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Friday, July 22, 2011

Rural Livelihoods and Sustainable Living: Case-60: THE VILLAGE SARPANCH – BREAKING CLASS AND SEX BARRIERS!

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This is the remarkable story about a woman who went from starvation to becoming village head. 

Boya Maddamma, aged 35, wife of Gajje Naidu lives in Allagundu village in Veldurthi mandal of Kurnool district. The family depended entirely on the daily wages of the parents. A slight fever or bad weather sent the family into despair.  Being out of work meant going without food. It was a miserable life for the family. But in 2006 Maddamma contested the panchayat elections and was elected the Sarpanch. A very poor woman getting elected as Sarpanch surprised many in the nearby villages and mandal. 

Boya Maddamma worked as a daily wage labourer with her husband. Though they had some land, lack of irrigation rendered it fallow.  She joined a self-help group. It was a women’s savings group and she began saving between Rs.30 and Rs.50 every month. Her husband was a member of the watershed committee.
He was also associated with a political party.  Thus she was better placed than the other women to understand how the world around her functioned. She explained to the others, about proper utilisation of the sanctioned funds of the watershed project. She soon came to be recognised as an active member of the group and attracted the attention of all the self-help groups in her village.

She went to night school and learnt to read a little and sign her name. She organised several night schools to educate women in various groups. In the process, she came to the notice of the mandal officials. She took an active part in various village projects along with her husband.  Just then the elections were announced, and posts in their village were being reserved for women. Since her husband was a member of a political party and she was an active worker, conditions were conducive for her to contest the panchayat election.

But for this she needed money and they had none. In spite of that she was selected as a candidate. People mocked her poverty when she went campaigning. Many questions were thrown at her, “Why are you contesting? Can you even take care of yourself?” But she held her ground. Though Maddamma was poor, she had been very active in the women’s group. Most of them voted for her. She won with a great majority and surprised everyone.

Participation of women in politics is very low in the Rayalasema region. In such conditions, her election as Sarpanch of a remote village is no small feat. She created a record of sorts as no one could recall a woman Sarpanch being elected in any of the villages in the area. Her husband Gajje Naidu worked very hard and played a crucial role in her victory.

After getting elected, her first task was to get a road link to the village. Along with this highway, the main roads in the village too were repaired and re-laid. She channeled the revolving fund from the APRLP into all the selfhelp groups in the village. She obtained loans through linkages with banks. The village got safe drinking water thanks to her efforts. The list goes on.

Madamma is an example of a courageous woman from the lowest strata of society, becoming successful. Effort always wins just reward. It was Madamma’s efforts with the self-help groups which helped her achieve an important position for women. For the women of that area, another gender barrier was broken.
Self-help groups and projects such as the APRLP which support them, have ushered in many such silent but revolutionary changes.

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