Vani Doraisamy

Gender equations are undergoing a slow but sure change

CUDDALORE: In the fishing hamlets of Cuddalore district, gender equations are undergoing a slow but sure change and may prove the decisive factor in determining voting patterns in the Assembly elections.

The emergence of self-help groups (SHGs) as peer pressure networks that have come out in support of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam means the dice is loaded in favour of the Government, especially post-tsunami.

Combine this with the efficacy of the rehabilitation programme, and you have a winning combination that is causing heartburns among other candidates. "The SHGs have proved providential to the Government, especially after the tsunami, as there is more of global attention. This, in turn, has led to the AIADMK candidate basking in reflected glory, as most of the SHGs enjoy considerable economic clout among the local community," a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.

In the months immediately after the tsunami, not less than 535 SHGs got going in the district, most of them supported by local non-governmental organisations, including the Pondicherry Multi-purpose Social Service Society and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Revolving funds were more than forthcoming for tailoring, shopkeeping, fish processing and horticulture. The SHGs have now grown into powerful networks and may impact the voting pattern of men.

The women SHGs win out on sheer arithmetic: each of the 525-plus groups have 20-25 members, most of whom are in a position to influence entire families to vote for the AIADMK. "Before the tsunami, our monthly income used to be erratic and seasonal. Now we are assured of a steady income, thanks to the district administration. Even if the men do not go fishing, the home fires will still burn," says Sudha of the Komadha Magali Sahodhara Vaazhu Sangam, Devanampattinam.

Interestingly, among the cluster of all-men SHGs, such as the Mahatma Gandhi Sahodhara Vaazhvu Sangam, Devanampattinam, and the Moses Meenavar Suya Udhavi Kuzhu, Killai, near Chidambaram, the voting preferences seem mixed. For, the men SHGs have not been able to break as much ground and so lose out on the electoral stakes. Some of the men are willing to give actor Vijayakant a chance, while the others say their loyalty to the DMK cannot be wished away. Discontent seems to have set in among non-fishing community SHGs, especially over inadequate compensation for crop loss. At Devanamapattinam, a couple of agricultural SHGs last week threatened to boycott the polls, but the protest failed to garner momentum. "Though the Government gives free power to neighbouring streets for running farm pumpsets, we still have to pay Rs. 5.50 a unit for operating our pumpsets for cultivating jasmine. The economics is ruining us, and so we will vote for any party that promises us free power," says E. Ramadass of Valluvar Colony.