KERALA

Dalit women in civic bodies create waves

KOCHI JULY 3 . Daring social oppression and adverse social circumstances, Dalit women representatives in various civic bodies in the Ernakulam district are creating a history of

sorts.

A random survey held among the Dalit women civic body representatives of the district by this paper revealed that social and economic empowerment of Dalit women, led by these civic representatives, is silently taking root in the district.

Fighting the triple oppressions of class, caste and gender,

Scheduled Caste women representatives of various local bodies in the

district have carved out a niche for themselves in the fast changing social scenario of the district.

With hardly two months left for the completion of two years in public life, these women have a lot to cheer about for they strongly believe that they have succeeded in creating a space for themselves and the communities they represent.

Breaking the invisible social chains that forced them to the margins of the society, these women are all set to rewrite the development history of their constituencies.

As the first step towards the economic empowerment of these marginalised sections of society, their elected representatives have initiated the process of making Dalit women owners of their dwelling places in most of the civic bodies.

This step is viewed as a significant one which has socio-political and economic significance in the lives of these community members.

All the women representatives interviewed by this paper also claimed that they had not faced any discrimination in political or public life, which amounts to freeing a crucial section of the decision makers hailing from the marginalised communities from the social shackles that prevented their social upliftment.

The empowerment of these women through education and involvement in the political process also provided them access to justice, it was found.

This emerging new Kerala development model is significant when compared to their counterparts in other States which are marked by low literacy rates, continuing monopolisation of State, economic and cultural resources by the middle and upper classes.

One such imitative is taking place in Vadavukode gram panchayat, which has a Scheduled Caste woman _ Kumari Thankamma Ayyapan _ as its chairperson.

The panchayat, which started a programme for supplying autorickshaws to 10 Dalit women last year as part of the self-employment programme, is in the process of formulating new schemes that would take away the financial burden from the shoulders of beneficiaries.

``As the banks insist on collateral securitiy for issuing loans, we were unable to extend the schemes to many poor Dalit women. However, we will introduce schemes that would take away the burden of providing collateral securitiy from them," Ms. Ayyapan told The Hindu.

``In addition to the drinking water schemes for the SC\ST colonies, we are formulating a project for purchasing land for building houses for the Dalits and OBC women," said Ms. Ayyapan, who was elected as an independent candidate. Kochi Corporation is another civic body which has undertaken such an economic empowerment move for the Dalits. The Corporation has already deposited the amount required for 19 eligible applicants with the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), which is to make the land purchase..

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