ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Justice, the State and Sathins' Struggle

The recent Supreme Court verdict ordering the Women's Development Programme in Rajasthan to re-employ the 'sathins' dismissed unjustly 10 years ago poses almost as many issues as it resolves. By not asking for the reinstatement of the sathins, not only do they lose retrospective payment, but more importantly, the apex court appears to be reserving judgment on the relevance of the programme. This has to be seen in the context of recent developments in the state which are directly and indirectly undermining what has been a remarkably dynamic and sustained effort to link women's development with social development soliciting the agency of the state.

From its inception in 1984, the Women’s Development Programme (WDP) in Rajasthan has occupied a very significant place in the history of the state as well as of democratic movements especially the women’s movement. The role of the sathins (village level workers) in the programme has been vital for bringing the voices and concerns of rural village women living in one of India’s most backward states into the public sphere. As a collective force, the sathins have, on the one hand, received widespread acclaim because of the undeniable impact of their work, and on the other have had to face numerous challenges at the local level and from the state administration.

On February 28, 2001, the Supreme Court of India delivered a final verdict on the 10-year long legal case of sathins, Geeta, Jhuma, Nausar, and Nandu (from Kekri Panchayat Samiti, Ajmer district) versus the State of Rajasthan. Justices S Rajendra Babu and Shivraj Patil ordered that the Women’s Development Programme re-employ these sathins whose services had been terminated in 1991. This has been a vindication of the injustice suffered by these sathins, and constitutes a significant victory in their prolonged legal battle with the very programme that had employed them.

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