Sarpanch who knows no stereotypes
Anisha Mehta meets young and ambitious Chhavi Rajawat to understand what it takes for a woman to trade a corporate career for the rough and tumble of village politics
The Bollywood movie ‘Rang De Basanti’ had a strong subtext that no Indian youngster could miss: ‘no country is perfect; it is up to you to bring about the change you want to see’. If there is someone who has taken those words seriously, it is Chhavi Rajawat.
This 30-year-old is the sarpanch of a village called Soda in Tonk district of Rajasthan. While her peers are busy chasing dream jobs in the corporate world, Chhavi navigates the challenges that come with her job as sarpanch.
She tackles issues ranging from lack of clean drinking water to poor sanitation in her village.
Dumping a dream job to chase a dream
It was from her numerous visits to this village as a child that Chhavi discovered her desire to do something for people of the village. Her grandfather, Raghubir Singh, retired from the Army in 1975, following which he was voted by the villagers of Soda as sarpanch for three consecutive terms.
“It’s under his leadership that the village witnessed the beginning of development,” says a proud Chhavi.
But when Ragubhir Singh stepped down from his post as sarpanch, Chhavi claims there was a setback in development.
That’s when she stepped in to carry forward her grandfather’s legacy.
She was head of the sales division at a leading telecommiunications firm when the urge to do something for her village struck her.
“The decision to contest elections wasn’t an impulsive one,” she insists. “About 15 to 18 candidates had contested for the post. But when I stepped into the race, almost everyone backed out!”
Chhavi says she had the support of the entire village. “After all, I am their daughter,” she says with a smile.
Soda’s panchayat committee comprises 11 members, including seven women (eight including Chhavi) and four men.
“Working at the grassroots level has given me the faith to believe that women can handle a man’s job and be really successful. Women are able to approach problems with a clear head, a trait that is imperative in a leader,” she explains.
Chhavi believes that her education has helped her immensely in her chosen role. Having said that, she also admits that it is not a well-paid job.
“I end up spending from my own pocket. People like to think that a sarpanch makes a lot of money. An honest one doesn’t.”
What about job satisfaction? “Nothing can compare with the satisfaction I derive from being able to do something good for my village,” she says.
Chhavi shuttles between Soda and Jaipur, where she runs a horse riding school called E-Quest.
“I love being with my horses; that’s how I deal with job-related stress!” she declares. When she isn’t spending time with her horses, she helps her mother run their family hotel, Kailrugji.
“I still spend most my time in the village. I don’t miss living in a city as I spent most of my formative years in Soda, visiting my grandparents,” she says.
A product of Rishi Valley School in Chittoor (AP) and Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer, Chhavi is a graduate from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi and holds an MBA degree from a premier management institute.
This corporate whizkid- turned-social worker (she prefers to be described as a ‘social worker’ than a politician) has a packed schedule ever since she was voted sarpanch in February this year.
Her responsibilities include making clean drinking water available to the villagers, water conservation, water harvesting, tree planting, road works and bringing electricity to rural households.
A project that’s close to her heart is the revamp of the local schools. “Most government schools here focus only on subjects like Hindi, Sanskrit and Geography. I want them to introduce Science, Maths, Commerce and other subjects to the children,” she says.
She is currently working on linking nearby villages by bus to the main school in order to reduce the number of dropouts. She hopes to launch adult education programmes, vocational training courses and employment-generation schemes.
My dad, my hero
Chhavi credits all her achievements and laurels to her father.
Chavvi’s father has also dedicated his life to social service. Narendra Singh Rajawat, who ran an export business in the initial years of his married life, decided to drop it all to get into social work, full-time.
“He taught me to be honest and fair while making a decision. I hope my small contribution to society will encourage more girls to work towards rural development. Take the plunge and you will realise that it is worth it,” she says.