While the average urban Indian prefers to rant against social evils/government incompetence/slow restaurant service on Twitter, 30-year-old Chhavi Rajawat decided that social media activism alone wasn't going to cut it. The Rajasthan-born pioneer quit her high-paying job to become the sarpanch of Soda, making history as the youngest person to be elected to the position. And the only sarpanch in India with an MBA.
Rajawat was convinced to take up the job after a dedicated campaign by the villagers, some of whom even showed up at her house in Jaipur to persuade her. “The hope in the eyes of the elderly melted my heart and, on humanitarian grounds, I could not refuse,” she says. “With my education and corporate experience, I thought I could play the role of a bridging agent between the village, the government and the private sector. The idea was to connect the dots by bringing in funding and expertise, and collectively work towards integrated development.”
Rajawat is now responsible for the regular supply of non-contaminated, drinking water to the village, construction of more than 40 roads and toilets in over 800 houses.
Her lack of affiliation to a political party lends her credibility, but also renders her vulnerable to attacks by those who are opposed to her using village funds to bring about seemingly radical changes, like opening an IT centre in Soda. “If government officials at the grassroots follow the vision, it translates into development. The rural areas often remain hindered by the apathy and egos of the very people who are employed to assist that development. I would not call it a gender issue, but that of the system that doesn't empower and respect Panchayats.”
Still, Rajawat concedes that being a woman means she has to develop a thicker skin. “As a young, single woman working honestly, egos often get hurt because the system is not used to someone like me working at the Panchayat level. As a result, every step I take forward, the system does its best to break and push me back ten steps and more.”
While Rajwat asserts that a lack of safety and respect are the major roadblocks towards establishing gender equality, she believes that change begins with educating women about their basic rights. “We need to add “value” to the girl child, not just through education but also by helping her acquire the skills to be independent and contribute financially to the family,” she says.
Rajawat, who recently became associated with Levi’s #IShapeMyWorld campaign, wants to inspire people to “come forward to contribute – not just by donating funds but also by sharing expertise. There is a need for more students from schools and professional colleges to come intern in villages to better understand rural India and participate in its development.”
Here’s how you can help Chhavi Rajawat and the residents of Soda village
“Volunteers are more than welcome to come stay with us in Soda,” offers Rajawat. Some of their immediate needs include:
- Support to help improve the quality of education, especially at the crèche and primary school level. They need funds to create recreational spaces with swings for the children.
- They need people to come train youth and women with simple skill sets so they can have a regular source of income and.
- The girls’ college in Soda needs computers, sports equipment and funds.
- They need expertise and funds to fence off and secure their common reservoirs, pasture and forest lands to protect against encroachment.