Parvathy, who sits splitting cane at the road that leads into one half of Markal village, must be in her early forties. She is commanding the conversation on a gravel heap, lording over two meek-mannered men. “Who knows about elections? I go to vote because I have to. These leaders will swear at us otherwise… ‘eh, children of whores, why didn’t you come to vote’”.
She has a voice in this colony - which has no public, panchayat-maintained taps -- because she is generous with her privately paid-for connection. About 300 people, who reside in one section of this village, depend on this generosity of few such better-off neighbours.
The only functioning public tap is on the other side of a busy road. Local panchayat members say that they need to fix a pipeline to get water supply on this side of the road, but Model Code of Conduct stops them from taking up any new work – even if it is for drinking water.
“The panchayat member is either ignorant or lying,” says former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami. “The Election Commission is everyone’s favourite whipping boy. But the Code does not apply to repair work and the Commission will rarely stop even new work if it is for emergency and basic needs like drinking water”.
Tameena Bi and her neighbours, who queue up in front of houses like Parvathy’s for water, are furious with their panchayat members. “Let them come asking for votes… we will slipper them,” she says. “There was a public tap that gave meeta paani (sweet water used for cooking and drinking). They were removing the garbage heap in front of the government school (which sits at the beginning of the colony) and the earth mover pulled out the pipeline”. This school had made it to the local newspapers when children had to climb over a garbage mound to get to their school.
The red-faced panchayat members had called in earth movers, hurriedly removed the pile and laid a kuchcha road.Most often it is the women and children who are sent out to bring water. Shivaraj, an auto driver, is pitching in because his wife is pregnant. He takes his auto and brings pots of water at one go.
“Should I go for work or spend my day bringing water,” he asks. “The panchayat should drill a borewell for us. If we try to organise and collect money for one, residents start to fight over its placement… over why is it placed close to one person’s house and not another’s”.
The MLA for this constituency Bidar is Congress leader Rahim Khan. Two years ago, when he won the by elections by a large margin of more than 20,000 votes, he had spoken about rising from humble circumstances and also about a mother who had to walk a distance to get drinking water. He would be able to best understand Tameena’s anger, and yet this colony has been left to hunt for a running public tap.