Scattered over the desert state, a new firebrand lot of elected women representatives challenge the notion of playing puppet in the hands of power seeking sarpanch-patis. Young, socially conscious graduate women in Rajasthan are choosing to tread the path of politics over other possible lucrative careers, with a singular view to work for their people, find Sowmya Sivakumar and Jaspreet Kaur.
Shama Khan Pradhan Chohtan block, Barmer district
Shama Khan is daughter-in-law of seven time MLA Abdul Hadi and wife of Barmer up-zila pramukh Gafoor Ahmed. But, it would be a mistake to ascribe her identity only to her family’s larger than life political legacy. Shama was unopposedly voted as the Pradhan of Chohtan block, Barmer district after serving as a panchayat samiti member for five years between 2005 and 2010.
Seven years into the thick of grassroots politics, Shama confesses that this was never what she dreamt of. “I come from an academically oriented family. I had purchased all the books to prepare for RAS exams and was set to enter government service. But I got married in between my graduation. Although I continued my studies, the round the clock influx of visitors who would bring their problems to my father-in-law made a deep impression on me,” says Shama, who also did her graduation in law in the meanwhile. “Being a male-dominated society, I noticed that very few women would come forward with their complaints. I started feeling that something needs to be done for them, and they too needed one amongst them who could take up their specific problems.”
It was only a matter of time that, from being completely uninterested in politics, Shama decided to contest panchayt samiti elections in 2005. From being panchayat samiti member, she was voted unopposed as pradhan of Chohtan in the 2010 elections.
“Many government schemes are made but people are not able to reap its benefits due to lack of awareness. This, to me is the biggest obstacle in development. I keeping sharing information at every forum I get. The state of education of girls in this area is abysmal. After I got elected, I started regular monitoring of schools, hospitals, ration shops etc in my area. Enrolment has increased from just 550 girls (standard 1st to 12th) in the block to 6550 in April this year.”
“It is not ‘politics’ which hold particular interest to me. What I am interested in is social service and this is something I will continue doing whether or not I am in a political post,” she declares.
Rakhi Paliwal Up-sarpanch, Upli Odan, Rajsamand district
Rakhi Paliwal was all of twenty one when she told her father her mind was made. Freshly graduated in arts from a Nathdwara college, she wanted to contest the ward panch elections, taking his work as sarpanch in the ‘90s forward.
Sanitation is on top of the agenda for this spunky twenty four year old who was elected upsarpanch of Upli Odan panchayat, Khamnor block in Rajsamand district in 2010. What irked her most from a young age was to see people in her village answer nature’s call in the open. Much before Jairam Ramesh spoke about it, this young law graduate was busy trying to harness resources to build toilets in her panchayat.
“We had crores of rupees sanctioned under the PURA (Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) Yojna for a comprehensive town plan, but not a penny has been released. I have met both the CM and MP (CP Joshi) on this, but nothing happened. Then I turned to local industrialists and the Miraj group has now come forward and agreed to fund building of toilets, electrification and maintaining clean streets.”
“I have also tried to get as many young girls especially from the SC and ST communities to attend school, and improve the water supply situation in the panchayat,” she adds. Rakhi completed her law from Udaipur, and says “I learnt law so that I could use my knowledge to govern better.”
Anita Bairwa sarpanch, Shivdaspura, Jaipur district
Politics is not a path that one would expect a beautician to pick. But that’s precisely what Anita Bairwa, now sarpanch of Shivdaspura, near the state capital, opted for. The trigger was an eve-teasing incident by a drunk which set her thinking and finally take the plunge into politics.
“My panchayat falls in a satellite town under JDA’s jurisdiction. Even though close to Jaipur, it had no proper roads or water supply. But the biggest problem was the rampant eve-teasing by drunken loafers around the area. Women used to be scared of moving freely or even coming to the panchayat.
“I was so fed up one day that I dragged one of them to the middle of the chowk and gave him a good thrashing. After this, the number of such incidents has declined, and so has fear.”
“I believe a woman should be financially independent,” she maintains.
“I got one crore of funds from JDA to develop roads, and more is expected. I have used the TFC funds entirely for digging tubewells and installing tankis. The water problem needed to be tackled with some commonsensical solutions. I spoke to the sarpanches of neighbouring villages and got our panchayat connected with the pipeline through these villages and that’s now taken care of,” she shrugs.
Anita left studies after her 10th when she tied the marital knot. But that didn’t deter her from picking up her books 10 years later, and going on to do her B.A and B.ed before contesting elections. She has also done courses in ayurveda and alternative therapies.