SEWA ELECTIONS 2012 : Representing Ourselves
SEWA elected its new executive committee and leaders for the three years 2012 to 2015 during its Annual General Meeting on December 16th and 17th. Like all trade unions, SEWA has its general elections once every three years, and like all elections it is a long, exciting process.
The election starts at the grass roots with members in every village, every urban neighbourhood, every trade from agricultural workers to street vendors, from kite makers to cattle rearers………. SEWA has a two tiered structure. The Representative council consisting of representatives or pratinidhis who are elected directly from the members in every trade and every area. One ‘pratinidhi’ is elected from every 200 members, and so this year 4011 pratinidhis were elected from among the 8,02,032 SEWA members·. The Representative council or Pratinidhi Sabha, then elects the 25 member executive committee or Karobari.
Electing Pratinidhis (representatives) from among members
The Election committee with 26 members was a combination of full-time organizers and past or present members of executive committee. The first meeting of election committee was organized on 12 September 2011 during which rules were discussed. The role of members of election committee, learnings of past elections, and planning and programme schedule were discussed and arranged. For detailed planning and execution a Core Election Committee of 6 members was formed.
The core committee initiated the election process. The counting of city, district and state wise representatives; election programme was finalized, and budget was prepared. The arrangement of vehicles was assigned to some members. Tour plan, stationeries, computerization of representative’s districts, elected representatives (trade wise), coordination, distribution of circulars, etc was initiated. The report of core committee was timely submitted to the election committee. Discussions on the success stories, difficulties were organized post election.
They explained the SEWA Structure, election rules, and qualities a representative should posses. SEWA election process is like education process. Each member of election committee has unique way of explaining things to members.
Some elections were quick but others took many hours of discussion and debate! Election of home based workers like Bidi, Incense stick, Embroidery was completed peacefully. Tobacco worker’s election was complete within one hour ! In some trades, team leaders prepared a list of representatives and gave it to the election committee. Most of the elections were unanimous. Vendors, vending on roads, struggling with police – customers – Municipal Corporation… their election was vibrant.
Thus, 4011 representatives were elected. Everyone is important. Most of the representatives elected are young. SEWA is safe in young hands.
The entire election process led members understanding the importance of representation and accountability. And thus, members participated sincerely and enthusiastically. Some of the key observations were:
• Women participated with discipline and peacefully.
Election of the Karobari (executive committee)
Since early morning, representatives started arriving. The pratinidhis started assembling under the pandal. Today, they were to elect their trade’s executive committee members ! SEWA Executive Committee has 25 members. 1 committee member per 38,192 members. The representatives were divided into 17 groups according to their trades and areas. The work of organizing electoral groups of pratinidhis groups till 12 pm.
There were 51 electoral officers… they were organizers who had been part of previous election and had experience in conducting elections. Each group was given a number and a file with names of pratinidhis in their group, rules of election, attendance and badges according to name-trade-residence of representatives… badges were according to trade and colour, home based workers having yellow colour, labourers having maroon colour, vendors having yellow colour and producers having white colour…
All 17 groups were announced and each group found a place for itself in the large Manipur grounds. Organizers took attendance and badges were distributed to representatives to start the election. The atmosphere was full of vibrancy. All disputes were settled with discussion and debate. Elections started within the group. The groups were seen celebrating where the election was complete. The cheering went on for 3-4 hours. Everyone gathered again in the pandal. The results of elected committee members were declared and everyone congratulated them with loud slogans and dance. The new committee was elected amidst laughter and joy.
At the same time the SEWA Executive Committee office bearers were elected. SEWA Executive Committee met in the morning and the election was as per methods of SEWA… The President was elected from the trade having the highest membership, Vice-President from second highest membership, second Vice-President from third highest membership… Kapilaben, Farm Labourer was elected as President, Shantaben, Vendor was elected as Vice-President and Jamuben, Embroidery worker was elected as second Vice-President.
Jyotiben, Tobacco worker was elected as General Secretary. Yaminiben, Paper picker was elected as third Vice-President, Shantaben Koshti, Bidi worker was elected as Secretary and Rehanaben was elected as second Secretary and Hinaben was elected as Treasurer.
First participation in election: The members from villages of Vyara and Surat district participated for the first time in election process. They found the system very different from Panchayati Raj. They witnessed representation of members and empowerment. The confidence in organizing increased.
Absent candidate elected: In India, the candidates are not seen for 5 years but during election they visit every nook and corner. We saw the opposite happening here. Ramilaben actively struggled against liquor sale in her area. Her son was injured in the bootlegger attack. There was a police case and so Ramilaben was not present during the election process but was elected with majority. This is real democracy.
Working class leaders: SEWA leadership has always been a mix of working class and middle class. Or as Elaben calls it, blue blouse and white blouse. However, our commitment is to develop a working class leadership and since last two elections Jyotiben Macwan, has been General Secretary. Jyotiben’s mother is a long time SEWA member who worked in the factories of Ahmedabad and Anand and who encouraged her daughter to be educated, Jyotiben herself paid for her college education doing work in tobacco fields and factories. This year too, Jyotiben was re-elected as General Secretary, along with Shantaben Koshti a bidi worker, who is co-ordinator of SEWA Academy and Rehanaben Kherawala, who is co-ordinator of Anand district. The three vice presidents are Shantaben Parmar, Vendor; Jamuben Ahir, Embroidery worker; and Yaminiben, who works as the co-ordinator for paper pickers in SEWA urban union.
Collectively elected President: Ramilaben, the outgoing President and Kapilaben the incoming one are from the same district and both are farm labourers and tobacco workers. Ramilaben, in her farewell speech said ‘My time as president was very fulfilling, and I feel my duty is done. During my term I met Hillary Clinton, and she said “I have lost the election for President of USA, but you, my sister have won a presidency!”, I felt extremely proud. I will never forget these words that such an eminent personality found my post so significant. My work is most important for me. I have never missed a meeting during past 3 years. I have participated in 36 meetings. Once on the day of meeting, the funeral process of my paternal father-in-law was going on, still I participated in the meeting at Ahmedabad. This is possible only with the support of my family. The trust of my sisters on me is of prime importance.’
Kapilaben, incoming president, said, ‘My name was nominated during the previous election, but my husband had just died and I was personally very distressed. I could not have fulfilled my duty and had withdrawn my name. But now, I want to work hard. This is not for any position. This is my responsibility towards my sisters. I promise to fulfill the trust of my sisters.’
Taking the Oath
The old and new committee members were invited on dais. The oaths taken by new committee were facilitated by Jyotiben Macwan, General Secretary, SEWA. Shri Elaben Bhatt felicitated the previous executive committee. Elaben shared that once a SEWA executive member always remains a SEWA member in action and thought. She congratulated the entire SEWA family.
Chandrikaben, Agriculture worker, Surendranagar shared, ‘I am associated with SEWA since past 13 years. Struggle is part of SEWA sisters’ lives. We were one, we are one and we will always remain one.’
Gauriben, Embroidery worker, Radhanpur shared, ‘I am with SEWA since past 22 years. This committee is part of you. SEWA committee is formed by our own representatives. SEWA is like our mother’s home. The revolution in family, village, city, and country is brought by women. Together with our work, courage and determination, we all will bring change.’
· Although nationally SEWA has over 13,00,000 members; this AGM was for the primary union Swashrayi Mahila SEWA Sangh (SEWA) with its members in Gujarat, with about 8,00,000 members. This primary union, also takes members outside Gujarat in States where a separate local SEWA Union is not yet registered. So this year, apart from Gujarat the pratinidhis came from Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand and West Bengal, but they were small in number.