Women in India have had the right to participate in our democratic processes since independence. In fact, our political system requires women to be elected in certain leadership positions under our reservation system. As a part of the same, over the past 20 years, our government has extended a series of measures designed to ensure democratic decision-making on the local level through the election of Panchayats and sarpanch leaders.
The word ‘sarpanch’ typically evokes the image of an old, greying man, sitting under a banyan tree, smoking a pipe and solving village problems. Rarely does it bring to mind the image of an equally powerful woman.
Desh Apnayen changes this outlook and celebrates women sarpanch leaders who are making democracy work at the grass roots level, ensuring our villages continue to thrive and progress with the times.
The village of Awgand in Karnal district elected the country’s first female sarpanch in 1977. Since then, we haven’t looked back. Chhavi Rajawat grabbed hearts and headlines when, after an MBA, she returned to lead her village in Rajasthan. Let’s meet some of our other most enterprising women village leaders here.
- Arati Devi, Dhunkapara, Odisha
In 2014, Arati Devi, 28, was India’s youngest sarpanch. She leads Odisha’s Dhunkapara village. It was a matter of pride for state and country when the Consul General of the American Embassy in Hyderabad called to tell her that she was the only Indian selected for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on state and local governments for current and emerging leaders sponsored by the State Department.
Arati holds an MBA degree. She quit her job at IDBI bank in 2012 to become the sarpanch of her village. Since then, she has started adult literacy programmes, youth-adult literacy and mentoring programmes and created an awareness of a distribution system that enables villagers to get wheat, kerosene and other essentials at subsidized rates.
- Meena Behen, Vyara, Gujarat
Meena Behen is not only the first female sarpanch in Gujarat, she also heads the first all-women panchayat board of the region. She and her team have ensured that people of the village utilize Government schemes for their benefit. In 2014 alone, under a Government scheme that provides housing for the poor, they have built over 30 houses in their village. Next on their agenda is building a Government hospital in their village. “The saddest thing is that a lot of women too pointed fingers at us and constantly put us down,” says Meena Behen. “But I guess that would always be there…that is what kept us going and challenged us to do better everytime,”.
Hats off to Meena and her team!
- Sushma Bhadu, Haryana
Fiery Sushma Bhadu is the sarpanch of three villages in Haryana. Fighting centuries old patriarchal and controlling norms of her society, she has earned the respect and admiration of the three villages she leads – Salam Khera, Chablamori and Dhani Miyan Khan.
Under her hands, the literacy rate has improved from 58% to 69.1% and the sex ratio has improved from 884 women/1000 men to 903 women/1000 men. Defying the trend in the state, Dhani Miyan Khan has a zero dropout rate at the village’s only school. She is also a positive role model to other women, who are boldly giving up the ghungat and marrying their sons off without taking dowry.
- Radha Devi, Bhadsiya, Rajasthan
This dynamic sarpanch who was only allowed to study till class 5 is championing girls education in her village and district. She has stopped unfair practices in schools of the district, where the principal would force the girls to perform chores in school rather than study and threaten them with a fail grade if they refused. She has also convinced families who took their girls out of school to send them back again.
We salute all these women and celebrate their grassroots leadership.
Bio sources: Jaagore and Wikipedia