On Friday, a day after International Women’s Day, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) general body comprising elected representatives will start its new term with more than 50% women corporators.
In April 2011, the Maharashtra government passed a resolution announcing reservation for women in all civic bodies in the state to ensure better representation. After the February civic polls, women came to occupy 122 of the total 227 seats in the BMC’s general body.
Brushing aside the criticism of being a proxy for male family members, the women corporators are gearing up to handle women-centric issues, along with other civic concerns for their wards.
“Corruption will reduce and there will be more transparency in the system. All women who have been elected are earnest and sincere,” said Priyatama Sawant, 39, whose agenda includes introducing vocational training courses for women and a primary health centre in her ward, Kherwadi.
Several first timers will share space with veteran women corporators, some who have won from open seats. Shiv Sena’s Sheetal Mhatre, 37, a former television journalist and former joint director at the Mumbai District Aids Control Society, will take her maiden steps as an elected corporator from Borivli. “I will bring my experience in HIV intervention to the table. There are several international funding agencies willing to fund health projects, which we are unaware of. I want to work on that,” said Mhatre, adding that she would also take up women’s safety in public places and provision of toilets.
However, in some cases the allegations of proxy candidates may not be completely unfounded. “Our ward became reserved for women so we fielded my sister, Anusha Valpadasi. She is studying so I will help her work as a corporator,” said Ravindra Kodam, a member of the Shiv Sena. Repeated attempts to contact Valpadasi, a third-year biotech engineering student and the youngest corporator at 21, were unsuccessful.
Neha Patil, 23, a Congress corporator and an MBA student, too remained unavailable while her relatives offered to answer questions.
At a training programme held for aspiring corporators before the elections, several women had said that money and muscle power remained with the men. They also said their male counterparts might be the ones taking major decisions.
“There are cases where women relatives of established party workers get candidature, but it is up to the women to make the most of it. In 1997, I was elected on a reserved seat for OBC women, but after that I won three times on an open seat. Women must take the reins in their own hands,” said Shailaja Girkar, 55, of the Bharatiya Janata Party. She added that her husband and family never interfered in her work.
“We are asking women to raise women’s problems in the house and give more strength to the women and child development committee,” said Jyotsna Dighe, 58, from the Congress.
Nitai Mehta, co-founder of Praja, a non-profit organisation working in the field of governance, said, “We believe that reservation has to be at the party level so that women workers are trained and nurtured. They will be able to compete in the general category after that.”
He said rotation in reservation would lead to a negative impact in wards because candidates will be reluctant to nurture a constituency.
“Once you have taken the plunge, you must swim. People have trusted them and they have accepted the responsibility. Now they must deliver,” Girkar said.
Shubha Raul, 45,
Former mayor and corporator (Shiv Sena) from Dahisar
‘Take care of your ward like it’s your child’
At her Dadar residence, Shubha Raul is busy with meetings related to civic issues in the ward and ensuring her daughter, who is appearing for the HSC exams, has eaten well.
After serving as the city’s mayor (2007-2009) and starting initiatives such as an eco-friendly Ganesh festival, Raul believes that women should use their inherent skills with broader perspective.
“As a a corporator you have to think for the entire city and all the issues of your ward. I want to build a gymnasium and clean up the local water bodies. We should strive to make Mumbai a gender-friendly, rather than a user-friendly city,” said Raul, adding that the issue of senior citizens not being able to climb skywalks also needs attention.
She added that women should work on projects to benefit weaker sections such as provision of health care and education for all.
Raul, who travelled to the US during to study waste management systems, recently took a group of college students to see the Solid Waste Disposal Site at Gorai. The former mayor said she had to be very organised, regular and disciplined while managing her time. “You have to look after you ward, the was way a mother looks after a child. There are no excuses.”
Karen D’Mello, 46
First time corporator (Congress) from Bandra
‘Coordination between agencies will be on my agenda’
A resident of Bandra since birth, Karen D’Mello, 46, a law graduate and a homemaker, did not plan to enter politics. But after being involved in civic issues for several years, contesting the elections seemed natural when her ward was reserved for women.
“I understand the concerns of my ward because I have lived here. I plan to connect with the citizens groups and take my work forward,” said D’Mello. She wants to concentrate on road repairs, water shortage and traffic congestion. “I want to ensure coordination between utility agencies so that roads are not dug up by different agencies every day,” she said.
“In my ward, more than social issues, it is civic issues that are pressing,” said D’Mello when asked if she wished to focus on any specific women-related issues. “But enhancing facilities at municipal schools and hospitals is also a priority.”
Speaking about managing the household and her school-going children, she said, “My family has supported me whole-heartedly. But some changes will be required,” she said.