Authorities in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have warned the male relatives of women elected to village councils against taking the oath of office on their behalf.
Videos online have shown nearly a dozen men, including the husbands of village councillors, taking the oaths.
India’s village government system, known as the Panchayati Raj, reserves 33 per cent seats for women under a measure designed to increase female representation in politics.
Men were reported to have taken the oath last Thursday in place of elected women in the Dhar, Damoh, Sagar, Rewa and Panna districts of the state. Government officials attended the events.
Videos went viral at the weekend, prompting the authorities to declare the oaths void. There have been reports that in some places women were called at night to take the oath of office.
Aradhana Singh from the Panna district was shown sitting in a corner as her husband, Hakam Singh, took the oath on her behalf.
A 'tragedy and comedy'
In Damoh, the husbands of 12 women took the oath for posts, including the head of the village. None of the women were present at the ceremony led by village secretary Ajay Shrivastava, the chief executive of Damoh's District Panchayat.
The authorities in Sagar said two men who took the oath on behalf of their wives were suspended.
“This is because of a lack of knowledge. Two men took oath here. We suspended them,” Uday Gautam, chief executive of the District Panchayat in Sagar, told The National.
"This has never been heard before but at times, such procedural lapses can happen."
Former minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram criticised the incidents.
“It is both a tragedy and a comedy to witness husbands of elected women representatives take oath as members of panchayats in Madhya Pradesh," he said on Twitter.
"Unbelievable that in the 75th year of independence, there can be such a mockery of the constitution and the laws."
The state government, which is controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, blamed local staff and officials and issued an advisory to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“This is completely unacceptable and against the rules. We are issuing an advisory that will be sent to all the village heads to block any such attempts by family members in the future,” said Umakant Umrao, Principal Secretary of Panchayat and Rural Development in Madhya Pradesh.