Small World

Triumph of the centenarian candidate

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Going strong at 102, Gowthamma has won the panchayat polls of a nondescript village in Karnataka
Doddalathuru is a hamlet 240 km from Bengaluru with a population of just over 1,000. It was unknown to most until recently. But then the gram panchayat elections took place and a woman who is said to be 102 years old won.

Gowthamma’s face is wizened and there is a pair of oversized spectacles on it. Speaking in Kannada, her native tongue, she says that the entire village backed her decision to contest the polls. She received 354 votes and defeated her brother’s wife by a comfortable margin of 139. “We supported her because she raised several issues that were neglected for so many years,’’ says BP Mahadeva, a village youngster.

Gowthamma campaigned on the promise of underground drainage, piped drinking water, street lights, an anganwadi centre, a primary health care unit and a model primary school. “Despite such a large population present in the village, we still lack basic amenities,’’ she says.

When asked for proof of her age, the mother of seven with dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren shows a dog-eared voter’s ID card issued by the Karnataka government in 1993-94. Her age on the card is mentioned as 81, making her 102 now.

Her husband passed away 49 years ago, her son in 1985, and Gowthamma now lives alone in a small green RCC concrete structure with a thatched roof. There is a mound of stone blocks at the periphery to keep at bay wild animals that often roam the area. Tellingly, even as she speaks and poses for media pictures, an empty plastic water pot lies right next to her feet. It needs to be refilled at the common village tap where no one knows what time or for how long water will be available. Her six daughters are married and live near their mother’s house. Asked if she would succeed in uplifting the village, she confidently says, “I am going to perform better than anyone expects of me.”