Doing a trapeze act to make both ends meet

Published: 22nd September 2010 03:46 AM

THIRUVANATHAPURAM: If empowerment has any element of money blended with its meaning, then hundreds of women panchayat members are yet to savour it. Where MPs and MLAs, for whom grassroots life is not more than a landscape outside their windows, earn wages in five and six digits, a meagre `1,500 is what a panchayat member is entitled to. For a woman member, it's courting big trouble.

''If you are a housewife, you can always stretch hands before your husband to make both ends meet. But a woman in power can't ask her man at home to give money for social work,'' P P Indira Devi, president of Thiruvegapura panchayat, says. There are two women members in her panchayat council who are beneficiaries of the Ashraya project which is meant for the deprived. As president, she receives `5,000 as monthly remuneration.

''You have to attend every marriage, funeral and festival in your panchayat. People expect a president to give handsome donations too,'' says K V M Ayesha, president of Anakayam panchayat in Malappuram. It is one of the reasons that Ayesha has decided to quit after a fiveyear tryst with power.

Mobility is one major crisis. ''They need to reach the length and breadth of the panchayat. But if she shares a vehicle with a male member that is enough material to slander her character. But then how do they find money to match the demands of their job? It often leads to conflicting situation in their lives, '' says T N Seema MP, who was a member of the People's Plan Campaign Cell in its infant days.

There are several panchayat presidents who seek parallel jobs and find themselves incapable of multitasking. A member might make it work, though.

''I went for an interview to the post of a teacher in a nearby school. But they were rather taken aback. 'How can we give you, who is a known figure, such a small job?' they asked me,'' recollects Baby Balakrishnan, Block Panchayat president of Madikai, Kasargod. She became the president of her panchayat at the age of 21, just after graduation. Only after all these years could she find time to seek an outside job, that too in vain. Her panchayat had bagged the state awards twice, in 1999 and 2001, for the best panchayat.

But what amuses one is not the situation, but the way women handle it. ''Why do you look for a whitecollar job, there are Governmentapproved agency works. Or you can take tuition. If you desire to be selfsufficient, there are ways. Women were invisible, now we are visible. Isn't it more than enough?,'' asks Shanta Babu, President of Valakom panchayat. Her argument is seconded by Margaret Thomas, Block Panchayat former president, Mananthavady. ''This is social work and a sacrifice. I work in a community radio to make my ends meet. There is financial crisis, but if women resort to ways to make money like men do, then what difference do we make?'' she asks. She is now the project coordinator of Awamiga (Association of Women Members in Governance) in Wayanad. What once had been a 300member association has weakened in figures recently. She admits that lack of funds for women panchayat members to travel to attend meetings of the association as one reason. ''There are some panchayat presidents who are in debt after their five or 10year terms. They would have left a job, a selfemployment unit or higher studies to contest elections. After two terms they are dropped by the parties for fresh faces and they find themselves incapable of pursuing their lost vocations and fall in debt. A far cry from financial independence,'' says J Devika, associate professor at CDS. It may be an irony that the members of Kudumbashree and beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) or for that matter a last grade staff in Corporation earn lot more than a panchayat member or even a president.

(Tomorrow: How the women at the helm fare in administrative front?)

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