Even though my grandparents hail from a village, I never spent any time in any village ever, because everyone settled down in Delhi. Except when going on road trips, when crossing the fields, we stop to take pictures, posing in front of the fields. That has been my only exposure.
But I was really intrigued to understand the day-to-day working of village life. My quest took me to nearby villages in Gurgaon. And I ended up meeting a sarpanch not in person but virtually.
What comes to your mind when you think of a sarpanch? An old man with a turban and a mustache, wearing a dhoti!
Surprisingly, the sarpanch of Karola village is a woman!
Even though our country got independence in 1947, our first woman sarpanch was elected in 1977. Of course, there is deep-rooted patriarchy in our rural politics, and having a woman sarpanch is not easy to accept for people who think women can only work at home. Well, now these women are all set to change that regressive thinking.
I was supposed to meet Sarpanch Sunita on a Monday morning but because of the heavy rain and storm, I decided to meet her virtually. When I called her to check what time will she be available for a chat, I was told she had left for the village school for a deworming program for children. I was fascinated with her dedication. Even on a day when the entire Gurgaon and Delhi were struggling with the after-effects of the storm, she was out there working, ensuring all the children of the village are dewormed. I finally met her (virtually) the next day.
Sarpanch Sunita was barely 6 or 7 years old when she lost both her parents. She was the only child. She was raised by her paternal grandfather and her mother’s sister. She got married when she was 22 years old, into a big joint family. There were in-laws, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and cousins. She got so much love and respect from her husband’s family that she never missed her maternal home.
Her first daughter was born on a Diwali night in 2001. Everyone in the family celebrated. They said, “The Goddess has arrived”
She gave birth to a second daughter in 2004. The family rejoiced and welcome the baby with open arms! Unlike certain uneducated sections in our society, where the birth of a daughter is not considered auspicious, Sunita’s daughters were brought up with immense love and care. The family believes that men and women are equal and no gender is superior to the other.
Sunita and her husband believed in giving back to society and they would keep helping the people around them. This would give them immense happiness. It is then someone suggested that she should contest for Sarpanch elections. She did and won in 2016. She has been sarpanch since then.
She has a lot of responsibilities and fulfills them with integrity. There are about 4,500 people in the area. She has to take care of basic infrastructure issues like roads, sanitation works, day to day activities. She ensures that children between 1 to 19 years are de-wormed two times a year.
She wakes up at 5 am every day and goes for a walk. After her morning walk, she makes tea for the whole family. She likes to cook and do other household chores. Though she doesn’t get a lot of free time, when she does, she likes to sleep. She does not like to watch any television. Her elder daughter is currently pursuing B.Ed. and would like to sit for competitive exams. Her younger daughter is giving her 12th board exams and wants to join the Indian Army.
I asked her what is most precious to her in her life and she replied, “My daughters. They are my everything.”
She says, “All this would not have been possible without my husband’s support. He has always supported me in everything.”
She strongly believes that all children should be educated.
Even though the interview was scheduled, there was no dress-up or make-up. Sunita came across as a very humble and simple person who is only working for the betterment of her village, Sartola. My perspective about women in villages has completely changed. She warmly invited me to come and have a meal with her someday. I look forward to that and I hope more women come forward and take the reigns of leadership, to make this world. more compassionate and kind.