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India at 61: Light and Lament

August 15, 2008
L C Jain on the quiet army of political servants of Mother India.

The light or the good news is that on the quiet an army of political and social servants of Mother India is forming across the country, and by the millions. They are drawn not from any illustrious dynasties but from amongst the downtrodden: from amongst women, scheduled castes, and scheduled tribes. They embrace each village, to wit, from the gram panchayats numbering over 233,000. They are certain to occupy the centre and the periphery of our polity in the next twenty years -- hopefully sooner.

What is the basis for us to say that? The stuff of which they are made of and the struggles through which they are moving out of their individual social binds, albeit, step by step.

Sample the following close up of just a handful of them out of over 10,00,000 such women members of this force of over three million elected gram panchayat representatives. Mark their major characteristics: poverty, lack of education, agriculture work, eating food in others' houses and wearing others' clothes.

Recall, in contrast, those spearheading the freedom struggle were distinguished barristers-at-law, doctors, educationist's et al. Mark also they are entering political life on the strength of being known to the local communities -- not through cash or muscle power or 'influence of higher quarters.'

Gram panchayat member Sayavva Poojari, 60, has a dream to work for women's welfare: "I have studied only up to the 2nd standard. When the election dates were announced, I was so shy that I did not talk to any men at that time, but when I was elected to the panchayat, this became a necessity. I underwent training from the taluk panchayat and the Singamma Sreenivasan Foundation. I will make sure that there is no violence against women in our village and importance is given to girls' education, eradication of the dowry problem. I want to make our village surroundings clean with greenery all around."

Shakuntala Kirsur, 33, vice-president, gram panchayat, Arsungi: After her husband's death she passed the SSLC examination with support from her father, a retired army soldier: "I have been able to get seeds and fertilisers at subsidized rates to poor farmers; ensuring proper drainage and water facilities; construction of farm ponds and check dams for rain water harvesting. Prior to my entry into politics, the situation in the village was not stable, as the gram sabhas and gram panchayat meetings were not being conducted properly. The social justice committee was not in existence; and women did not even go to panchayats."

Ratnamma, former vice president, gram panchayat, Kogaali, Bellary: "Since my native place is Kogaali, it was not difficult for me in the election time for campaigning. I went to all houses and campaigned for my vote. ...I had not collected any funds from others for the election. In the beginning, I was not going out of the house and I used to do house work and agriculture work. When I got elected, things changed automatically and I used to go out, interact with people."

Banubi Haminasab, OBC, member, gram panchayat, Kombaali, Bellary: "After I got elected as panchayat representative I learnt how to sign."

Jayamma tayi Lakshmamma Poojari, member gram panchayat, Hulagi, Koppal: "My mother was a Devadasi and since her mother had no children she adopted my mother from Hosahalli village in Gangavathi. My birth place is Hulagi and my mother had 7 children and I am the eldest. I being the eldest had to look after my sisters who were born when I was 9-years-old. In our gram panchayat we are 19 members out of whom, 8 are female. There is unity and mutual understanding among us. I go out for a meeting they come with me and if there is any writing work then they help me to take down the issues. I feel education is the key factor for getting more knowledge and information."

Lakshmavva Pulinaik Angadi, 45, member gram panchayat, Mohammadnagar: An illiterate mother of six children from a very poor family, she says she has faced a lot of problems in her life. Her husband is a drunkard and she had to struggle to bring up her family. Lakshmavva has an aim to help every woman come up economically so that they do not have to depend on their husbands.

Shivaleslamma V Mattad, president, gram panchayat, Hulagi. "Before entering politics I was thinking only about my family and my world was my family alone. But now things have changed, it has taken a turn, I feel it is my duty to think about the society."

India 61: The icons that make India

II

On the eve of Independence, on August 14, 1947 Nehru set the mission: 'We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.' Could there be anything more creative and inspiring than to build a noble mansion of free India.

The lament is that 61 years down the road, shocking field reports show that we are labouring at the opposite: Displacement. Instead of creating a noble mansion, we are wantingly destroying even the humble makeshift dwellings of the poorest amongst us.

All this for the stated purpose of providing new facilities. We have on hand the latest study 2008. Swept off the Map -- surviving eviction and resettlement in Delhi: Is This the End? (Kalyani Menon Sen, Gautam Bhan): Our findings are stark...The evictions and forced relocation to Bawana have shattered people's lives and destroyed their livelihoods. Even three years after the demolitions, individual households and the community as a whole have not recovered from the traumatic events of 2003-04. ...Impoverishment and violations of rights are an integral and inevitable part of the kind of resettlement that is being implemented in Delhi.

The Planning Commission's revelation that some 25 million people have been displaced in the last 50 years -- and one half of them not rehabilitated -- has not stirred the authorities to action. Do the people matter!

This is a travesty of Nehru's challenging call from Delhi -- Tryst with Destiny.

Dr L C Jain, an active participant in the Quit India movement, has been engaged in economic-social development for the last 60 years. He was a member of the Planning Commission and also served as India's high commissioner to South Africa.

Also Read: Abbas Tyrewala on what being an Indian means | Claude Arpi on the prospects for India | Ashutosh Gowariker's dream for India

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