Research/Studies (Orissa, India)

Report on SWEEP

Since panchayat elections were held in Orissa in 2007, an extensive campaign was undertaken from mid 2006 until the run-up to the elections in February 2007. The results of this campaign were most encouraging with The Hunger Project working areas recording an average of 40-42 percent of elected representatives being women (with the state success rate being 39 percent).

Therefore, it was important to document the steps taken to achieve this result so that in future it can be a useful reference tool for upcoming elections. This document would also be helpful in understanding the impediments as well as overcoming hindrances faced by some of the potential leaders. A comprehensive report on the SWEEP was therefore made and has been circulated among our various partners, both in the state as well as nationally.

Report on the Two-child Norm

The two-child norm policy was proving to be a major constraint for women panchayat leaders in Orissa. Therefore, it was imperative to document the ill effects that this norm wrought on marginalized populations and record all the cases that have been disqualified on this basis. We are planning to circulate copies of this report to be used as an advocacy and campaign tool against the state government's continued silence and inaction on this issue. It will highlight how this norm is harming, rather than helping, the cause of the already marginalized, and it will be disseminated to various stakeholders in the government, NGOs and media.

Report on Violence

For the first time, incidents of violence against women candidates were seen on a large scale during the run-up to and aftermath of the 2007 PRI elections. Violence was hardly noticed in the earlier elections of 1997 and 2002 - as proxyism was rampant with most candidates being wives or family members of previous incumbents.

This was also the first time when women, having changed the economic conditions of their families as SHG leaders and members, decided to join the electoral process and bring about similar changes in their panchayats. In seats reserved for women, an average of 8-10 women were in the fray-auguring well for women's empowerment, but also giving rise to conflict due to some of the vested interests' backing of particular candidates, against the most popular one. This resulted in coercion for withdrawal of nomination in favour of the powerful threats of violence against the innocent candidates.

In the general seats, where women, in large numbers, had ventured to try their fortunes for the first time, the scenario was much more miserable. Cases of murder, intense mental and physical harassment, threats, abuses, and booth capturing, and other mal-practices were the order of the day.

Law enforcement agencies did their best to classify these as "not election related." It was therefore decided to document as many incidents as possible in order to make all stakeholders, whether in the government, or outside, realize the enormity of the issue and take immediate steps to rectify the situation. Merely reserving seats for women will not suffice if a conducive and safe environment is not ensured as well. Sensitization at the levels of the local officials, police, elected representatives and the media is ongoing.