We just celebrated the International Womens’ Day and this year, as part of our NDTV campaign “Every Life Counts”, our team travelled to a small village in Haryana to meet India’s youngest woman sarpanch, 22-year-old Rekha Rani. Rekha has completed her 10+2, a course in English and vocational training to become a beautician. As the sarpanch of her village, she has already done her bit to beautify her surroundings.
After her election last year at the age of 21, she dedicated herself to the cause of sanitation and started working with the central government’s Open Defecation Free or ODF team to ensure that her village earned the distinction.
Chapla Mori in Haryana’s Fatehabad district used to be a part of a cluster of villages until last year, when it had its first panchayat election and elected its first woman sarpanch.
As we set off for the shoot, I was looking forward to meeting Rekha Rani. After a 4-hour journey from New Delhi, we reached the very green and clean village. It did not have too many inhabitants, but they all stepped out of their homes to take a look at us.
Beaming with pride, Rekha introduced me to her parents. I couldn’t see her mother’s face. Like many women in rural India, she had covered her face with pallu, a corner of her sari.
I asked why — especially now, when her daughter has fought the patriarchal mindset and emerged a leader. Her mother just smiled, too shy to respond.
As we started recording the show, it was interesting to see how women started opening up, voicing their thoughts and concerns. We had community workers from every level in the audience.
Rekha Rani has the support of the people in her village — even the former sarpanches are backing her, hoping she would be able to solve the issues they couldn’t tackle.
The biggest problems the village is facing are contaminated drinking water, bad drainage system and the lack of primary healthcare. In a situation where no rgular transport is available, women have to travel more than 10 kilometres to reach a closest hospital.
A majority of the villagers admitted that having a woman sarpanch has brought about a change. The women feel more comfortable in having Rekha as their head and respond better to her. Even social workers who have worked with both men and women sarpanches told us that working with a woman did make a difference.
Our panelists said their experiences too reflected this. According to them, women, when elected to power, tend to prioritise health.
Rekha Rani’s election is commendable, especially in the backdrop of Haryana known for its dismal sex ratio.
It was heartening to learn that the primary school in this village had more girls than boys. Rekha did not face societal and patriarchal pressure, which was most interesting to note, because women in India always face the first barrier at home, especially where the education of girls has not been a priority for decades and women have been conditioned to suppress their views.
Indian law recognises the importance of including women in the political system and offers a minimum of 33 per cent of seats for women in the Panchayat Raj institution.
What we saw in Chapla Mori village is a small step towards women’s empowerment. Having a 22-year-old head a village with zeal and enthusiasm definitely made an impression. Rekha Rani is a role model and when her story reaches the corners of our nation, it will inspire many, especially young girls, to live their dreams.
– Rupali Tewari, Senior Special Correspondent, NDTV, has been a News Anchor/Reporter . Apart from news assignments, she has worked on several cause related NDTV campaigns including projects focusing on maternal and infant health.
– Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.