It is a witch-hunt on in the much-touted women empowerment movement of Kudumbasree. The Kerala model had once won national attention and there were moves to replicate it in other States.
But all that seems to be tales of yore as there appears to be a move to ensure that the whole movement is under the control of the CPM, allege a section within. That it was a party-sponsored initiative remains a fact, but the drive now is at reckless pace. There was an unsuccessful attempt by Congress led by MM Hassan more than a decade ago to launch a parallel movement, Janasree. But that failed as soon as it took off.
But the present move seems stronger to tighten the CPM grip in Kudumbasree.
A number of accountants across the State have been shown the door and in one particular case very serious false charges were made. It is not because they were involved in any fraud as some even stood up against it, but also refused to play second fiddle to CPM leaders.
Dinesh, an accountant with the Kudumbasree Community Development Society (CDS) in Koothattukulam in Ernakulam district has just received the notice confirming his ouster. He had been an accountant for the last nine years on contract basis as is the practice.
A CPM sympathiser, he told Pennews that his track record had remained unblemished and from a starting salary of Rs 5,000, he was last drawing over Rs 13,000. As district secretary of the union of accountants affiliated to CITU, he had opposed the sacking of one Shanta, another accountant in a nearby CDS. She moved the court which finally ordered her reinstatement, much to the embarrassment of the party. Dinesh recounted that he was warned by some of the party leaders then.
One evening while waiting for a friend at Koothattukulam, he sat on a chair at a venue of a meeting to commemorate a Left veteran and former minister. Once the friend came, he left the place with him. But the party charge was that he was part of a 100-strong CPM team that planned to join CPI. Things then moved in quick pace and on July 25, 2018, the CDS committee decided not to renew his annual contract.
Dinesh moved the court saying his ouster was unfair as he had not been heard. The court stayed his ouster and later ordered that the Kudumbasree executive director hear members of the CDS committee. A hearing, not directly by the ED, was organised and members admit confidentially that party leaders briefed them on what they had to present before the top officials. Enroute to Thiruvananthapuram, they were joined by some of the local leaders and were treated to a sumptuous meal.
Finally, the report based on 'hearing' the committee members was submitted to the High Court and Dinesh finally lost his job a few weeks ago. He proposes to move the court again on the basis of efforts used to coerce the members to hide facts and the executive director not following the court order to directly hear the members.
Worse was the case of Subashini of Pazhayannur who served for nearly eight years. The CDS executive meeting took place as usual. But the minutes presented had it that it was decided not to renew her contract for 'refusing to bring to the attention of the chairperson all emails received' among other things.
When the executive members officially complained that no such decision was taken, the authorities found it difficult to come out of the problem they had created. She fought the matter in court and finally got her ouster stayed. But like in Dineesh's case a 'hearing' was held and she was 'voted' out of office.
But things did not stop at that. One morning she found the excise department had slapped charges against her for 'dealing in marijuana' along with her brother, a Congress supporter. But it was finally found that the charge was bogus.
Finally, the High Court ordered a fresh stay on her removal on October 14. But two days later when she went to office, she was told that a new person had been appointed the same day and the CDS secretary told her that the explanation for this would be submitted to the court.
Shanta from Thiruvananthapuram, Babitha from Attingal, Sijo from Velukara in Thrissur, Nisha of Madakkathara, again in Thrissur, and Bhavya of Aimanam in Kottayam are among the many who have lost their jobs for 'refusing' to toe the party line.
Ironically, the poverty eradication programme through empowering women has men heading the district level committees in 11 of the 14 districts. Once headed by women, it now even has a male executive director.
Insiders admit that this is part of a party strategy. Top local leaders decide things and CDS staff are 'directed' to attend party programmes. Some admit that they are with the initiative as the funds and micro-finance schemes help them have a 'decent and quite enviable' lifestyle.
Social and RTI activist PG Sunil Kumar of Koothattukulam, who proposes to take up the issue of these ousted employees, says it is sad to see such a programme being misused for party activities. He points out that even the LDF-sponsored 'Woman Wall' on January 1 was organised on the 'strength' of Kudumbasree.