At 24, She’s Fighting For Tribals. Meet Chhattisgarh’s Youngest Sarpanch

A village panchayat
Ritu Pandram, 24, is the youngest sarpanch in Chhattisgarh.

Raipur: In a village in Chhattisgarh, a woman sarpanch is championing the rights of the tribals.

Fondly teased as ‘Neta ji’ by her friends, Ritu Pandram, 24, is the youngest sarpanch in Chhattisgarh.

She’s not only working hard to tackle water scarcity and sanitation issues in her jurisdiction, but also teaching students free of cost.

“I never thought election was my cup of tea and had never imagined that I would ever contest it. Now the villagers say that I was the most suited candidate for the post,” she said.

“If villagers have better access to water, electricity, sanitation and education, it would transform their lives and brighten their future prospects,” she added.

Located about 225 km from state capital Raipur, tribal-dominated Saarbahara village has a population of about 9,000.

Ms Pandram, who pursued her post-graduation in biotechnology from Bilaspur, aspires to crack the civil services examination. After being elected as sarpanch in early 2015, she continued her studies.

Her father Udai Singh Pandram, a farmer, educated her and his other two children, despite his meagre income.

As soon as she stepped into her new role, she started working for better sanitation and roads in the villages. She also started teaching Mathematics and Science to the children at her house.

Ms Pandram said, “We have a government school up to class XII and a semi-government model school in our village. These students, however, need extra attention to understand the basics, so I started the classes.”

She initially taught 12-13 children, up to class VIII. Now, nearly 30 kids come to her to study. She has now shifted her classes to a spacious aanganwadi centre nearby.

Ms Pandram admitted that she has a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders and she wants to live up to the faith that villagers have shown in her.

She said that good roads, clean drinking water and sanitation were the issues on her priority list.

She also stressed that since agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the people in the area, they are mainly dependent on rainwater for irrigation.

“Owing to the drought-like situation in the last couple of years, it is becoming difficult for farmers to arrange water for their crops. We are working on methods to store maximum rainwater,” she said.

Ms Pandram also said that villagers lacked adequate information about government schemes and their benefits. She wants to work extensively to spread awareness and help villagers avail the benefits.

The sarpanch who dreams of cracking the civil service examination, said, “I want to serve the people at the grassroot level but I would never let my dream of becoming an Indian Administrative Service officer take a back seat.”

She recently took a trip to Raipur as part of ‘Hamar Chhattisgarh’ project to see the development works in the city and how government schemes were being implemented.

Lauding Ms Pandram’s efforts, a state government official said, “She is working tirelessly to ensure the benefits of various state government schemes reach the villagers.”

Efforts were made by her to harvest rainwater in the area. She is also serious about educating the children in the village and teaching them. She has inspired girls to go for higher education in other towns, the official added.

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