Kamalabai, a feisty 30-plus mother of two, is red-faced with anger. As the head of a women’s self-help group (SHG) in Ramai village, she has gathered together SHG members from 11 villages and laid siege to the Adilabad police station.
The hundred-odd women are not protesting some government scheme. They are here because they feel cheated of money allegedly distributed by the Congress during a bypoll held in March.
The SHGs make a good vote bank, and have become so organised that political parties have been using them to peddle their interests. In the Adilabad Assembly segment, there are 4,317 SHGs with 40,000 members. In the recent bypoll, the ruling party allegedly offered these women Rs 300 each in return for their votes. But the women allege that the community assistants who help run the SHGs kept most of the money for themselves, paying them much less than in other SHGs.
Kamalabai has even named the community assistants involved, who are now absconding. “He was ready to pay each of us Rs 150 per vote, but we refused as he had paid Rs 300 in other groups in our village,” she says. When they confronted the assistants, most refused to own up, forcing the women to knock on the doors of the Adilabad police station.
In addition, the women have decided not to repay their loans for the current financial year. The SHGs get loans at low interest rates from a state government scheme called Pavala Vaddi.
The women have also alleged that community assistants of the Indira Kantha Patham of the government body SERP (Society for Eradication of Rural Poverty), who monitor and process loans, are the kingpins during polls. They accuse them of pocketing up to 20 per cent of the money meant for SHGs on polling day. In Station Ghanapur Assembly segment in Warangal district, where all political parties reportedly distributed money to women voters, District Collector Rahul Bojja recovered Rs 50 lakh from community assistants.
Leaders from opposition parties have blamed the Election Commission for not taking note of these serious cases of bribing women voters. “This issue needs to be thoroughly probed,’’ says TDP candidate Payal Shankar, who lost her seat to the TRS’s Jogu Ramaiah. But as we know all too well, some things never change in India.