Life has suddenly changed for Sathiyamma, a destitute woman at Puthuppally, an assembly seat that would go for a bypoll next month, after she recalled how former chief minister and Congress leader the late Oommen Chandy was helpful to her family.
Two weeks into a recall of Chandy’s gestures towards her family, Sathiyamma, 52, lost her temporary job as a sweeper with the state animal husbandry department and now faces a criminal case for impersonation, forgery, and conspiracy. For the last six months, she had been apparently working as a sweeper instead of another woman, but that impersonation became a crime only when she spoke about Chandy, noted political pundits.
On August 12, a TV news crew chanced upon Sathiyamma at Puthuppally, where the by-election has been necessitated following the death of Chandy. His son Chandy Oommen is the Congress candidate, while CPI(M) has fielded Jaick C Thomas.
Sathiyamma, who works as a temporary sweeper with a veterinary sub centre at CPI(M)-ruled Puthuppally panchayat, bluntly told the channel that junior Chandy would win the by-election. Then she narrated how the late Oommen Chandy had been helpful to her when her son died in a road accident and that he had attended her daughter’s marriage.
On August 16, acting upon a tip-off, a district official of the animal husbandry department visited the veterinary sub-centre at Puthuppally and found that Sathiyamma was doing the job instead of K C Lijimol, who should have been in the post of the sweeper. These women, deputed from the state poverty alleviation mission Kudumbashree, used to take turns for six months in a year to work as temporary sweeper at the vet centre. Accordingly, Lijimol should have been on duty from 26 February to 23 August, this year. The official pulled up the staff at the vet-sub centre and returned.
On August 21, when Sathiyamma reported for duty at the sub-centre as usual, she was informed over the phone from the higher ups in the department that she was sacked from the job.
Adding to her woes, last Friday, the police registered a criminal case against Sathiyamma and three others, one of them an assistant field officer with the vet sub-centre. The other two alleged accused in the FIR are the president and the secretary of the Kudumbashree unit at Puthuppally. The case was registered based on a complaint from Lijimol.
On Monday, Sathiyamma told media persons in Kottayam that she had been working at the vet sub-centre for the last 11 years. “Over these years, nobody told me to quit the job until I spoke about Oommen Chandy. I was paid through Kudumbashree, which used to issue me a cheque for Rs 8,000 per month. I never knew that my job was only for six months. When I saw the name of Lijimol in the Kudumbashree list, nobody including Lijimol found anything illegal in it. She was also aware of it. Realising the financial constraints at my home, Lijimol had allowed me to continue to work. She might have moved a complaint against me due to political reasons,’’ she said.
The Congress raised a hue and cry over the removal of the sweeper claiming that the CPI(M) took revenge upon a poor woman who praised Oommen Chandy. The Congress also highlighted the incident as part of its ongoing campaign to attack the ruling party.
Opposition Leader V D Satheesan said the government should have been kind enough to the woman. “She should not have been sacked for having spoken about Oommen Chandy. It is a Stalinist approach. The government should not have been obsessed with the technical aspect of the issue,” he said.
However, Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani said Sathiyamma had been working illegally. “There is no political vendetta behind the action. This was an incident of impersonation. Her appointment was only for six months, which she had completed in February this year,” she said.