15 Jun 2015 21:05 IST

From Mayo to an MBA, to the Sarpanch of Soda

Chhavi Rajawat

Chhavi Rajawat sees herself as a connector of dots: between government, village and corporate sector

India has performed abysmally in eradicating gender-based disparities according to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, released in last year October. But it is amongst the top 20 best-performing countries on the political empowerment sub index, ranking an impressive 15. Having said that, The Hindu’s Rukmini S, in her opinion piece, The elusive quest for freedom, explains that while the 16th Lok Sabha may have the largest ever number of women MPs (62), they still form a meagre 11 per cent of the total (543).

And women’s representation in the States remains low; less than 10 per cent of the MLAs across States are women, she adds, citing data collected by Bhanupriya Rao, an open data activist.

In contrast, of the elected representatives of Panchayats, numbering approximately 28.18 lakh, 36.87 per cent are women.

Urban-rural bridge

Usually, when it comes to matters related to women’s empowerment, including political, the mainstream discourse is often dominated by happenings in the upper echelons of the Government, the Centre and the State. It’s rather ironic, therefore, that rural administration, in this case, is in a position to set an example for urban governance. One representative of India’s panchayats who appears to be doing this, and bridging India’s gender and rural-urban divide in the process, is Sarpanch Chhavi Rajawat, of village Soda (Tonk district, Rajasthan).
She also has the rare distinction of being India’s first MBA-degree holding Sarpanch.

“I am an alumna of Rishi Valley School, Mayo College Girls School and Lady Shri Ram College,” says Rajawat, who has an MBA in IT and Marketing from Pune University.

While she holds an electoral post, Rajawat isn’t affiliated to any political party. Serving her second term now, as a woman, especially an urban, educated one, did she face any problems when she was first elected?

“My grandfather was once the Sarpanch, I still live in his house in Soda. The village people have seen me grow up, I’ve always been at home here, hence, they were very keen that I contest for the post of sarpanch,” she says. “But, being the patriarchal society that it is, they first came and asked my father to ask me to contest; he then directed them to me,” she adds.

Between her grandfather being the sarpanch (he retired as a brigadier from the Indian Army), and her election, there was a gap of 20 years. “During his time he brought in electricity, constructed roads, houses, schools and hospitals,” she says. “I felt my education and background, and corporate work experience would be of great benefit to improve the condition of the village going forward,” Chhavi adds.

Challenges

Rajawat also sees herself as a connector of dots: between the government, her village and the corporate sector. “By playing the role of a facilitator, I thought the government would feel like they have a greater stake because they have someone who can actually implement their plans,” she says.

One of the first challenges she had to overcome as the Sarpanch was to address the water scarcity in her drought-stricken, backward village. “The village didn’t have a drop of water to drink,” says Rajawat. She undertook a water conservation project which sought to revive a reservoir covering 100 acres.

“I ran from pillar to post looking for funds, with no success,” she explains. Finally, with the support from near and dear ones, Rajawat was able to desalinate 10 acres. Thereafter, with the support of corporate giant Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Ltd, Rajawat was able to renovate the Shivra Taal to ensure better availability of water to over 950 households of Soda. And she achieved this in her first term as sarpanch.

However, the going hasn’t been all good. In mid-2014, according to news reports, a group of people, armed with sticks, iron rods and stones, attacked Rajawat, her father and the panchayat secretary over a land dispute. The dispute was over a piece of land where a government IT centre was being constructed under a Central Government scheme. But this hasn’t deterred Rajawat.

No regrets

“There hasn’t been a day that I regret leaving my corporate life to come and lead this village,” she says. Rajawat feels every young person in India has to realise their responsibility towards India’s villages and the nation, as she has.

“Our education institutions need to initiate something like a big-brother/sister sort of initiative to connect the youth of rural and urban areas. Only when this gap is bridged will we be able to solve some of our social problems,” she says, adding: “There’s a lot both can pick up from each other. It’s a win-win situation."

 

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