Not so long ago when many bright, young Indians were more interested in leaving the country to pursue their careers abroad, it was hard to find people who stayed behind to serve the fellow countrymen whose voices are rarely heard. But the time is changing, and so is the mindset of the people from the present generation. Here are a few bright Indians who sacrificed their high-paying careers and luxurious lives and instead became village sarpanches.
An MBA graduate, Arati was working as an investment banker at IDBI bank when she decided to return to her village Dhunakapad (Odisha) and serve the people there by fighting a local panchayat election. As a sarpanch, Arati led 16 educated girls to teach every woman in each of the 16 wards of her panchayat and made more than 700 women literate. As a result of this, the number of women participating in gram sabhas rose steadily as they began to demand their rights and entitlements. “Women in my panchayat will no more be rubber stamps,” says Arati.
In the past five years of her tenure, she has brought to her village pucca roads, electricity connections, zero teacher vacancies, streamlined PDS system and revival of folk art troupes. For her exemplary work, she was chosen to represent India at the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP-2014), the US Department of State’s premier professional exchange programmes. Join her here.
Jabna was working as a TV news anchor when she decided to fight elections to make her village Thajun (Himachal Pradesh) a better place for women. Today she is the youngest sarpanch in the country.
Within a short span of one year, Jabna coordinated with several Mahila Mandal groups, roped in Panchayat members, and got liquor and tobacco products banned in her village. Inspired by her success, today several villages around her panchayat are free from liquor. A strong opponent of dowry, drugs and early marriages, Jabna laments that even today women continue to be tortured for dowry. A recipient of the best Pradhan award, she is now working to set up an NGO to get village women an additional income. Join her here.
Many of us were inspired after watching Swades, a Shah Rukh Khan starrer Bollywood movie, where the protagonist returns to his village leaving a job at NASA. Bhakti’s story is not much different either. Bhakti quit her high-paying job in Texas, USA, and returned to her hometown in 2013 on her father’s advice. Today she is the sarpanch of Barkhedi Abdullah village located near Bhopal.
A champion of women’s causes, Bhakti launched “Sarpanch Maandey” under which, whenever a girl child is born in her village, a tree is planted and a monetary amount is given to the mother. The village is now free from open-defecation and malnutrition. Every home in the village has a ration card, bank account, and health card. Streets are lit by solar-powered lights and the work is in progress to set up digital classrooms. Bhakti, however, candidly brings out the other aspect. “I have not carried out any new work; I have just ensured that the government schemes are implemented properly,’’ says Bhakti. Join her here.
It is not easy to give up a job that was paying over Rs 2 crores a year, but 27-year-old Hanuman Singh did that for his village. He left a cushy job as a Resort manager in Gold Coast, Australia, and came back home after receiving a phone call from his family.
His village Farurda in Nagaur (Rajasthan) was plagued with the issue of a conflict between the Jats and the Rajputs, but he didn’t touch upon caste issue in his campaign. Being a young, educated and English-speaking candidate worked in his favor and Hanuman won with a record 6000 votes in the elections. “If an uneducated person becomes the village head, he cannot go to Jaipur and interact with bureaucrats and ministers. But Hanuman bhaiyya has come from Australia, he can reach the administration in Jaipur,” says a villager.
An economics graduate, Ritu Jaiswal had been living an easy life of the wife of an IAS officer in Delhi’s posh area. But a visit to her in-law’s ancestral village Singhwahini in Sitamarhi (Bihar) changed everything. The village conditions were depressing: there were no proper roads or electricity and open-defecation was widespread. So, instead of waiting for the government funds or post, Ritu began the work by putting in her own money and mind.
Earlier 95 percent of the houses did not have have a toilet but Ritu made 2000 toilets built and got the panchayat declared open defecation free (ODF) within three months. Following her campaign for implementing an electrification scheme, the village saw electricity for the first time since Independence. Today the entire village is paved with pucca roads, agricultural scientists train farmers for better farm produce, and new vocational training centers are offering new livelihood opportunities. Her story is also unique because she was able to finish many of the development works even before she became the sarpanch. Instead, it was due to her commendable work that villagers asked her to contest the election in which she secured 72 percent of total votes. Join her here.
No list of young sarpanches is ever complete without Chavvi Rajawat, the woman who has become the face of changing rural Rajasthan. Sarpanch of her ancestral village Soda, 60 km from Jaipur, Chhavi completed her education at prestigious institutes like Mayo College, Ajmer, and Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi. Despite an impressive corporate experience in Times Group, Airtel and Carlson hotels, an MBA graduate chose to continue the legacy and shifted to her ancestral village, a place where her Grandfather had been the sarpanch for 20 years.
Besides basic works, Chhavi is responsible for bringing more than 40 roads, over 800 toilets, a bank, and regular supply of non-contaminated, drinking water to her village. While her new job offers a meagre Rs 3500 and little personal space, she is nevertheless happy with her choices. “Today when I see a villager naming her newborn girl Chhavi, I feel happy,” says Chhavi. Join her here.
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