Sarpanch Patis and sacked Professors
Issue #72: A Womaning News Bulletin
Happy Freedom day to all Indians!
This week, I decided to focus on a couple of news stories doing the rounds that caught my eye as we celebrate the 75th year of our independence. (Or is it 76th? The Nation is patriotically confused.)
Sarpanch Patis take oath
India has implemented 33% reservation for women at the Gram Panchayat level in all States and UTs. As of the latest data on the Ministry of Panchayati Raj website, 22 States/UTs have taken it up to 50%. Which all sounds wonderful for the representation of women in grassroots governance.
Except that a tale as old as women’s reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions has been the unique animal called the ‘Sarpanch Pati’ (Village Head Husband). A Sarpanch Pati is the husband of the Sarpanch - who is actually running the show behind the rubber stamp that is his wife.
And so we have the tradition of Patidev attending all meetings and taking all important decisions regarding local governance, the actual Sarpanch is likely chopping vegetables at home.
Among the States to be the first to amend their current laws to introduce women’s reservation in Gram Panchayats was Madhya Pradesh.
Recently Madhya Pradesh also became one of the pioneers in taking the culture of the Sarpanch Pati to the next level - even the task of taking the oath was accepted as too manly a responsibility for the women to shoulder.
According to a report in The Hindu, several districts of MP - including Dhar, Damoh, Sagar, Panna, and Rewa - had incidents where male relatives of elected Sarpanches were found being administered an oath by the local government offices instead of the actual office bearers - the women. Videos from these districts showed husbands, fathers, and brothers-in-law of elected women taking oaths for their positions.
“In Sagar’s Jaisinagar village, only three of the 10 women who were elected to the panchayat were present in the oath-taking ceremony on August 5… the women concerned were among the spectators or at home while their husbands or other relatives took the oath on their behalf.”
During the campaigning for these Panchayat elections too, the men had been projected as the future sarpanches (or sarpanch patis, as the term goes) with their faces featuring on the publicity material, many a time without the spouse who was actually contesting.
Quazi Fakhruddin, a lawyer who practices in Jabalpur High Court, was quoted in the report:
“Article 243 of the Constitution talks about reservation for women and this has been endorsed by Madhya Pradesh in its M.P. Panchayat Raj and Gram Swaraj Act, 1993. A Pradhan Pati culture, however, thrives in the hinterland which defeats the purpose of the exercise that is adequate representation for women and their empowerment.”
The government of Madhya Pradesh has condemned these instances and called them “exceptions”.
A man harasses a woman.
Obviously, the woman must pay for “corrupting the minds of men”
Last week, a media outlet published Professor Nandini Guha’s (name changed) account of how an adult student violated her consent (and possibly hacked into her social media account) while working as an Assistant Prof of English at St Xavier’s University, Kolkata. And how that led her to lose her job.
As per her account, on October 7, 2021, she was called into a meeting with the VC - without being informed that the agenda of the meeting was a complaint filed against her by a parent of a student. At the meeting, she was blindsided with printouts of her private photos circulated among the people in the room, served with a side of character assassination.
The photos featured her in a swimsuit and were posted by her while on a vacation through a story (a photo that lasts only 24 hours) on her locked and private Instagram account before she joined the University.
In the piece, she says:
“It is a mystery to me till date how the university accessed those pictures... The only way in which such Instagram Stories can be accessed by other parties is by hacking or if someone had taken screenshots of the pictures when they had been posted and subsequently circulated them… I felt so distressed and humiliated at that moment that I couldn’t bear to examine the rest of the pictures. I was in a meeting where my private pictures were being circulated among people unknown to me, without my consent.”
It turned out that the pictures had surfaced when an 18-year-old student was caught looking at them by his father, who then submitted them to the University along with an official complaint. Against the woman whose privacy his son had violated.
If we lived in a world that made any sense, the meeting would have been about the sexual harassment of a female employee by an adult student.
Obviously, we don’t.
So the meeting was about the obscenity and vulgarity of the Professor - the obscenity of posing for such pictures in the privacy of her hotel room and the vulgarity of posting them on a private and locked social media account.
Here is what the parent’s complaint said:
“Recently, I was appalled to find my son looking at some pictures of Prof. Guha where she has posed in a sexually explicit way causing deliberate public exposure. To look at a teacher dressed in her undergarments uploading pictures on social media is utterly shameful for me as a parent, since I have tried to shield my son from this kind of gross indecency and objectification of the female body…It is obscene, vulgar and improper for a 18 year old student to see his professor dressed in scanty clothes exhibiting her body on a public platform.”
What’s more, here is how the University’s ‘Emergency Committee’ reacted to the complaint:
“For close to an hour, I was slut-shamed and harassed…”
She was asked if “her parents approved of her Instagram posts”
One of the committee members reminded her that she “had a duty to society to appear appropriate, and it was objectionable to put up such posts which might corrupt the minds of young men.”
According to Prof Guha, she was offered two options - either resign or get fired. She went ahead and quit, using the following words in her resignation letter:
“You have not offered any explanation about… how the photographs — which were posted months before I joined the institution and which were shared with a select, tightly-controlled audience for 24 hours only — were accessed, neither have you provided any assurance that the photographs will be destroyed. Instead, arbitrary and primitive standards of ‘morality’ have been used to shame and objectify my photographs and my body…”
“I have also been repeatedly intimidated that criminal charges shall be pressed against me in the event the so-called complainant’s son is found to be under 18 years of age… to bully and browbeat me into submission. The humiliation that I have had to endure as a result of this is unbearable. This entire ordeal has left me feeling incredibly unsafe within the institution, and I do not see it possible to work here under present circumstances”.
The resignation was accepted “with immediate effect” but the above assertions made in it were rejected.
The article goes on with further miscarriages of justice carried out by the university, and the police, and ends with a Rs 99 crore defamation suit. Against the Professor.
If you haven’t pulled all your hair out yet, you can read the full story here.
In summary, an adult man was found accessing a woman’s private photographs without her consent and prompt action was taken - against the victim.
Like I said, Happy Freedom Day to all Indians. Except women sarpanches and professors of India who are still very much in the freedom waiting room, and to whom this wish might feel like the offer of ice cream to a man who just lost his legs.
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