The media’s question on why a woman sarpanch’s brother-in-law was representing her at a Samajwadi Party event drew a sharp response from party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Asked why the sarpanch was not present and her brother-in-law was filling in for her, Mr Yadav had a counter question: “Why are all of you (reporters) male?”
The exchange took place at an event to distribute laptops among students who had performed well in exams. The event was being held at the Belhara panchayat area in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district. The organiser was local sarpanch Shabana Khatun, but she was missing. What’s more, her name was not on the hoardings either. Instead, her brother-in-law Ayaz Khan was present. It was his photograph on the posters, with “chairman” written next to him.
The Belhara panchayat seat is reserved for women. In the last polls, Ms Khathun was elected from there. But local residents say she never attends any panchayat event. It is her brother-in-law who takes all decisions of the panchayat, local residents say. Official documents are sent to the sarpanch’s home to be signed.
In fact, in several such reserved seats, husbands and other male relatives of woman sarpanches are known to be the de-facto sarpanch and the elected women do little more than sign documents.
At the event, a group of reporters asked Mr Yadav how a male relative representing a woman sarpanch can send a message of women empowerment. “Is this anything new? So many pradhanpatis (husbands of pradhans) are here. If this even a topic? Now, if I ask, why are all of you (reporters) male?” Mr Yadav replied to cheers from his supporters.
He then asked one of the reporters if there was no woman reporter in his channel who could have been sent for the event. “Send someone else then,” Mr Yadav said with a smile, adding, “I am only replying to your question.”