As Padmamma, a 38-year-old Scheduled Caste sarpanch, moves across her single-room home preparing her children’s tiffin, she tidies up the house and dresses up for a meeting. There are responsibilities to fulfill since her election to the panchayat first as member in 2005 and then as sarpanch, and she has learnt to manage her time.
“I was shocked… I could not sleep for two weeks after being elected upon knowing my powers — that my signature can get poor labourers their due wages,” she recalls with justified pride having brought development in 19 villages of Holur gram panchayat in Kolar district around 120 km east of Bangalore.
“Padmamma has encouraged both women and men to contribute to society,” says M.S. Jayalakshmi, a functionary of the Grameena Mahila Okkutta, an NGO working for women’s empowerment in the Mulbagal taluk, a neighbouring taluk, that has 42 per cent elected women representatives.
An illiterate mother of three, Padmamma has found ways to work around her illiteracy. As she is not able to sign her name, she uses a symbol that is difficult to copy. And it worked to her advantage. She was able to identify a recommendation forwarded with her forged symbol for a tender and came down hard on the fraudsters. Questions thrown on her abilities by various factions were silenced when she brought down the panchayat’s expenditure from Rs 1,000 to Rs 300 within a month of being elected.
Earlier, the Holur panchayat, inhabited by around 8,000 below poverty line (BPL) families, had a tardy public distribution system (PDS) with upper caste affluent families reaping the benefits due to wrongly issued cards. Padma-
mma pursued the matter with the district officials and got a fresh survey done. Result: the BPL card went to those who needed them.
Her efforts freed 23 acre of government land encroached upon by influential people. The land is now being used for Pongamia plantation, for bio-diesel production. “Padmamma has brought us street lights, pucca approach roads, feeder drains to natural water resources and piped water to thirsty villages,” says Rajamma, a 68-year-old widow, who claims to have approached without results, every Sarpanch she had voted for. Padmamma was the only one who delivered.