Hmarkhawlien (Cachar) Feb. 10: Hmarkhawlien, 31km east of Silchar, is bracing for an interesting duel of ballots between two Hmar Christian women for the post of president of Fulertal gaon panchayat, polling for which is slated for February 12.
Lalringlien Sanate, 36, the present president of the gaon panchayat, is being pitted against her lone challenger, Rosangpuii, 26, a post-graduate in political science from Gauhati University who had chucked her cushy job of a consultant in an NGO for children and women, One Hope, headquartered in Florida in the US, to dedicate herself to the task of economic empowerment of women.
The gaon panchayat seat has an electorate of about 3,800, majority of whom are Hmarkhawlien pineapple farmers, who raise the fruit twice a year — the biggest of-their-kind in the south Assam districts.
The irony of their living is that the villagers continue to wallow in wretched poverty where they find it tough to make ends meet.
The main reason of their continued impoverishment is none other than the low price they get in selling their pineapples while moneylenders and middlemen in the marketing laugh all the way to the bank.
If one wends through the maze of lanes of Hmarkhawlien village, nestled on the hillocks, one could sniff the pangs of bitter living conditions.
There is a single middle school and four primary Hmar language-medium government institutions, which failed to improve the literacy rate here.
It stagnates at a poor 45 per cent compared to the state’s 73.18 per cent.
The medical facilities are conspicuous by their absence. There is not even a single state dispensary and locals have to haul patients to a primary health centre, about 10km away in the block headquarters of Lakhipur town.
The only source of employment in the sprawling village and its neighbourhoods, which make up the Fulertal gaon panchayat cluster area, is the seasonal farming works in the pineapple fields.
One ray of hope in this encircling gloom is the radical empowerment of women in Hmarkhawlien enclave where they are in the forefront of every piece of daily work — be it farming, teaching, mobilising the churchgoers and even orchestrating protests against daily corruption while their male counterparts are busy in their card games and daily rounds of endless gossip sessions.
The panchayat polls, however, have come as the beacon of mass mobilisation.