Sidhamallamma Kanchappa, 32, a tribal panchayat president of Padiganalm village, in Krishnagiri district. Married against her wishes at 11, to her dead sister’s husband. She gave birth to her first child at the age of 12 only, in the year 1998, the child nearly died as the baby was premature.
That experience taught her the importance of women’s reproductive health and control over bodies. She tried her level best to look after the health of all women and wanted to solve the major health related issues.
When Sidhamallamma from the tribe, famed as snake catchers was elected the president of remote Padiganalam panchayat in Thally block she made women’s health a priority. She wanted to develop various cures against critical health issue that women face especially during child birth, that makes the mother weak.
In this panchayat, situated among the craters of granite mines, early marriage, frequent pregnancies, anaemia and malnutrition are such health problems that each women are plagued with.
Sidhamallamma wanted to spread awareness on women’s reproductive health. She is one of 40 past and current women panchayat leaders across six Tamil Nadu districts to analyse the impact of a quarter century of reservation for women in local bodies. It is also seen that majority women now work independently of the men in their lives and despite a series of hurdles that deny them access to finance, male dominated political networks and limited powers.
It was the paucity of ASHAs in Padiganalam that prompted Sidhamallamma to get herself trained as a health worker in 2014. Two years into her tenure, the ASHA decided to go away with Bengaluru for daily wage labour, she was interested in women’s health, so she decided to join the training. Even though she was illiterate, she made mental notes of everything.
She suggests women that they should eat greens, especially drumsticks leaves and jaggery to improve their blood (haemoglobin)
She repeatedly emphasises that the link between better health, early pregnancies and child marriage.
As a panchayat president she is limited by the Powers she had to influence health care delivery beyond awareness building and persuasion. The Tamil Nady health department guidelines limit the role of panchayat to create awareness and ensure proper sanitation in village in their devolution.
If there is one challenge she has not been able to overcome in her term as a panchayat president, it is building and use of public and individual toilet. Yes the government is giving money but still there is a problem. She knows it is not possible or easy to change traditional attitudes. But she would try it. In 2017 she will stand for re election although her constituency is now a general constituency with no reservation for women.
Sidhamallamma proved to be a true women and an example for all, her idea and imagination about women’s health made many women stand in a better position