Kenchamma has served four consecutive terms in Neralekere Panchayat (village council) of Chikmagalore District; three times as a panchayat member and once as Sarpanch (president). Before becoming a panchayat member, Kenchamma was active in the Self-Help Group in her village.
She belongs to a Scheduled Caste and was only allowed to be educated up to the fifth grade. Initially, she encountered discrimination from other panchayat members because of her caste and gender.
Kenchamma participated in The Hunger Project-India’s Women’s Leadership Workshop (WLW). Slowly, she overcame the hurdles in her path by mobilizing women in the Gram Sabha (village assembly).
Quickly distinguishing herself as an effective leader, Kenchamma reclaimed panchayat land from encroachers, and initiated the construction of a school and an Aanganwadi (childcare) center. She helped to build pucca (solid) houses for the homeless and also worked to ensure that the elderly people in her district receive retirement pensions. Furthermore, she has successfully petitioned senior government officials to bring electricity to all parts of her village.
Kenchamma is also an active participant of THP-supported Taluk Federation in Tarikere Block, and is a member of the Steering Committee of SUGRAMA, the state federation of elected women representatives in Karnataka.
Kenchamma is an agricultural labourer on a daily wage. Despite her success as a local council member in the 2004–2010 tenure, Kenchamma was forced to not stand for the 2010 Gram Panchayat elections. The powerful in her village wanted a woman candidate who would be a puppet in their hands. Kenchamma was certainly not that. Though disappointed, Kenchamma stepped down but used her knowledge gained from The Hunger Project trainings to train Laxammma, the woman candidate who stood for elections. She continuously worked to instill in her the need for participatory and inclusive planning, good governance and to stand up for the rights of people especially women.
Since then, she is using her experience of being a member to help people access benefits from the Government. Kenchamma says, “I should have contested. There is also a talk in my village that they would have been better off with me as a member. I will stand for elections the next time for sure. I owe it to the people.”
October 25, 2009