THURSDAY, MARCH 23
Village Council Visit
The President will meet with members of the local governing council and discuss how village village governance as is traditionally practiced in India and how it has been modernized to incorporate women and others formerly disenfranchised.
The electoral district of Naila Village consists of 10,000 people, with 4,300 voters. The total number of literates may be as low as 2,800, of which female literates may be as low as 700. The village has schools through the secondary level, water, a health care center, post office, and some electricity. Farming provides half of the jobs; commerce and services provide the rest.
During the President's visit to Naila, he will observe and interact with the local "panchayat", the elected village council of 15, of whom five are women and whose head is a low-caste tribal. They will describe to him their experience with the panchayat "raj" (rule) system, created under the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution in 1993 to legitimize village government, expand its powers, and enhance representation for lower castes, tribes, and women (such as 1/3 of seats being reserved for women). Naila's panchayat controls a small government fund for local projects, holds local government accountable for services, and adjudicates small civil and criminal cases. The President will meet female panchayat members who are also heads of "mahela mandals" (female self-help groups) from Naila and nearby villages. They will share with you how mahela mandals helped women to advance their economic and social empowerment, and with such, their political empowerment. A few years ago, these women were restricted to their homes, not allowed to speak to men, and required to wear a veil in the village; they now advocate successfully for equal pay for equal work, better schooling for girls, better infrastructure, higher status for women, and prevention of child marriage and domestic violence against women.
The Panchayat System
The 73rd Amendment to the Indian constitution, enacted in 1993, legitimized the role of local village-level government under "panchayat raj" ("panchayat" means village council and "raj" means rule). It also provided an enhanced role for women, scheduled (lower) castes and scheduled tribes in local decision-making by assuring them some representation. This included reserving 10 percent of seats for scheduled castes of either sex on the panchayat, seats for scheduled tribes on the panchayat proportionate to their population, and 33 percent of seats for women on panchayat, as well as reserving 33 percent of the panchayat heads in the country for women. The panchayat, minimally comprised of five members, is elected every five years ("panch" means five).
In practice, the first wave of panchayat elections in Rajasthan strengthened the power status quo in the village, as most women elected were, in fact, the spouse or other family member of the more powerful male members of the community who also were elected onto the council. The second round of panchayat elections held in Rajasthan in January of this year, however, resulted in many women winning seats on the basis of their own independent credentials. Often these credentials have been based upon their leadership roles in women's self-help groups or "Mahela Mandals", generally organized by outside change agents, such as NGOs, cooperatives, or the Rajasthan government's District Women's Development Agency. Each of these kind of change agents will be represented in the village visit.
Tour Amber Fort
For six centuries the capital of Rajasthan and the nucleus of Rajput history, Amber is now little more than a deserted palace, surrounded by majestic ramparts. The construction, started by Maharajah Man Singh in 1592, is a blend of Rajput and Moghul influences. The palace, which rises on the slopes of a steep hill behind the Maota Lake, retains an aura of great beauty. As soon as you enter the Valley of Flowers and pass through the pink gate, Amber Palace glows with variegated colors and nobility.
An archaic form of transportation still in use today - the elephant -- explains the unusual height of the palace gateways. Inside the palace, the principal hall, known as the Hall of Victory, presents a galaxy of decorative art -- panels of alabaster with fine inlay work in a range of pale hues, together with every kind of workmanship for which Jaipur is famous. Typical of the Moghul period, the rooms are essentially small and intimate, while the successive courtyards and narrow passages are particularly Rajput.
Each room shows some vestige of its former glory, especially the Sheesh Mahal (Chamber of Mirrors) and the Sukh Niwas (Palace of Pleasure). Numerous narrow flights of stairs lead up to the royal apartments that provide the best views of the valley, the lovely palace courtyards, the formal gardens abutting an octagonal pool that edges the lake, and the ancient fortress (the Jaigarh Fort) that stands guard from the crest of the hill above you. Vast and somber, its vaults still hide the treasures of Jaipur, according to rumor.
Tour Ranthambhore National Park
Here the President will visit a national park where Indians are working to preserve their endangered tiger population, an effort for which the U.S. has provided assistance.
Ranthambhore National Park spreads over an area of thick forest with streams and waterfalls. A system of lakes and rivers is hemmed in by steep crags; atop one of them is the extensive and well-preserved Ranthambhore Fort, built in the 10th century. The low ground, partly dense forest and partly open bush, is peppered with ruined pavilions and hunting blinds. The surrounding forests were the private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur.
In 1972, India's tiger population had dwindled to about 1,800, of which 74 were in Rajasthan. Project Tiger was launched and the Ranthambhore sanctuary was created in response to this alarming situation. In 1980, the sanctuary became a national park with a core area of 158 sq. miles. According to the latest census, about 35 tigers live in the park.
The Indian tiger is threatened by population pressure on protected habitat, poaching and deforestation (firewood for domestic cooking) and industry. Despite stringent laws that prohibit hunting and trading in wildlife or wildlife parts, enforcement and convictions are rare. Without concerted political will to save the tiger, the Indian tiger will cease to exist in the wild.
The United States has been a close partner in the conservation movement in India over the last two decades through the programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service focused on law enforcement training, development of databases on tiger poaching and trade, and research and training grants for government personnel.