In back alleys of IT land, women fight male order

By Savita Hiremath

ANEKAL (Bangalore Rural): Reservations in panchayat raj institutions have generally proved to be male rule by proxy. But not in Chandapur gram panchayat (GP) of Anekal taluk bordering Bangalore city.

A year after their election to the 16-member GP, all the seven elected women representatives (EWRs) have buried their sectarian loyalties and formed a brand new grouping of their own. "Our male colleagues and other officers withhold all the information on government schemes and circulars from us. All our efforts to press forward with issues are greeted with taunts and tantrums," says Sumitra, GP vice-president.

This is a legacy of the previous GP (1994-2000) which won praise for its performance under a woman president -- Ashwatthamma Narayana Reddy. A well-off, no-nonsense woman from a dominant caste, Ashwatthamma won the `Outstanding Woman Panchayat Leader' award for her efforts.

But the male order which lay dormant during her tenure hit back virulently once the new GP -- with all its seven EWRs being first-timers and most of them in their 20s -- came into existence.

That hasn't fazed them. With Ashwatthamma as a role model, these women have stood up to the challenge. "We co-ordinate our actions and rush to each other's help during debates," says Janakamma, a Dalit.

They meet regularly and keep each other informed, and exchange notes before bi-monthly meetings. "Once they get wind that we'll raise certain issues, the male members concerned skip the meeting," claims Anita, another Dalit member.

With the burgeoning Bangalore city at its doorstep, Chandapur is unlike the classical village. Most of the agricultural land has been converted for non-agricultural purposes. With a over Rs 10 lakh budget, the GP includes Iglur, Ilalige, Ramsagar, Lakshmisagar and Old Chandapur villages.

Male members are the natural choice when the GP allots works and most of the ill-feeling is over the quality of these works. Why shouldn't women be assigned works, asks Anasuya.

These EWRs already have their hands full. Apart from being home-makers, they have to live up to the political responsibilities.

Alert constituents call on them at their houses with problems like bad roads, blocked drains, streetlights, pension, ration card and assistance under various schemes.

Sensitised about their rights and duties as EWRs in training sessions conducted by Institute of Social Studies Trust, Bangalore (an NGO), these women travel regularly to the panchayat and taluk offices. They shout down defiant and corrupt officials to get their constituents' work done. Once, when male members were keen on renting out a panchayat stall to private parties, the EWRs successfully got a Hopcoms outlet set up, albeit for lower rent.

Being matriculates, newspaper reading has become their daily habit. Any news on panchayat draws their attention and they follow it up. They have been instrumental in getting children admitted to schools and Krishnaveni, another EWR, runs a night school for women.

"I think women grasp problems fast. They face them at individual level. It's just that they have now come out. All these nagging problems certainly need an all-woman panchayat," says Venkataratna.

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Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 17, 2001
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