Women empowerment has seen a paradigm shift over the decades, with participation of women at the grassroots level being equally hailed as essential.Sarah Berry explores the journeys of three such women, who have brought about change by their foray into good rural governance.
An ordinary journey made extraordinary
What is meant to be, always finds a way . . . Destiny is a strange thing, and Gheetha’s story is a classic example of this.
After completing grade sevenat the village of Shammerpet, Telangana, Gheeta’s life changed course with her marriage. Says she: “I was always keen on studies, and being a good student encouraged me to pursue higher studies and aim higher. Post marriage, I decided to pursue the completion of my class X examinationsfrom the Government High School, Srirangavaram, Telangana. However, thereafter, circumstances within the family were not conducive to facilitate further studies.I call this phase of my life ‘my first innings.’” Gheetha smiles andadds with nostalgia : “Those were challenging times. I did not know much about the outside world, just the household and its chores. I have, however, no regrets whatsoever. This phase taught me a lot too.”
Her “second innings,” however, saw no looking back, as Gheetha was catapulted from being a housewife to contesting an election for the prestigious post of a sarpanch (village council head). And her journey was an interesting one: Self Help Groups (SHGs) had been newly formed in Gheetha’s village, but there was no one to look after the book keeping. The women of the SHG urged Gheetha to take up the responsibility, which she did happily. “For me, it was a matter of service, which was very much appreciated by one and all, and this is what mattered to me, more than anything else. Subsequently, this service was converted into a paid assignment as the village book-keeper. It was a beautiful amalgamation of social work and profession. It earned me a lot of goodwill amongst the villagers too. Besides, I served as a kind of role model, as most women were confined to household chores only. I encouraged them to come forward and participate in social activities and trainings. It was a kind of movement!” reminisces Gheetha.
Over time, one thing led to another. Because of her services and the goodwill Gheethahad earned, people urged her strongly to contest elections for the post of sarpanch, butas an independent candidate, i.e. without any political support. However, due to financial problems and lack of political support, she suffered a defeat, but by a narrow margin of only fifty votes! Even in this defeat, she won the hearts of the villagers, as they appreciated her grit, hard work, and tireless service. The respect and love that people have for Gheethais clearly visible during social events where a seat in the front row is always reserved especially for her.
Her future plans? “To continue the good work, magnify it, and expand it to more beneficiaries,” says the “iron lady” with a smile.
A message she wishes to share with her readers: “Every woman is a personality in her own right; this is something that all should respect, acknowledge, and nurture. It is this inner talent that plays an important role in the development of society.”
Nishitha Reddy –living up to her name, and how!
Nishitha Reddy had always been a topper in studies; however, financial problems and marriage at the age of eighteen cut short her dream to pursue higher studies. However, her marriage into the village ofMysireddypalli, Telangana, opened a unique opportunity of amalgamating her passion for learningwith social service: writing books on behalf of the Self Help Group(SHG) of women, who were illiterate. Soon after, opportunity came knocking on her door yet again: The District Rural Development Agency was in need of a community activist (CA) for Reddy’s village, with the responsibility to look after SHGs at the village level. Says Reddy, “My appointment was unanimously supported by one and all; it was recognition for my service. I was then appointed as village organization assistant (VOA) and there has been no looking back. I also continued my studies and completed my graduation. I am currently pursuing my post-graduation.”
After her appointment as VOA, the first challenge Reddy faced was the lack of infrastructure, even for conducting SHG meetings.Women had to situnder a tree,facing the brunt of extreme weather conditions. Reddy says, “I wanted to resolve the issue; it so happened that one day the minister was visiting our village. I mobilized the women and submitted a proposal for the sanction of a Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas building for the village SHG women. The minister appreciated the initiative andgave the go-ahead for the construction almost immediately!”
However, the joy was short-lived as the allocated land had been encroached, and the squatters began attacking Reddy’s house and threatening her. She immediately informed the minister, seeking help; the police were informed and deputed in Reddy’s village until the construction work was completed.
Her efforts saw her subsequent election to the post ofworking president for the women’s cell. Reddy adds, “My passion has always been social work; it gives me a lot of satisfaction. It is my dream to turn my village into a model village for all to draw inspiration from. Besides this, it is paramount that women take more active part in the decision-making processes that change the course of their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in. The progress of women is vital for the progress of the society.”
Living her dream – C. NouziaBhanu’s journey
The choice of a political career is, usually, one passed to a scion. However, this lady chose to be a political leader, with a difference – to stand-up for the cause of the poor, and for the cause of women. This was not an overnight decision, mind you! It was an ambition, nurtured from when she was a child. Preparing herself well for the opportunity, C. NouziaBhanu took a plunge into the political arena with her nomination to the MPTC or Mandal Parishad Tutorial Constituency in the 2014 elections, in Chilamathur Mandal, Anantpur district, Andhra Pradesh, which she won by a majority of 700 votes. Soon after, another opportunity came knocking – to stand for elections to the MPP or Mandal PrajaParishad; sincethe Chilamathur MandalMPP seat was reserved for women candidates, and since she was the only one who had completed a secondary school education among all MPTCs, she was chosen by all fifteen MPTCs in Chilamathur Mandal, making her the leader of all eleven village presidents, fifteen MPTCs across the Mandal of sixty three villages and eleven village panchayats.
C.Nouzia Bhanu has born and brought up in the town of Hindupur. Her inspiration had always been the speeches by visiting political leaders and other successful people.Words of motivation in these speeches, and the desire to help people found resonance with her, inspiring her to study hard, and be something.She completed school in Hindupur, subsequently pursuing her intermediate (10+2); marriage caught-up with her, but she did not give up studying. Motherhood followed, but family support always remained by her side, pushing her towards the achievement of her dreams. Says Bhanu: “The happiest thing for me is working for people, making them aware of their rights, and helping them avail them. We, as a team, have sanctioned 1044 old age pensions, 1500 houses with ‘pattas’ (title deed) and new ration cards for all eligible candidates. I receive a lot of support from everybody,right from the MPTCs, village presidents, government officials and MLAs. Activities, close to my heart include working for the cause ofprevention of child marriages.” Right now, Bhanu is busy learning the nuances of good rural governance: she has participated in various conferences held by the government like the National Panchayat Raj Dinotsavorganized at Delhi, besides also submitting proposals for the Bangalore-Chennai Corridor, the Handrineeva Water project and for input subsidy to farmers.Bhanuwas also awarded “Best MPP” on the 69th Republic Day by district collector Mr.Veerapandiyan, IAS. “No dream is too big, if one decides to follow it with perseverance and courage,” says Bhanu with a smile. The fulfilment of her dream now serves as a role model for many young girls, and boys, to be what they dream to be.
Salahuddin Saiphy is Senior Manager, Projects, South India, Sehgal Foundation, an NGO, which works in the areas of food security, water management and good rural governance; he has been working closely with some of the women, who have donned the roles of ‘women leaders’ at the grassroots level. “The role of women in the house, as also outside it, is both of importance. Balance between both is paramount. The mobilization and participation of women in issues that matter, not only for them and their families, but also for the community and society as a whole, are vital; it is a slow, but gradual change, which is positive. The challenges are many; one of the most prominent ones being mind-set, but one change-maker can catalyse a domino effect, and that is, most of the times, enough to bring about significant change.”