Conquering the rural frontier

Conquering the rural frontier

Sudha Patel

The Thakurs in her village reportedly threatened her and her family and demanded that her election as sarpanch be countermanded.  When that failed, some of her detractors blew up the fuse of the motor pump, disrupting water supply in the entire village. Sudha was mobbed and asked to resign.  “I asked the villagers for how long they had been facing a water crisis, and they replied, ‘Sixteen years’. Then, I told them: ‘You gave 16 years to three male sarpanchs who did not solve your problem and you are not giving me 16 days to work out a solution!’ The mob quietly melted away,” Sudha recounts.

Rajamani Vijay Kumar, member of Mundagudure Panchayat in Mandya district, is no stranger to threats. “Since I am vocal against bribing local officials for disability certificates, even to genuine candidates, people with vested interests are always threatening me,” she says. The threats haven’t stopped her from ensuring that senior citizens and the disabled get the benefits that are rightfully theirs.

 Her colleague Kenchamma, president of the Nerelekere Gram Panchayat in Chikmagalur district in Karnataka, has ensured that every child in her jurisdiction goes to school. When she took over as panchayat chief, this dalit woman was illiterate. She learnt to read and write Kannada from her daughter. Thanks to her untiring efforts, seven children have been freed from bonded labour and brought back to classroom.  What makes the women leaders popular is their passion for work and their commitment to the people they represent. Some of them cycle 24 kilometres to the district headquarters to follow up on applications.

 “We don’t consider ourselves special,” says Meenakshi Natrajan, Congress MP from Madhya Pradesh who defeated a BJP veteran in Mandsaur constituency.
How did she manage the feat? “My opponent tried hard to divide the electorate on caste and communal lines, but I talked about development — roads, drinking water and schools. The villagers knew that I was aware of their daily problems.”  

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