East Indian villages in Mumbai's western suburbs have begun the process of electing their own representatives, extra-constitutionally, after what they call years of neglect
Fifteen year-olds will be eligible to vote in the first ever Mobai Gaothan Panchayat elections that started on Saturday. "We have lowered the eligibility criteria to get the youth initiated into the voting process," said Alphi D'Souza, President of the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, the body that is conducting the elections, giving voice to the angst that the East Indian community feels at being under-represented in governance.
More than 15 East Indian villages (gaothans) went to polls to elect their sarpanch for the first time. The East Indians, who claim to be the original 'sons of the soil' have decided to elect a non-recognised body that will fulfil their needs by building pressure on the system, that they believe has been unjust to them.
"The elected sarpanch will act as mini corporator and take up the grievances of the original inhabitants of the city," said D'Souza.
According to Mobai Gaothan Panchayat's election information guide, a copy of which is with Sunday MiDDAY, "We gaothan residents, the Sons of Soil are ill-treated in their own city. We welcomed all strangers irrespective of caste, creed or religion, and a sizeable number of these strangers have now pushed us aside."
D'Souza claimed that the villages have narrow lanes, without effective street lights, sewage and drainage systems. Residents of old heritage houses don't receive written permission from authorities to repair their homes.
The gaothans from Vakola, Juhu, Kurla, Poisar, Manori, Gorai, Tulvem and Dongri will elect their own sarpanch in this election.
Surprisingly, gaothans from two of the biggest East Indian-dominated areas of Bandra and Mazgaon will not participate. "This time the elections are being conducted only in areas up to Santacruz. Bandra and other areas are not participating due to a lack of candidates to stand for the elections," D'Souza said.
The elected candidates will serve their gaothan for two and a half years, and their performance will be reviewed every six months.
Every gaothan that has a panchayat will form a core committee that will manage and work actively on local civic and social issues.
The Gaothan Sabha meeting will be held once a month and be open to all local residents wherein residents can share their opinions.
Apart from meetings within the community, the elected representatives will meet the MP once a year and the MLA twice a year. The meeting with the local corporator will be fixed once a month.