Friday, December 11, 2015

Judgment on disqualifying panchayat candidates to "disenfanchise" 50% Haryana women, is "anti-UN convention"

By Our Representative
The Supreme Court judgment of December 10, which upholds amendment to Haryana's Panchayati Raj law seeking to disqualify those contesting panchayat polls for not possessing minimum educational qualifications, non-payment of electricity bills or dues to cooperative banks, and not having a toilet in their homes is being widely interpreted as anti-women, anti-Dalit, and against international laws, to which India is a signatory.
While the Apex Court has held that these disqualifications “do not violate the right to equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution” and they are “not unreasonable or arbitrary”, senior activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative believes, “It ignores important international human rights standards that India has accepted and agreed.”
Adds Indira Jaising, senior Supreme Court advocate, the judgment “effectively disenfranchises” 68 per cent of Dalit women, 41 per cent of Dalit men, and over 50 per cent of all women in Haryana from contesting a panchayat election, wondering what would happen to other BJP-ruled states, including Rajasthan, who have made “similar restrictions.”
Especially referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR), to which India is a signatory (1979), Nayak says, it “prohibits discrimination between human beings in relation to voting or contesting elections”, adding, it insists for voting rights to all individuals “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
In an email alert (click HERE), Nayak says, Apex Court judgment has “nothing to show that this important commitment that India has made before the international community was raised by the petitioners”, adding, “It is strange that the Apex Court, which is often sensitive to India's international human rights commitments, did not go the extra mile to check whether their judgment would be tenable in the light of those international commitments.”
Nayak insists that there is a need to bring this judgment, as also the law amending the Haryana Panachayati raj Act, before the notice of the international agencies such as the UN Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Committee, as also the treaty monitoring body for the ICCPR, as “it violates a major human rights commitment it made internationally 36 years ago.”
Pointing towards the fact that the judgment highlights an “irony” Nayak says, “If you are a woman who is only a sixth class pass, you cannot contest elections in Haryana in the non-reserved category but you can successfully contest elections to Parliament from anywhere in India and become the Union Cabinet Minister for Water Resources and work to rejuvenate river Ganges.”
Nayak wonders, “What if some villages do not have any candidate who meets the necessary educational qualification? Will the panchayat remain without an elected body?” He asks, “Can formal education alone be the benchmark for testing the intelligence of people? Can only formally educated people discriminate between good and bad and right and wrong as the judge held?”
Equating "rural indebtedness" with "insolvency", the activist asks, “So many thousands of candidates, many of whom have successfully been elected to Parliament and State Legislatures in Haryana and elsewhere have declared unpaid Bills and loans in their election affidavits, which are publicly available on website of the Election Commission of India. Should they not be prohibited from contesting elections using the Apex Court's reasoning?”
Thus, one Lok Sabha MP from Vijayawada has declared liabilities to the tune of Rs 710 million; three MPs from Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra have outstanding dues of more than Rs 400 million each; and 17.5 per cent of MPs (95) in the Lok Sabha have declared dues of more than Rs 10 crore each, Nayak says.
Nayak also wonders how can people be blamed for not having toilets when the Governments have done precious little to curb corruption in the Total Sanitation Campaign which is nowadays subsumed into the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign), commenting, “Thanks to this judgment, the very poor, unlettered, the indebted and the underprivileged are being ‘cleaned out’ of the political scene in Haryana.”

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