Saturday July 21, 2018
Home India Mazharkodi Dh...

Mazharkodi Dhanasekar: The woman who brought Drinking Water, Toilets to a lost Panchayat in Tamil Nadu

In rural areas, every habitation has one or more common drinking-water taps, which get water at fixed times

0
//
125
Toilets at a village in India, Wikimedia
Republish
Reprint

– by Bhanupriya Rao

Tamil Nadu, March 11, 2017: Mazharkodi Dhanasekar has a radiant smile and is keen to talk about her achievements, which, as it emerges, are considerable: Building 650 toilets and making her panchayat free of open defecation in southern Tamil Nadu.

Dhanasekar’s fame has spread across the district as the woman who transformed and gained attention for a remote, lost panchayat–village council–largely ignored by officials until she was elected president in 2011.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

Dhanasekar, 49, is one of 40 past and current women panchayat leaders we surveyed across six Tamil Nadu districts to analyze the impact of a quarter century of reservations for women in local bodies. We found a majority of women now work independently of the men in their lives and, despite a series of hurdles that denies them access to finances, such as male-dominated political networks and limited powers, they have carved out distinct identities for themselves and overtaken men in building roads, providing drinking water and toilets, as the first part of this series explained.

Overall, Tamil Nadu now has India’s lowest fertility rate–lower than Australia, Finland and Belgium–second best infant mortality and maternal mortality rate, and records among the lowest crime rates against women and children, as IndiaSpend reported in December 2016, but places like Melamarungoor are outliers.

Drinking water once in four days, crumbling roads

“Block or district officials hardly ever came to visit our panchayat,” said Dhanasekar. “They don’t care about far-flung panchayats like ours. This meant they would not allocate extra funds for development. We just did not exist for them. Funds went to the panchayat closer to town (the block headquarters of Kalaiyarkovil).”

As you travel away from Kalaiyarkovil towards the neighbouring district of Ramanathapuram–close to which Melamarungoor is situated–the roads are pocked with potholes. On some stretches, only blobs of tar remain, the rest is mud. This is an arid part of Tamil Nadu, and villages struggle to find drinking water. Women and schoolgirls in uniform line up plastic pots near common drinking-water taps once in four days, which is when the water comes.

“I wanted to change that,” said Dhanasekar. “The only way, I realised, the district administration took notice of panchayats like ours was to completely transform it, show them what can be done. I managed to do that.”

When Dhanasekar assumed office six years ago, the balance sheet of her panchayat was a cause for concern. In 2005, eight villages from Ramanathapuram district were added to the 17 governed by the Melamarungoor panchayat.

Look for latest news from India in NewsGram.

However, State Finance Commission (SFC) grants meant for the eight Ramanathapuram villages were not reallocated to Melamarungoor. SFC grants, funds devolved by the state government, are the single biggest source of income for panchayats.

Dhanasekar’s first crusade was to get those SFC grants reallocated to Melamarungoor, which took a stream of petitions, weekly attendance at the district collectorate and more than six months of correspondence between the state department of rural development and the district administration.

She turned her attention next to the scarcity of drinking water.

Five years to bring drinking water to seven villages

Drinking water is a major problem across Sivagangai district. Villages in the district receive water mostly under the Combined Drinking Water Supply Scheme, popularly called ”Cauvery water”, from the contested river that flows south from Karnataka.

In rural areas, every habitation has one or more common drinking-water taps, which get water at fixed times. Of 3,352 rural habitations in Sivagangai, 397 habitations get some drinking water–10-39 lt per capita per day, against the 40 lt set by the National Rural Drinking Water Programme–and 2,955 get 40 lt, according to 2016 Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board data.

In recent times, due to failing monsoons and mining in the Cauvery basin, villages now receive water once in four days, sometimes.

For villages bordering Ramanathapuram district, salinity is an additional problem because the Indian ocean is nearby. As this 2014 report shows, desalination plants either do not work or operate below capacity. The eight Ramanathapuram villages added to Melamarungoor were acutely short of potable drinking water. It took Dhanasekar five years to have pipes laid and drinking water brought to seven of those villages. One village, Sattanur, still does not have a water source.

“I had to petition the Kalaiyarkovil panchayat union president (the panchayat union is the second tier of local government, a group of all gram panchayats in the Block) to get Rs 300,000 sanctioned for a reverse osmosis (RO) plant in one of those eight villages, so that villages around can get better drinking water,” said Dhanasekar.

Before the RO plant started in 2015, people bought water at Rs 30 per pot. Now they pay Rs 5 per pot, so waste is discouraged. “Water in these parts in a valuable commodity and people should know its value,” said Dhanasekar.

The shortage and value of money

Panchayats in Tamil Nadu are short of funds, as earlier parts of this series have pointed out. To get funds from other elected representatives, access to political networks is key–particularly difficult for women, most of whom are first-time politicians. Although panchayat leaders are not supposed to be affiliated to political parties, such affiliations are now common and, often, determine funding.

The Panchayat Union in Kalaiyarkovil Block is led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Since Dhanasekar’s family was allied with the AIADMK, it was not as difficult as it could have been.

“I could get some funds for another RO plant in my panchayat from the Panchayat Union,” Dhanasekar. “But if you have links to a rival party, say the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), getting funds is next to impossible.”

Dhanasekar’s biggest achievement, however, is not only that she built 650 toilets in her panchayat, but she did it cheaper than others, spending Rs 13,500 per toilet–of which Rs 12,000 is subsidised by the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), or SBM–by buying raw material in bulk and engaging labour from the adjacent Virudhunagar district for an entire year, not just to build these toilets, but other village construction activities such as the new Village Poverty Reduction Committee office.

A household toilet costs between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000, according to this 2016 field survey of SBM by Accountability Initiative, a Delhi-based think tank.

Still, Dhanasekar had to spend more than Rs 100,000 of her own money to manage the shortfall, which some villagers could not pay. The money will not be reimbursed.

Dhanasekar is a Maravar, a subcaste of the dominant Thevar community, and her family owns 15 acres of land in Melamarungoor, so she can absorb the loss. Although agriculture over the last five years has failed because of scanty rain, her family’s finance and money-lending business sustains them well.

Dhanasekar is willing to spend her own money because of her determination to put Melamarungoor on the district map of Sivagangai as a model panchayat. But many panchayat presidents, especially those women of limited means, cannot do the same.

Dhanasekar is aware of her unique position.

“Being in public office, I realised the amount of good I can do with power in my hands, even though it is limited power,” she said. “Now that I have achieved my aim of making Melamarungoor well-known, my next step is to organise women (panchayat) presidents into a federation and encourage more of them to contest elections. We need more women, fearless women.” (IANS)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 NewsGram

Next Story

Experts Suggest Trending Footwear Fashion For Men and Women

Getting the perfect footwear which has both comfort and style is difficult, but important. Invest in loafers, colourful slip ons and pair them with the right attire, as suggested by experts. Bhavya Chawla, Chief Stylist at Voonik and Surabhi Agarwal, head of merchandising, Crocs India have listed few trending footwears

0
Loafers are known to be the laid back version of a dress shoe and are best for a cocktail party for men. These shoes are versatile and comfortable.
Representational image. Pixabay

Getting the perfect footwear which has both comfort and style is difficult, but important. Invest in loafers, colourful slip ons and pair them with the right attire, as suggested by experts.

Bhavya Chawla, Chief Stylist at Voonik and Surabhi Agarwal, head of merchandising, Crocs India have listed few trending footwears:

* Flats are a must-have for casual wear. They are comfortable shoes and very versatile. They come in different colours and patterns and can be worn with jeans, capri pants, maxi dresses or any other wear.

To battle the extremely hot summer, slip-ons can be a saviour. Slippers, flip-flops, slides and open-toed pairs are in trend making the summer look not only chic and stylish but also perfect fit for the season. Speaking of prints and colours, keep it light and pick hues of purple, white, peach and mint.

As for men, a white pair of sneakers is an essential wardrobe item. It can be perfectly paired with most jeans.
Converse Sneakers. pixabay

As for men, a white pair of sneakers is an essential wardrobe item. It can be perfectly paired with most jeans. For a summer vibe, pair your casual shoes with light blue jeans. High top trainers/sneakers are also a huge trend this season. Suede or a coloured loafer will also go very well with your casual attire.

* Every woman should have absolutely drop-dead gorgeous evening shoes. Invest in a silver high-heel sandal, elegant black evening shoes or a multitude of other styles. Peeptoes, this heel should be preferably three to four inches.

This shoe is for dressing up either for going on a date, dinner, or even the company party. The open toe part of the shoe makes you look more stylish. You can pair these shoes with dresses of all kinds, skirts, and high waist trousers/pants.

Loafers are known to be the laid back version of a dress shoe and are best for a cocktail party for men. These shoes are versatile and comfortable. You can wear a loafer with a tuxedo if you choose, or with a pair of khaki pants and a t-shirt.

* The classic black pumps are apt for officewear. This can be worn to the office, work and to any other occasion, one can think of. The shoe should have a heel of two to three inches depending on preference.

This shoe is for dressing up either for going on a date, dinner, or even the company party.
Ladies heels. pixabay

Do not wear black with every colour. There is always a need for other neutral hues like brown, taupe, or beige. However, choose navy if you have clothing in those colour schemes. It can be a low heeled shoe that is also a closed toe. This shoes should be versatile enough to wear with trousers, slacks or even a dress.

If you are not a heel person, then bellies or ballerinas in solid colours are also a good option.

For men, Oxford shoes, brogues will make your outfit seem more formal. Combine a pair of slim navy jeans (cuffed at the bottom), with your favourite pair of dress shoes.

For a less formal tone, wear a pair of brown shoes. Black formal shoes will seem more formal and may appear strange when combined with jeans, match them up with trousers or chinos with a well-fitted shirt. Don’t forget to wear the appropriate pair of socks.

* When going on a beach choosing the right pair of footwear is the vital part. You want your feet to feel comfortable and cool and it should match with your summer dress, shorts or bikini as well.

Oxford shoes, brogues will make your outfit seem more formal. Combine a pair of slim navy jeans (cuffed at the bottom), with your favourite pair of dress shoes.
Brogues. Pixabay

Flip flops are one of the most appropriate choices but there are different styles which you can choose from. You can try out metallic flats as well.

Also Read: Trends That Will Rule Fashion in 2018

Dark florals are in fashion to beat the summer woes. Evening outfits will work best with dark floral slip-ons and slides. Just slip in and go for beach hopping, sunset strolls or pool parties.

For men, the easiest choice is flip flops. They are comfortable and easily available and very effective for their intended purpose. Pair them up with shorts, t-shirts or tanks. Throw on an unbuttoned short sleeve shirt over the top when you walk off the sand for a more stylish look. (IANS)