lerner, 1986). Ever since then inequalities in status between women and men and a masculine culture of competition for resource and power accumulation are the major sources of this violence.

A major legal support for the elimination of this violence was provided by The United Nations General Assembly adopting the Declaration of Elimination of Violence Against Women in December 1993 (United Nations, 1994). Article I of that declaration stated that violence against women means - any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

By referring to violence as "gender-based", this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women's and girl's subordinate status in society. Many cultures have beliefs, norms and social institutions that legitimise and therefore perpetuate violence against women. Such violence cannot be understood, therefore, in isolation from the norms and social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence women's vulnerability to violence. Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic. Such violence does not only occur in the family and in the community but is also perpetuated by the State through its policies and the actions of the agents of the State like the police and the administrators.

Moreover, instead of just focusing on each case of violence or on individual men’s acts of violence against women, the entire culture that creates current male roles and identities – defined as ‘masculinity’ has to be understood. Masculinity – or masculinities, as there are different forms of masculinity that are manifest in various ways – is a complex phenomenon. Masculinity is often associated with characteristics such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, dominance, strength, courage and control. These characteristics result from a combination of biological, cultural and social influences, and constitute power relations in society as a whole. Thus men are also victims of masculinity even though women are more so (UNIFEM, 2006). Consequently it is necessary to critique the quest for power in governance as opposed to the provision of good governance if violence is to be rooted out in general and gender based violence is to be targeted in particular.

4. Gender Situation in Bihar

The status of women in Bihar is particularly low because of a lethal combination of feudal, caste and patriarchal oppression. The Dalit women especially bore the brunt of the combined effects of these three kinds of oppression and they had it hard put to secure their "izzat" or honour. Indeed a major theme of the battles fought by the ultra left parties in Central Bihar that got them tremendous support from Dalit women was the assertion of their gender rights which had been flouted at will by the upper castes for centuries (Bhatia, 2005a). Sexual harassment with frequent abductions and rape of Dalit women was a common phenomenon and most of it went unreported due to the power of the upper caste offenders. Apart from this there is a tremendous amount of domestic violence and seclusion of women within the home. Though matters have improved slightly with time the situation is still biased heavily against women. Table 1 below gives some of the current gender statistics for Bihar and they amply prove that the status of women is still very inferior to that of men. A majority of women get married below the age of 18 and 25% of them get pregnant. The total fertility rate which is a crucial indicator of the prevalence of male preference arising from patriarchy is as high as 4. Similarly another indicator of patriarchal oppression the maternal mortality rate too is unacceptably high at 451 per 100000 live births. The body mass index of 43 % of the women is below normal and a shocking 68.3 % are anaemic. Literacy is very low at 33.1 % and 59% report having suffered from domestic violence. The crimes reported against women are also quite high in number. Their representation in legislative bodies is very low and their participation in the work force is only 21%. Thus in all the major spheres of health, education, political empowerment and work participation the women of Bihar are faring extremely badly. This marginalisation of women has manifested itself in the elections in the form of gender based violence.

    Table 1. Bihar Gender Statistics
    Female Male
    Women aged 20 -24 married by 18 years  (2005) (%) 60.3
    Women aged 15 – 19  who were Pregnant (2005) (%) 25
    Body Mass Index less than normal (2005)  (%) 43 28.7
    Anaemic Adults (2005) (%) 68.3 32.6
    Life Expectancy at birth (2005) (years) 33.6 60.3
    Literates  (% of Total Population in category) (2001) 33.1 59.7
    Sex Ratio 921 1000
    0-6 yrs Sex Ratio 938 1000
    Maternal Mortality Rate (2005) (per 100000 births) 451
    Women with say in H.hold Decision Making (2005) (%) 46.3
    Women who have suffered domestic violence (2005) (%) 59.0
    Total Fertility Rate (2005) 4.0
    Number of Rape Cases (2005) & (% of All India Number) 1147 (6.2)
    Number of Kidnapping Cases (2005) 929 (5.9)
    Number of Dowry Death Cases (2005) 1014 (14.9)
    Number of Cruelty Cases by Relatives (2005) 1574 (2.7)
    Members of Vidhan Sabha (%) 12.3 87.7
    Members of Lok Sabha  (%) 7.5 92.5
    Exposure to Media (2005)  (%) 41 71
    Working Population (2001) (%) 21.0 47.4

Sources: National Family Health Survey III 2005, Census of India 2001, National Crime Records Bureau 2005.

5. Analysis of Violence Data

The data on the perpetrated violence has been analysed in detail. Forty one cases of violence involving women candidates for various posts in the Bihar Panchayat elections of 2006 were noted but field investigations could be carried out only in twenty three of these cases. Consequently the data regarding the characteristics of the candidates and their assailants and the kind of crime that took place is not available for all the cases. So while presenting the results the total number of cases for a particular characteristic is mentioned and the percentages of the various categories of this characteristic are given. The insights thus gained have been substantiated with examples from the narrative case studies and secondary research to arrive at an understanding of the nature of this violence.

5.1 Caste Characteristics

The caste of the victims could be ascertained in only thirty of the cases and that of the assailants in twenty six as shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2 : Caste of Candidates and Assailants

Caste Category Number of Victims Number of Assailants
Extreme Backward Caste (EBC) 1 0
Muslim 6 6
Other Backward Caste (OBC) 7 6
Scheduled Caste (SC) 4 2
Upper Caste (UC) 12 12
Total 30 26

Fig. 1 : Distribution of Victims and Assailants Across Castes as % age of total

Fig. 1 shows that the Upper Castes dominate in violence with 45% of the assailants and 40% of the victims which is disproportionately high as compared to their proportion in the population as a whole. The Extreme Backward Castes are the least violent with less than 5% of the cases for both victims and assailants. The Muslims and Other backward classes seem to be almost equally violent but to a much lesser degree than the upper castes being in the 20 -25 % range. The Scheduled Castes have more of the victims of violence than assailants but are half as much as the OBCs. Twenty two of the twenty six cases in which the castes of both the victims and assailants were known were intra-caste cases. This means that an overwhelming 85 % of the cases are intra-caste ones. One notable exception is that of the murder of Janki Devi a Mukhiya candidate of the Extreme Backward Caste by Muslims in Purnea district but in this case the political rivalry was actually between the assailants and the Muslim supporters of Janki Devi who had put her up as a candidate and so this too can qualify for being basically an intra-caste dispute (Case number 14). Another serious case of inter caste violence was that of the daring murder of Sudhir and Pappu Yadav the husband and relative of Radha Devi a candidate for the post of Zila Parishad in Patna district by a criminal gang of Dalits. Thus it appears as if the elaborate caste wise reservation of seats has succeeded in rooting out inter caste violence and especially electoral violence against the scheduled caste candidates by the upper and other backward classes.

5.2 Geographical Distribution of Violence

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Fig. 2 : The distribution of gender based election violence cases across districts.

The map above and Table 3 show that out of a total of forty one cases as many as fifteen or 37% are concentrated in the notoriously violent South-Central Bihar region consisting of the districts of Bhojpur, Patna, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Gaya and Nalanda. Interestingly among these Jehanabad which has a strong ultra left presence and has witnessed many massacres in the past does not have even one case. Patna the capital district has the highest number of five cases. Another area where gender based election violence has been high is the South-East Bihar region consisting of the districts of Begusarai, Jamui, Munger, Banka, Bhagalpur and Khararia from where eleven cases or 27 % have been reported and Munger has the highest number of four cases. The North-Central Bihar region consisting of the districts of Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur, Darbhanga and Saharsa come next with seven cases or 17%. The North-West region consisting of the districts of West and East Champaran, Gopalganj and Sitamarhi have five cases or 12% and the North-East region consisting of Kishanganj, Purnia, Katihar, Araria and Supaul have just three cases or 7% while the South-West region constituted by the districts of Bhabua, Buxar and Rohtas have no cases whatsoever. Out of a total of 37 districts in Bihar 18 or roughly fifty percent have reported some cases of gender based election violence.

5.3 Type of Violence

The distribution of the type of violence perpetrated is given in Table 4 and it shows that murders predominate with 36.6% of the total followed by threats to kill and beatings with 22% each. The two cases of suicide by women candidates could not be investigated and so there are no details regarding these. The one case of attempted rape is the one in which Poonam Devi the sister-in-law of the Mukhiya candidate Abha Devi from Vaishali district was beaten up and stripped by their opponents (Case number 18). However, in the FIR that was filed in this case, attempted rape was not mentioned and neither was a medical examination carried out.

5.4 Sections Under which Cases have been Registered

In only twenty of the forty one cases were First Information Reports (FIR) filed in Police Stations. The distribution of the various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act mentioned in the FIRs that were lodged has been given in Table 5. As is to be expected section 302 of IPC relating to the crime of murder has the highest number of occurrences. This is still one less than the total number of murders noted earlier because in one case the mysterious murder of the child of the candidate was not reported as such in the Police Station and so no FIR was filed. This is followed by section 34 which relates to the common intention between a group of people to to a criminal act. Even though nine people complained of criminal intimidation only four cases were lodged under section 504 which relates to this offence. There are four cases in which section 341 relating to wrongful confinement have been applied. There are three cases each of sections 323 and 324 relating to causing of physical hurt with and without weapons and three cases of section 379 relating to theft. Similarly there are three cases each with sections 147 and 148 relating to rioting and violence by a group of people. Thus there are no instances of sexual assault recorded. However, there were reports later in the press in August 2006 of seven Dalit women from Saharsa district alleging that they had been raped in June for refusing to vote for an upper caste woman candidate and the police had refused to take cognisance of their complaint. There are eight cases with section 27 of the Arms Act which relates to the illegal use of fire-arms and one with section 24 which relates to the seizure of a licensed fire arm by the police. Apart from these there are some other sections relating to minor crimes.

5.5 Preponderance of Gender Based Violence

It is interesting to note that according to the statistics made available by the office of the Director General of Police overall in the Bihar Panchayat elections of 2006 there were 18 instances of murders recorded by the police and of these 14 were in constituencies in which women were the candidates. Even though as we shall see later most of the victims of this violence were the male relatives or associates of the women candidates nevertheless this does seem to indicate an undercurrent of resentment among men. Clearly participation by women beyond the reproductive sphere taking advantage of reservation has seriously challenged the male bastion of political power and resource control and brought about a violent backlash. Two cases in which women were specifically harassed for having dared to challenge male supremacy deserve special mention. Rinku Devi a Dalit from Muzaffarpur district had stood for the post of Ward Panch from a seat that was reserved for Dalits but not for women. She did so because the members of the Self Help Group of which she was a member urged her to do so as she was a literate woman. However, this did not go down well with the male elders of her community and another male candidate Vinod Paswan stood against her and began threatening her to withdraw her candidature as elections and politics was a preserve of men. Eventually she was beaten up badly by Vinod and his associates who kicked her on her stomach saying that since she was pregnant this would ensure the death of her child and herself (Case no 15). The other case is of Nisha Devi who too dared to contest the post of Mukhiya from Vaishali district from a seat that was not reserved for women. Her opponents first threatened her and then on one night shot at and injured her with a gun (Case no. 3).

5.6 Other Causes of Violence

The causes of violence could be ascertained in forty cases and they have been detailed in Table 6. Political rivalry with opponents centred on winning the elections was the major cause of violence constituting 72.5% of the cases. This was followed by family rivalry which fed into political rivalry in four cases. There were two cases where the members of the bureaucracy behaved badly with the candidates when they went to complain regarding the violence perpetrated on them by political rivals. Of the two women reported to have committed suicides one was allegedly murdered by her in-laws because of her having brought less dowry and in the other the husband was jealous of the woman going out to campaign with her youthful supporters and this prompted her to take her own life. Most of the violence, in thirty eight cases, was perpetrated in the pre-poll phase and only three on polling day. There were no instances of booth capturing because of the heavy presence of security personnel even though they could not prevent the death of Noor Alam the son of Asgari Khatun the candidate for Panchayat Samiti member from Saharsa district in group clashes in front of the polling booth (Case number 13).

5.7 Victims of Violence

Next coming to who the victims were in the various types of violence perpetrated the distribution of the more serious offences spread over the victims of these offences is given in Fig. 3 below.

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Fig. 3: Cases of Violence Distributed Across Victims

The cases of murder shown by the red bars clearly show that it is the relatives of the women candidates who have suffered most five of them having died. This is followed by the husbands of the candidates four of whom have died. Next come the adult sons as three have died. In two cases including the gruesome one of Uma Devi described at the outset minor children have been killed and in only one case has a woman candidate herself, Janki Devi mentioned earlier, been killed. There has been only one case of attempt to murder shown by the orange bar and that is the one of Nisha Devi described a little earlier. There were eight cases of criminal intimidation shown by the violet bars against the women candidates themselves and one against the husband of a candidate. Six of the women candidates received physical beatings shown by the pink bars while two husbands and one son of women candidates also did so. There were two cases of attempted kidnapping of women candidates shown by the blue bar and two cases of suicide by women candidates shown by the dark green bar. Overall the women candidates were the victims in roughly fifty percent of the cases but the murder victims were people other than the candidates themselves.

Out of the twenty three cases that were investigated in the field in as many as eighteen, the women candidates had contested just because the seats had become reserved for women and their men folk had pushed them into the electoral battlefield. In three of these the women had been put up by their husbands who were ex-Mukhiyas from the 2001 election and wanted to continue their reign through their women. There were three cases in which the women had previous political experience as elected representatives and so they wanted to continue in the political arena. These women were Nilam Devi (Case number10), Mamta Devi (Case number 8) and Rinku Devi (Case number 11) and of these Nilam and Mamta were able to win again in 2006. Two other women Abha Devi (Case number 18) and Rinku Devi (Case number 15) decided to contest on their own after gaining support from family members and friends. Thus it is not surprising that the violence had been directed in many cases not at the women themselves but at their sponsoring male relatives. This is especially so in the cases of murder in which only one victim is a woman.

5.8 Post wise distribution of Violence

The distribution of type of violence across posts contested is given in Table 7 below -

Table 7 : Distribution of Type of Violence across Posts Contested

Post Murder Attempt to Murder Threat to Kill Beating False Cases Attempt to Kidnap Suicide Bomb explosion Total
Mukhiya 11 1 5 6 1 1 1 1 27
P.S. Mem. 2 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 8
Sarpanch 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2
Ward Mem. 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 3
Z.P. Mem. 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1

The maximum number of twenty seven victims of violence were contestants for the post of Mukhiya, followed by eight for the post of Panchayat Samiti Member, three for Ward Member, two for Sarpanch and one for Zila Parishad Member. Since there is not much at stake in a Ward member's election it is not surprising that there were not many victims from this category. The Mukhiya's post is very crucial and so the greatest amount of violence had taken place against the contestants for this post. However, since there were a total of 3784 seats of Mukhiya reserved for women the proportion of violence comes to only 0.7 percent which is not alarming. While the proportion of heinous violence like murder and attempt to murder is even less at 0.3 percent. This confirms that the State Election Commission did a commendable job in controlling electoral violence.

6. Influence of Political Parties and Criminals

The affiliation with political parties could be ascertained only in the twenty three cases that were investigated. Seventeen of the victims were unaffiliated to any political party and only six had party affiliations as is clear from Table 8. However among the assailants with party affiliation it was almost the opposite with the number of those with such affiliation being sixteen. Eight of the assailants were from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and five from the ultra left consisting of the CPI(ML) and the MCC together. Similarly the previous criminal records too could be verified only in the twenty three cases that were investigated and the data are shown in Table 9.

Here again while only six of the victims had any previous criminal records as many as eighteen among the assailants had past criminal records. It is interesting to note that while only two of the six victims with previous criminal records were affiliated to political parties in the case of assailants as many as thirteen of the eighteen with past criminal records were affilitated with political parties with the Rashtriya Janata Dal having the largest number of eight with past criminal records followed by the ultra left with four as shown in Fig. 4 below where the victims have been shown in green colour and the assailants in red.

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Fig. 4 : Victims and Assailants with both Party Affiliation and Criminal Record

What is even more of a concern from the point of view of democratic practice is that political party affiliation and a past criminal record of the assailants have resulted in the police not taking appropriate action against them. Sirja Devi a candidate for Mukhiya from East Champaran district had lost her husband earlier to the politician criminal nexus and she lost her son in the 2006 elections(Case number 5). The police not only did not arrest the murderers who were well connected politically but also did nothing to provide protection against further threats being given to her. The assailants in this case had the protection of a Member of Parliament who was involved in smuggling and currency counterfeiting and had tremendous influence over the administration. Similarly Kunti Devi another candidate for Mukhiya from East Champaran district lost her husband in a daring murder and once again the assailants were not arrested because of their association with a powerful political leader (Case number 4). Munna Thakur the assailant of Abha Devi the Mukhiya candidate from Vaishali district was so powerful that from Muzaffarpur he ordered the police to find out who had come when the Panchayat Prahari team reached his home (Case number 18).

The ultra left parties too have not fostered a healthy democratic environment. The MCC has clearly been against the election process and instituted a number of raids as on Nilam Devi the Mukhiya candidate from Gaya district (Case number 10). The CPI(ML) which does participate in elections too has become embroiled in corruption as evidenced by its persecution of Rinku Devi a Dalit political activist from Bhojpur district. In the 2001 Panchayat elections she had been elected as a Panchayat Samiti member with the support of the CPI(ML) but when she began opposing the corrupt practices of the other members and the bureaucrats she was subjected to violence and ultimately had to resign (Case number 11). She had stood for the post of Mukhiya in the 2006 Panchayat elections and had to face persecution by the police and criminals at the behest of her erstwhile party members.

The foregoing analysis supplemented by the facts from the case studies amply proves that the politician-criminal nexus has been a major factor in the proliferation of electoral violence and the subsequent inaction on the part of the police and the administration thus affecting the normal conduct of elections in the constituencies which were studied.

7. Inaction of the Police

The police have been most negligent in preventing violence. In as many as thirteen of the twenty three cases that were investigated the police had prior intimation that violence might occur as the victims had lodged complaints or there was a known history of violent rivalry but no preventive action was taken by the Police. Even after the actions of violence did take place and complaints were filed in many cases FIRs had not been lodged and then arrests had not been made. When Abha Devi the Mukhiya candidate from Vaishali district and her sister-in-law Poonam went to the Police Station Officer Vinod Peter to lodge their complaint he refused to do so and they had to go to Hajipur to file their complaint. When the Superintendent of Police in Hajipur phoned the officer to enquire about the incident he blithely told him that it was a small tiff between women when in actual fact Poonam had been severely beaten and stripped by men. (Case number 18). Similarly despite several complaints by Sitasati Devi the Mukhiya candidate from Patna district the Police Station Officer not only did not lodge an FIR he also cracked derogatory jokes about her husband who is an ex-Mukhiya and respected social worker (Case number 17). Even in the case reported in the press of the rape of Dalit women from Lakhisarai district by upper castes because they refused to vote for the upper caste Mukhiya candidate the police refused to lodge an FIR and the women finally had to approach the State Women's Commission. This is in clear violation of the directions of the Supreme Court of India given in a case that it has kept pending since 1986 so as to monitor the actions of the police, that whenever a complainant makes a complaint of a cognisable offence an FIR should be lodged (Writ Petition Criminal No. 539 of 1986, D.K. Basu versus State of West Bengal and Others in the Supreme Court of India).

While the police on the one hand did not file cases when they should have they also on the other hand filed false cases against those people who dared to oppose their waywardness. The ex-Mukhiya from Jave Panchayat in Purnea district Alimuddin and the husband of the Mukhiya candidate Aklima Khatun had the misfortune of a case of attempt to murder being lodged against him while he was in jail on another false charge (Case number 9). Alimuddin was a tireless campaigner against police high handedness and this had earned him their wrath. Consequently they teamed up with a criminal rival of Alimuddin to implicate him in false cases and frequently incarcerate him. It is another matter that Alimuddin being an obstinate fighter pursued justice with the higher authorities and got his tormentor police officer suspended later on. Similarly Rinku Devi the candidate for Mukhiya from Bhojpur district too had fallen foul of the police for having prevented them from taking bribes and so they refused to lodge an FIR when her husband was beaten up by a bootlegger. When she protested the police beat up her husband also (Case number 11). She had to file a private case in the magistrate's court against her assailant.

In some cases the nexus between the police and the criminals has proved fatal as in the case of Kunti Devi mentioned earlier where her husband was murdered (Case number 4). Here too the pressure put by Kunti Devi's supporters who are from the JD(U) resulted in the suspension of the Police Station Officer for dereliction of duty. Such is the incompetence or criminal and political nexus of the local police that even in serious cases like murder despite the supervision visits of the Deputy Superintendents of Police and their subsequent reports ordering the prompt arrests of the accused no arrests have been made. Another major failure of the police is in not controlling the proliferation of illegal fire-arms in the whole of Bihar. This is illustrated by the fact that in as many as eight of the seventeen cases in which FIRs have been filed illegal fire-arms were used. Noor Alam the son of Asgari Khatun the Panchayat Samiti candidate from Saharsa was shot by an illegal fire-arm in a group clash on polling day in front of the polling booth (Case number 13).

When the data on the action taken by the police on the complaint of the victims is studied in the twenty three cases that were investigated once again the negative influence of affiliation to political parties and past criminal records that was discussed earlier becomes evident as shown in Table 10 below. The columns shaded yellow show the percentage share of the political party affiliated and previously criminally recorded assailants in the whole of the investigated cases.

Table 10: Action Taken by Police Against Assailants

Action Taken

All Cases Assailant with Political Party Affiliation Assailant with Criminal Record
Number %age of All Number %age of All
No FIR Lodged 6 6 100 5 83
No Arrests 11 8 73 9 82
Some Arrests 6 2 33 4 67
Total 23 16 70 18 78

Strikingly in none of the cases have all the accused been arrested. FIRs have not been lodged in six of the cases and in all of them the accused assailants had party affiliation while in five of them the accused assailants had a past criminal record. In eleven cases no arrests at all have been made and in eight of these the assailants had party affiliation while nine of them had a past criminal record.

On the lighter side the Officer of the Imamganj Police Station in Gaya had some pits dug purportedly to show that dyanmite had been planted and then removed by ultra-leftist extremists in Nilam Devi the Mukhiya candidate's house when they raided it to terrorise her. The statements of Nilam Devi and the Officer do not match in this regard. Thus to earn encomiums for having warded off the extremists this Officer went to the extent of concocting false evidence of dynamites having been laid and removed (Case number 10).

This brings up the thorny issue of the poor quality of investigation of crimes by the Police. Indeed it was the Patna High Court in Bihar that first addressed this issue during British rule itself deprecating the poor investigation being done by the police and exhorting the public prosecutor to independently investigate the offence and to determine the fault or innocence of the accused (Patna High Court, Kunja Subidhi and another vs. Emperor, 30 Criminal Law Journal 1929). After independence too this has remained a major problem throughout the country and the quality of investigation that is carried out by the police even in heinous crimes like murder leaves a lot to be desired. This led the judiciary to intervene and order the separation of the office of the public prosecutor from the control of the police. The Allahabad High Court in Jai Pal Singh Naresh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1976 Criminal Law Journal 32). This was subsequently endorsed by the Supreme Court in SB Shahane v. State of Maharashtra (All India Reporter 1995 SC 1628). Even though in the present cases the enquiries carried out by the fact finding teams did not delve into the details of the police investigations and neither were the latter keen to divulge them, nevertheless from the very fact that arrests were not being made it can safely be surmised that pressure and other strategies were being adopted by the assailants to induce the police to dilute the chargesheets that were to be eventually filed. As mentioned earlier even the supervision of the investigation by the Deputy Superintendents of Police had not been able to ensure that the local police acted efficiently to apprehend the assailants.

8. Action Taken by the Administration

There was one instance where the Collector too went along with criminal elements in subverting the electoral process. Kaushalendra Prasad the incumbent Mukhiya in Vadaravad Panchayat in Nalanda district had won the 2001 elections by forcibly capturing polling booths. He wanted to do the same in the 2006 elections and for this he succeeded in getting the Collector who was also the District Election Officer to assign booths in such a manner that he could easily capture them. When the people of the Panchayat complained regarding this to the State Election Commission an enquiry was ordered which substantiated the complaints of illogical placement of booths. Nevertheless the Collector did not change the booth placement (Case number 16). In general the attitude of the administration even at higher levels, whether from the police or the civil departments was one of cooperation with political parties and criminals in poll malpractices and one of apathy towards the victims of electoral violence.

The State Election Commission, however, stood out in its efforts to ensure a free and fair poll and reduce the incidence of violence. While the last Panchayat elections in 2001 had seen about 200 murders in the 2006 edition there were only 18. Polling booth capturing too was much less and wherever such instances did occur re-polling was ordered. The holding of the elections in ten phases with adequate provision of security personnel and the grading of polling booths according to their sensitivity regarding the possibility of violence ensured that violence was controlled to a considerable extent. However, in many instances the SEC too refused to act saying that the violence perpetrated was not election related and so the general administration should be approached. Given the apathy of the general administration and also the other statutory commissions this meant that there was little relief for the victims.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and has to submit reports to the United Nations Committee that monitors the implementation of CEDAW. The Government of India in its latest detailed report submitted in 2005 made the following submissions regarding some of the steps taken for mitigating gender based violence ( WHRnet, 2005) -

  • Pilot project launched in 1998 to study efficacy of community based strategy of neighbourhood committees to create zero violence zones.
  • All women police stations have been set up in 14 states to facilitate the reporting of crime against women. Voluntary Action Bureaus and Family Counselling Centres in police stations seek to provide rehabilitative services.
  • The Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat (PMLA) evolved by the NCW is an alternative justice delivery system which is part of the Lok Adalats (People's Courts) for providing speedy justice to women. NCW has been organizing PMLAs since 1995 in association with NGOs to complement the judicial system.
  • An innovative development has been the emergence of community level responses to VAW initiated and sustained by grassroots collectives. For example, Nari Adalat and Mahila Panch have emerged out of the collectives formed under the Mahila Samakhya programme in select districts of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. They function outside the formal legal system and use community pressure and informal social control and mechanisms to punish perpetrators of violence and restore women's rights within the family. Cases of domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse, and harassment are handled.
  • The annual conference of highest State level police officials includes a session on violence.

Thus it is indeed surprising that the administration in Bihar and the State Human Rights and Women's Commissions have not replicated the exemplary concern shown above by the central government. They have singularly failed to haul up the police for the disinclination that they have shown to deal firmly with the assailants in the cases mentioned above despite their being brought to their notice by media and Panchayat Prahari reports.

9. Election Results

Five of the women out of the twenty-three investigated won their elections. Foremost among these was Uma Devi who battled on despite the loss of her three small children against a powerful opponent who had a criminal record and was politically well connected. She was able to do so because of whole hearted support extended to her by the villagers and also because the intervention of Panchayat Prahari resulted in the State Election Commission taking a strong stand and pressurising the administration to crack down on the accused. The accused assailants thus had to go into hiding to avoid arrest and could not indulge in electoral malpractices (Case number 1). Another notable victory was that of Nilam Devi from a general seat against another male candidate who had the support of an ultra-left party that had raided her house in strength and attempted to blow it up with dynamite. The intervention of Panchayat Prahari resulted in the State Election Commission relocating some of the polling booths near the habitations of the Dalits and backward classes and thus preventing the practice of capture of these booths in the upper caste villages as was the practice earlier (Case number 10). Sitasati Devi (Case number 17) and Aklima Khatun (Case number 9) were two other women who fought against the whole hearted and illegal support being provided by the police to their opponents and came out victors with the support of the villagers. In these cases too the intervention of Panchayat Prahari resulted in the polling booths being declared extra-sensitive by the State Election Commission and also pressure being put on the administration to remain neutral. The last victor was Mamta Devi who also fought bravely against a politically powerful criminal who had support from the police (Case number 8). There were four Dalit candidates among the victims but none of them could win. It is interesting to note that five women fought from general seats unreserved for women and only one among them, Nilam Devi, won.

10. Impact of Panchayat Prahari

The foremost impact of the fact finding process was in the moral succour it provided to the victims who in most cases had not had any support whatsoever as the administrative officials barring a few exceptions had not visited the victims or assured them of protection. Thus especially in the cases of murder the whole process of relating the incidents to the fact finding team was like a verbal autopsy that provided much needed psychological solace to the victims. These visits also provided a reassurance that there were people from outside who were concerned about the problems of the victims.

Apart from this concrete help was provided by the fact finding team in that its recommendations for declaring the polling booths extra-sensitive or for relocating the polling booths were all implemented by the State Election Commission thus bringing pressure to bear on the administration to ensure free and fair polls. This as has been described in the preceding section contributed to the election victory of five of the victims.

The publicity associated with the whole process of fact finding and then the sending of the reports to the various monitoring bodies like State Election Commission, the National and State Human Rights Commissions and the National and State Women's Commissions brought public scrutiny to bear on these incidents of violence and put the administration on its toes. Moreover, the media had covered these cases of violence against women candidates at the local level and so there had not been any state wide awareness regarding them. The Panchayat Prahari initiative succeeded in focussing the attention of the media at the state level on the issue of gender based electoral violence.

The recommendations made by the fact finding teams regarding the conduct of impartial enquiries by higher level authorities given the complicity of the local police with the assailants, however, were not implemented. Instead in one case the Superintendent of Police of Purnea district even went to the extent of berating the fact finding team because the State Election Commission had directed him to ensure fairness in investigations.

The fact finding teams also made recommendations for the payment of a compensation of Rs 50000 to the next of kin of those murdered in accordance with the Government Order No. 1972 C dated 9.8.2000 of the Home (Special) Department of the Bihar Government and the Replacement Order No. 25 C dated 12.1.2001. However, this recommendation was not implemented despite it having been provided for in the statutes.

The State Human Rights and Women's Commissions too did not take cognisance of any of the fact finding reports filed by Panchayat Prahari and so no action was initiated by these two watchdog bodies to provide some relief to the victims. Even such a serious case as that of Uma Devi where three of her children including a one and half year old girl were murdered was ignored by both the Commissions.

11. Limitations of the Process

The fact finding exercise had emerged on the spur of the moment as a fire fighting exercise after the first reports of violence against women candidates began to come in. It was primarily a voluntary process involving social workers and only the administrative expenses of the temporary secretariat set up for the purpose and travel expenses were covered by The Hunger Project. The investigations carried out therefore were all single day efforts and so could not delve into the deeper dynamics that may have been at play in the incidents that occurred. There were no lawyers or specialist human rights activists in the investigation teams who could have grilled the police regarding the investigations they were carrying out. Neither was any detailed follow up done later to find out what if any action was taken by the police to apprehend the assailants who were mostly absconding at the time of the investigations. Thus the analysis that has been done here is based on a very small sample of quick investigations and has had to be supplemented with substantial secondary research. The conclusions from this research provide only broad pointers as to the causes of gender based violence during the Bihar Panchayat elections 2006 and some possible remedial measures.

12. Conclusions and Recommendations

Fourteen of the eighteen cases of murder recorded overall during the Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006 took place against women candidates or their relatives in the cases investigated by Panchayat Prahari. Thus there was a clear preponderance of serious gender based violence during the elections. Given the alarming gender situation in the state as brought out by some of the more important indicators of gender oppression like total fertility rate, maternal mortality rate and reported domestic violence this was perhaps inevitable. There has been an attempt on the part of the men to use violence to shackle this upsurge of women's power that has resulted from the reservation of seats for the latter. Matters were compounded by the fact that in many cases the women were pushed into the electoral fray by their men who could not contest because of the reservation of seats for women. Thus the women became victims of the masculine sabre rattling of men. So unless steps are taken to reduce the patriarchal oppression of women in daily life and improve their status vis-a-vis men, gender based violence will be difficult to mitgate.

Another disturbing fact to come out of the foregoing analysis is that the nexus between the political parties across the spectrum from the right to the left and criminals was the main cause of electoral violence and also the failure of the police to prevent this and after the incidents of violence took place, to take action against the culprits. This problem exists over a large swathe of South and Central Bihar and is most virulent in and around the capital of Patna which witnessed the most cases of gender based violence. Apart from the State Election Commission neither the higher level administration nor the other statutory bodies like the State Human Rights and Women's Commissions seemed to have the will to tackle this hydra headed monster. Consequently the efforts of Panchayat Prahari to mitigate the miseries of the victims of electoral violence did not meet with complete success. There is every possibility that even after the elections over the past year the women who have been elected as independents are having to confront this unholy nexus and so there is a need to counter this problem. Consequently there is a need to put greater pressure on the statutory bodies to fulfill their monitoring responsibilities. In most cases these bodies are under staffed and under funded and so they cannot adequately carry out their duties. The exemplary sentiments expressed by the Government of India in its report to the United Nations Monitoring Committee for CEDAW need to be implemented better at the state and local levels. The police especially has to be sensitised in this respect.

Most of the violence had been perpetrated by the upper castes very much out of proportion to their share in the population. This seems to indicate that the upper castes still have considerable political control in the rural areas despite the massive upsurge of Dalits and Other backward classes over the past three decades or so and resort to violence to perpetuate this control. Even though the reservation of seats for different castes had ensured that whatever violence took place was mostly of the intra-caste kind nevertheless this dominance of the upper castes in rural areas does not augur well for the future of Panchayati Raj and especially for the role of women in it. There has to be a pro-active policy to rein in this violence by the upper castes which shackles the freedom of action and expression of the Dalits and women.

The role of the local administration had been uniformly negative in preventing or controlling violence and in many cases the police had abetted the victimisation of some of the candidates. The rule of law can be upheld only if the local administration enforces it strictly and does not bend rules to favour the powerful and the criminal elements. If it does not do so then according to the Constitution the aggrieved citizens have to approach the High or Supreme Courts for redressal of their grievances. However, since this is a costly proposition most poor people cannot afford to do so and are therefore deprived of their rights. This is even truer for women who in most cases have little economic freedom. Thus effectively the mal-functioning of the local administration means that the poor and women are deprived of their rights. As was evident in Rinku Devi's and Aklima Khatun's cases activism on the part of the citizens against the arbitrariness or inaction of the police led to further harassment instead of an improvement in policing. Gender based violence is a widespread phenomenon and it came to a head during the Bihar Panchayat elections 2006 when apart from the State Election Commission other statutory bodies and the administration did not act decisively to prevent this or take appropriate action against the perpetrators. Thus there is a need for continuous sensitisation on the issue of gender based violence right from within the family up to the highest levels of government, administration and the judiciary.

Based on the above analysis the following are the recommendations for improving the gender situation in the state in general and mitigating gender based violence in particular -

  1. Gender mainstreaming of social and economic development initiatives of the state government to ensure that women and girls are not excluded from these processes as is happening at present.
  2. Popularisation, operationalisation and strict implementation of the Domestic Violence Act 2006 to ensure that the cancer of gender based violence within the home is effectively controlled. Sensitisation of the police and more deployment of women police to ensure that other laws for the protection of women are also implemented.
  3. Effective administrative measures be taken to break the nefarious nexus between political parties, criminals and the lower level police that has led to a culture of lawlessness in the state and a curtailment of the fundamental rights of the citizens. In particular ensuring justice for the victims in all the cases that were reported by Panchayat Prahari should be given top priority by the government so as to restore confidence in the rule of law.
  4. The numerous orders of the Supreme and the High Courts and the recommendations of the Law Commissions and the Police Commissions for bringing about reforms in the police administration so as to ensure professionalism and accountability in this crucial organisation should be implemented without delay given the extremely sorry state of the law and order in the state.
  5. The State Human Rights and Women's Commissions be provided with adequate funding and staff to be able to carry out their rights monitoring activities properly. These statutory bodies should work in tandem to ensure the implementation of CEDAW and the Platform For Action adopted at the Beijing World Women's Conference in 1995.
  6. A Department for Gender be set up in the state government to oversee that gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting and gender sensitisation is taking place within all government departments and their staff.
  7. Encouragement be provided to community level responses to gender based violence initiated and sustained by grassroots collectives as has been done in other states. These will use community pressure and informal social control mechanisms to punish perpetrators of violence and restore women's rights within the family and outside.

13. References

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Bhatia, B (2005b). Jehanabad - I, Jail Break and the Maoist Movement, Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 40 No. 51 December 17 - December 23, 2005

Cornwall, A (1997). Men, Masculinity and Gender in Development, Gender and Development, Vol. 5, No. 2: 8-13

Kumar, A (2003). Violence and Political Culture : Politics of the Ultra Left in Bihar, Economic and Political Weekly VOL 38 No. 47 November 22 - November 28, 2003

Kumar, G (2001). Bihar Panchayat Elections : Overcoming State’s Resistance, Economic and Political Weekly VOL 36 No. 20 May 19 - May 25, 2001

Lerner, G (1986). The Creation of Patriarchy: Women and History, Oxford University Press, New York.

UNIFEM (2002) Masculinity and Gender based Violence: Unifem Fact Sheet No. 5

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WHRnet 2005. India: Report by Government of India to United Nations Questionnaire on Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Women's Human Rights Net accessed at