From strength to strength

From strength to strength

The story of Sesamma Guttikallu, vice-president of Bannur Gram Panchayat, is one of grit and determination. The path she took to ensure the welfare of her people also helped her become literate and socially aware. Her hard work shows — today, Bannur’s gram panchayat is a model local body. Anitha Pailoor narrates her inspiring story.

Poornima of Chikkamudnur village in Puttur taluk hardly knew that an informal chat with Sesamma could result in a new house for her. Though she owned a house, it was barely enough for her expanding family. Though hers was a below-poverty-line (BPL) family, she was not sure if they were eligible for another house. It was Sesamma, the then gram panchayat president, who understood the situation and informed the family about a provision under the Basava Vasathi scheme. “I also ensured that the new house had a toilet.”

Taniappa, a cancer patient, approached Sesamma to learn more about how to get the financial assistance for his treatment. Sesamma found a way and approached the local MLA, who offered monetary help.

Even as she narrates her journey from being an illiterate woman confined to the four walls of her home to becoming a people’s representative, the phone rings. The caller seeks her support to investigate the case of a missing woman. “I was shocked when I learnt that this mother of two has been missing from the last ten days. Lodging a police complaint and consoling the family is my responsibility, as a people’s representative.”

As an active member of a taluk-level committee to combat child and women trafficking, Sesamma has many stories to narrate.

They range from saving her neighbour from domestic violence to staging a protest against parents who left their new-born girl child in the hospital. Also, she protested against the hospital for not bringing the incident to the notice of the Child and Women Welfare Department.

Striving doubly hard

Belonging to the ‘Nalike’ community, which is categorised under the Scheduled Castes, Sesamma Guttikallu always felt doubly oppressed. The tag of a backward community and her gender meant she had to strive harder than the others. She never got an opportunity to attend school as she was forced to take up work. Beedi rolling was an income generating activity she was involved in, like most girls of her community. An early wedding to Muttappa in Chikkamudnur village didn’t change the pace of her life.
Her hard-working husband was also an alcoholic. Running a household with three children was not going to be easy. Struggling hard to meet the demands of her family, Sesamma flatly refused an invitation by Aruna, a prerak (motivator) to join the Total Literacy Campaign initiated in 1990. It was later on that she understood the progressive nature of the movement and joined the programme in its second phase in 1995. The campaign gave her a platform to channelise her concerns for the well-being of society.
For Sesamma, the literacy campaign was not merely something that taught her the alphabet. It brought about awareness and enabled her to contemplate on an issue and take decisions independently. An informed Sesamma also became proactive. She became a star campaigner and became president of the District Neo-literates Federation.
Formation of self-help groups and active participation in different programmes add to her experience.
In 2010, villagers persuaded Sesamma to contest the local governing body elections. The first-time member also got the opportunity to grace the top-most post in Bannur Gram Panchayat of Puttur taluk which was already progressing in the right direction.
The Panchayat, which was the front-runner in the literacy campaign, was also awarded National Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2007. Panchayat officials say she ensured they read out each and every circular and manifesto to her, before taking a decision. “Humility and eagerness to keep the villagers informed about different provisions and policies catalysed her decisions,” feels Panchayat Secretary N Shantharam. During her term as the president, she was available at the office every day.
Gender equality
During her tenure as the president from June 2010 till December 2012, Sesamma led several awareness campaigns related to education, health, environment and livelihood. Her association with the literacy movement made her gender sensitive and she created a strong base for gender equality with programmes like women’s day, compulsory education for the girl child, awareness on nutrition and hygiene, meetings of neo-literates, etc.
Be it upgradation of facilities in the anganawadi centre or creating awareness about the environment by setting up a kitchen garden in the village school or enhancing infrastructure by repairing roads and electrification of colonies, Sesamma continues to lead from the front and inspire others.
“I want women in the three villages of Chikkamudnur, Padnur and Bannur, which constitute the Panchayat, to learn to think independently, and decide for themselves,” she explains. According to a survey in 2012, the Panchayat has 1,214 families of which 401, including Sesamma, are below poverty line.
On October 2, 2005, a sanitation programme was organised in Chikkamudnur Higher Primary School. Villagers volunteered to construct two toilets for the school.
Ten days later, Sesamma led by various organisations, ensured that 100 toilet pits were dug in her village. This was the prelude to the success of the total sanitation programme in her village.
In a move to create awareness about the harm caused by the rampant use of plastic, Sesamma and Aruna went from house to house in 2006, collected plastic and constructed a plastic hut in their village.
The gram panchayat constructed similar structures in other villages. These waste collection and separation units are still use in these villages. Sesamma feels gram sabha meetings are crucial because they help people familiarise themselves with various allowances and schemes chalked out by the government for the welfare of the common man. Her constant efforts to persuade people to be a part of such meetings by paying house visits and talking to each individual have resulted in a greater participation during her term.
A model GP
Though Sesamma’s position has changed to vice-president since December 2012, her thrust to change the lives of the needy remains the same. Gram Panchayat President Udaya Kumar Peruvodi is all praise for Sesamma and her efforts.
Bannur Panchayat is also at the forefront when it comes to making the literacy campaign a greater success. Model Gram Vikas Kendra, which operates from Beeriga Anganawadi Centre, hosts self-help groups comprising women, particularly neo-literates.
Sheena Shetty, ombudsman of MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) programme in Dakshina Kannada, lauds the work done in Bannur Gram Panchayat.
Shetty is confident that Bannur will soon become a self-reliant gram panchayat. Bannur is one of the few panchayats, says Shetty, where MNREGA is being implemented in its true spirit.
An active member of the Santhwana Kendra and Sugrama Federation, Sesamma spends most of her time resolving the problems of people around her.
One can clearly see how ‘Gram Swaraj’ (village self-reliance) is taking shape as she plants pepper vines in her small areca farm, the source for her livelihood.

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