IOS book on ‘The Role of Communication in Political Empowerment of Women Panchayati Raj Functionaries: A Field Study of Baramullah District of Kashmir’ Released

IOS book on ‘The Role of Communication in Political Empowerment of Women Panchayati Raj Functionaries: A Field Study of Baramullah District of Kashmir’ Released
The Institute of Objectives Studies organised an online programme to release the book, ‘The Role of Communication in Political Empowerment of Women Panchayati Raj Functionaries: A Field Study of Baramullah District of Kashmir’, written by Dr. Afsana Rashid, Assistant Professor of Media Education Research Centre, University of Kashmir on February 28, 2022. It may be recalled that this is the latest addition to the books published by the IOS.
The programme commenced with the recitation of a verse from the Quran by Hafiz Syed Athar Husain Nadwi.
In his welcome address, the secretary general of the Institute, Prof. Z.M. Khan, said that he had a chance to visit Baramullah and found the place very charming. Referring to the book, he observed that it was an important work on the district. Half of the population of ummah could benefit from Panchayati Raj institutions if they functioned properly. Hailing the book as very valuable, he opined that Kashmir was attracting the world’s attention to the empowerment of women. This area of work could not receive much attention, and the IOS was open to assisting the project like the one she undertook, he added. Introducing her book, Dr. Afsana Rashid pointed out that the work was based on her thesis ‘Empowerment with Panchayati Raj institutions and disparity between theory and practice: Ignorance and biases’. She said that 33 per cent reservation to women at the grass-root level was sufficient. The majority of women were illiterate, though devolution of power offered them a role in local-self government. They needed socio-political space. She held that the communication helped them play their role in decision-making, and mass media created awareness among them. She pleaded for educational infrastructure at the panchayat level. Information, education and participative role for women were necessary to make them truly representative of panchayat raj institutions. Practical field demonstrations were equally important. Women’s participation was handicapped by lack of exposure and ignorance. They required more communication tools and community support, she emphasised.
Speaking as a key speaker, ex-chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, observed that political and social empowerment of women was a key to ensure their fair representation at various levels of decision-making. To buttress his point, he argued that women got only 9 percent representation in the Rajya Sabha. It was the aristocratic women who grabbed the opportunities. Reservation to women in Jammu and Kashmir was provided in 1996 through central legislation. Pointing to the problem of proxy culture, he said that women were represented by their husbands, adding that the role of media and communication was very important in the connection. He held that Kashmiris started working in the field of journalism in the early nineties. Several young men made their debut in journalism and the national media, he added. Director, Women’s Studies Centre, University of Kashmir, Prof. Tabassum Firdous, sought to know if women were really empowered in panchayat raj institutions. She said that when one talked of women’s empowerment, he should also factor in the structure available to them for the purpose. There were security-related issues, besides the problem of mobilizing funds. They were not empowered because of the lack of women's role in decision-making. They were considered a subordinated entity because of their gender. She flagged that women were living in a conflict zone since they could not move freely. Women were not literate and thus could not discharge their responsibilities very effectively. She urged the women representatives in Panchayati Raj institutions to come up with plans at meetings. She described the book as a tremendous work and hoped that it would be an addition to the available literature.
Former vice-chancellor, Uttarakhand Open University, Prof. Subash Dhuliya, regretted that most of the Ph.D. theses were not impactful. Compared to research on the subject in other universities, Afsana Rashid’s work certainly deserved acclaim. Explaining the role of media in the empowerment of women, he said that it created awareness among women about the importance of the grass-root level of democracy. He maintained that the late Rajiv Gandhi ensured funds for Panchayati Raj institutions, but most of the money was pocketed by politicians. Democracy was not just to win elections but also to strengthen its institutions. In a democracy, informed citizens should remain vigilant, and the media should be focused on how these institutions function. In order to fill the gap, a new kind of communication channel should be launched. Due to the bombardment of the media, this was called the age of misinformation and propaganda. He called for empowering women by the use of new technology in the field of communication.
He also laid emphasis on creating a set-up for the empowerment of women at the grass-root level. Social media platforms and other forms of media should be used to empower them, he added.
Senior journalist and columnist, A.J. Philip, commented that reading this research work was interesting. Sharing his own experience, he said that sometime back, women outnumbered men in the daily Hindustan Times. He also recounted his experience in Katihar, where a woman sarpanch was not allowed due to the lack of women’s empowerment. Today, nearly 44 per cent of students were girls. They were more studious and disciplined than boys. Expressing his happiness, he said that it presented a good study. Kashmiri women were not educated, but they were empowered in terms of communication, he remarked. Noted social activist Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, who wrote a lot on Panchayati Raj and grass-root level democracy, insisted that women’s empowerment should be made an issue of discussion. He encouraged girls to work for financial independence.
Renowned scholar and media representative, Dr. Muslim Jan Fazili, held that Dr. Afsana’s work was very important from the prism of women’s empowerment at the grass-root level of democracy. Women should be empowered with information, education and skill development, and by enabling them to be conscious of the environment through discussion and training, women could erase prejudices. She noted that numbers did not necessarily lead to desired results. Women must be given the power of decision making, which is at a very low level currently. It was due to the domination of men. She said that a woman was emotionally very scientific, and her contribution in different fields could not be underestimated. Women’s representation at the political level was also very low. Information systems should be expanded to show women as important members of society. Today, women are raising their voices and reporting on domestic violence. Digital media gave voice to them to react on YouTube, blogs and Facebook. Women were coming outside and proving the best. She called for giving space to women in the media.
In his presidential remarks, Vice-chairman of the IOS, Prof. M. Afzal Wani, released Afsana’s book. He said that the 1992 amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act clearly gave power to women. Underlining the need for a communication strategy, he asked women to be very communicative. Women had a note under the Constitution, and hence they were grass-root constitutional functionaries. They had been constitutionally mandated to play a comprehensive and wide role as stakeholders. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet (PBUH) had said that men and women had equal rights. He asked them to develop modules of communication. A man could never be higher than a woman because she gave birth to him. Illiteracy in Baramullah was a rarity than reality, he concluded.
Assistant secretary general of the IOS, Prof. Haseena Hashia, who conducted the proceedings of the function, proposed a vote of thanks to the participants.

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