Jaya Menon, Indian Express ,November 19, 2006
Highest bidder, an upper-caste Thevar, will get to use president as rubber stamp, get her to sign contracts and pocket the commission
Madurai, November 18:You’ve read how panchayat posts were auctioned in Tamil Nadu villages. Here’s a more bizarre story. A Madurai village, Kodikulam, today auctioned its president, a poor, illiterate Dalit woman who the villagers were forced to elect because the post was reserved for a Dalit woman.
Balamani Veeman, the panchayat president, was auctioned off despite her pleas that she would hand over all her “earnings” to the village committee.
At about 11 this morning, there was much excitement in Kodikulam village, about 25 km from Madurai, as Thevar (an ‘upper caste’) elders and the bidders gathered at the village square for the auction. While T Madhivanan was the hot favourite with his offer of Rs 2 lakh till this morning, another farmer, Karuppusamy Ayyavu Thevar (36), surprised everyone with his offer of Rs. 2.16 lakh and ‘won’ Balamani.
The village had decided that the highest bidder could use Balamani as a “rubber stamp’’ for signing agreements and other contracts for the village and take the “commissions’’ for himself. “Now Balamani would be under total control of Karuppusamy,’’ said Dhanam Pandi, a widow, who hails from the village.
“The auction for Balamani was to be held last Saturday along with that of the three cummas (water tanks, where fish is reared and sold). But the village elders decided to take up the auction for Balamani separately,’’ said Dhanam after the one-hour proceedings. Balamani’s husband, Veeman, told The Sunday Express that he and his wife protested even today. “But the elders did not listen. They went ahead with the auction and Karuppusamy won,’’ said Veeman, a retired assistant of the Village Administrative Officer.
Denying that he had won Balamani in an auction, Karuppusamy said he had only been “`chosen’’ by the village “to take on the responsibility of assisting the president in her functions.’’ Along with Balamani, the post of vice-president would also be thrown in as part of the deal as it would make his job of “helping’’ Balamani easier, Karuppusamy said. “While there was pressure initially to make Balamani resign as was being done in Keeripatti, Pappapatti and Nattamangalam in the past, we convinced a section of the villagers that one of us could take on the task of assisting the president,’’ he added.
A meek farm hand, Balamani (48) works on the fields of her Thevar bosses in nearby Machinapatty village. “I did not want to be auctioned and told the elders that whatever commissions we get from contracts will be handed over to them. But they did not listen,’’ she said. Earning about Rs 65 a day from her farm work, Balamani and Veeman’s first wife are the breadwinners of the family. In fact, when Balamani and her husband protested against the auction, angry villagers demanded to know if they could hand over Rs 2 lakh, the initial offer of Madhivanan. “We do not have that kind of money, so we had to submit quietly,’’ said Veeman.
When contacted, Madurai Collector T Udayachandran said he had not heard about the auction. “Let me check about it. If it is true, we will take action and monitor the village and see how the president functions,” he said.
The recently concluded civic polls saw several villages across Tamil Nadu auction panchayat posts, as was reprted in The Indian Express. At least in two cases, in Dharmapuri and Erode, the police arrested bidders based on complaints by the Block Divisional Officers.