The Tamil Nadu Panchayat Secretaries Association staged a protest across Tamil Nadu on Friday, with a three-pointer charter. One of the demands was that panchayat secretary Sindhuja, who was arrested and reportedly suffered a miscarriage at the time of her arrest, be released. Sindhuja was arrested for failing to report the caste discrimination against panchayat president Rajeshwari in the Therukuthittai panchayat.
On October 10, Rajeswari, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, filed a complaint with the police accusing panchayat vice-president Mohan of forcing her to sit on the ground for meetings. Following this, the police registered a case against Mohan under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police also arrested Therukuthittai panchayat secretary Sindhuja on the same day.
Members of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Secretaries Association demanded the government release Sindhuja, saying the panchayat president was discriminated against only by the panchayat vice-president and not the panchayat secretary.
The president of Tamil Nadu Panchayat Secretaries Association (TNPSA) Johnbosco Prakash said, â€śThe police should have only arrested the vice-president on the charges. The panchayat secretary Sindhuja had an additional charge to overlook Therukuthittai panchayat, and her permanent posting was Pootharampettai. On the day of the incident, she attended the meeting at Pootharampettai panchayat and only then visited Therkuthitta. She was not aware of the incident.â€ť
He added that Sindhuja suffered a miscarriage during the arrest and was admitted to a government hospital for two days. â€śThe panchayat secretary was taken for investigation and she was immediately arrested. She suffered a [spontaneous] abortion in jail because of this. Why should she suffer such pain? She should be released immediately,â€ť he said.
The panchayat secretaries also demanded the government ensure the autonomy of women panchayat leaders as most of the panchayat decisions are taken by their husbands. â€śAll the panchayat women presidents can function independently and they have 50% quota in local bodies. However, the women are dominated by their husbands. Many men leave their wives, who are panchayat presidents, at home to graze the cows and attend the panchayat meetings which are supposed to be chaired by the women leaders,â€ť
The women leaders are used as a rubber stamp by the men, he said. â€śThe husbands give instructions for us most of the time and they use the chair of the panchayat leader. In some cases, the leaders sign only at the places instructed by their husbands. In worst cases, only the husbands will visit the district authorities instead of the panchayat president,â€ť Johnbosco alleged.
The district administration is also patriarchal and never questions the husbands of the panchayat leader, he said.
Thirdly, the Panchayat Secretaries Association urged the state government to let them report directly to the Block Development Officer instead of the panchayat president. â€śIn Cuddalore, the officials flagged that Sindhuja did not report about the discrimination to the Block Development Officer. It is because we should report to the panchayat president and we cannot go for or against them. They should sign our cheque for sanctioning our salaries. In that scenario, without their permission, we cannot report to BDO.â€ť