| Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh addresses the media at the news meet at Sadaquat Ashram in Patna on Saturday as Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ashok Chaudhury (right) looks on. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh |
Patna, July 6: Don’t marry and turn your husbands into mukhiya patis (husbands of women village heads), Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said on Saturday.
Ramesh had this piece of advice for women mukhiyas and sarpanchs of Bihar and Jharkhand.
Just 10 days ago, rural works department minister Bhim Singh had gladly said the women mukhiyas were fast moving out of the shadow of their husbands and taking part in meetings rather than their husbands taking charge.
Ramesh, however, did not buy the claim.
The minister, known for his frequent travels in the hinterland, said wherever he went, he did not see many women mukhiyas or sarpanchs. “This is more prevalent in the rural areas of Bihar and Jharkhand. I have seldom seen women mukhiyas actually working on the field. Their husbands, in fact, dominate the scene and are popularly called mukhiyapatis or sarpanch patis. Hence, aspiring women mukhiyas should not marry at all so that they don’t have to remain in the shadow of their husbands,” said a smiling Ramesh.
However, on a serious note, Ramesh said the Bihar and Jharkhand governments needed to act seriously. “The respective state governments need to act to end this and bring the womenfolk to the forefront. There is talk about women’s empowerment all the time and women must realise that they have been given a responsible job and they should take up the challenges themselves. The state government should ensure that the mukhiya pati phrase is done away with,” said Ramesh.
In November 2011, the state government had warned women mukhiyas to leave their husbands behind when they attend official meetings.
Minister Bhim Singh had threatened strict action against those who didn’t comply with the order.
On July 27 this year, Singh said that things had changed.
“I am happy that the directive has had its effect. Now, the women mukhiyas have become more alert and they know well that they can land in trouble if they allow their husbands to attend official meetings. Even the chief minister had also stressed that he does not want to hear the phrase mukhiya pati any more,” Singh had told The Telegraph.
Bihar is the first state in the country to reserve 50 per cent of panchayat seats for women.
All attempts to contact minister Singh proved futile today.
But a block development officer posted in a block in Gopalganj district said the mukhiya pati problem exists though not in its earlier form. “The husbands do come for some meeting even now but they are asked to leave. In May this year, I had to cancel a meeting, where husbands of all mukhiyas had come. The problem is still there but few women come to meetings now. The mukhiya patis work outside the meetings and they still dominate,” the officer said.
On the contrary, another block development officer posted in the same district admitted that the problem was still the same.
“In the meetings, the women mukhiyas come with their husbands. And the husbands always speak, while the women keep quiet. They cannot express themselves. We try to motivate them but in vain,” the BDO said.