Sarpanch puts an end to sex selection in a Rajasthan GP

P J Joychen in Jaipur,

Most politicians prefer to get elected from reserved constituencies/ wards as they are considered safe.
But this Dalit woman is different. She not
only contested from an unreserved ward, but  also emerged victorious.
Now, it does not surprise many  as to how she managed to win the seat. 

On becoming a sarpanch, she took up issues that have been long kept on the back burner in Rajasthan. She has become a role model for others by bringing the gender issues to the mainstream. She has addressed the crucial issue of sex selection, infant and maternal mortality and reproductive and child health by focusing on gender fostering.
Tara Devi is a household name in the region. Her leadership traits and dedication to her panchayat have impressed not only the local people but also the resear­chers and academics visiting the area for developmental studies.

At a recent workshop on “Strengthening Gender Response of Panchayats in Rajasthan: Successes and Challenges” in Jaipur, Tara Devi shared her experiences. Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) State Coordinator Krishan Tyagi says that he approached the gram pancha­yat and the Village Health and Sanitation Committee (VHSC)
to improve the situation and organised orientation and capacity building meetings for the panchayat members.

Tara Devi’s long-drawn-out struggle and success in achieving women’s empowerment to a considerable degree
are an inspiring saga for the marginalised Dalit communities. Her story proves that the Dalit women
panchayat functionaries can perform better than their male counterparts if given proper direction,
training and guidance.

Samerdha Nosera is among the 20 GPs in the district included by the Sangam Matri Mission Sansthan (SMMS) in a project for “Strengthening Gender Resp­onse of Panchayats in Rajasthan” (SGRPR). PRIA has initiated the ambitious project. The gender-specific data collected under the SGRPR shows that the major reasons for drop in child sex ratio are inadequate health facilities and negligence towards the female newborn. A survey in Samerdha Nosera revealed a ratio of 57:35 between the home deliveries and institutional deliveries, indicating that women do not find the latter attractive.

The village is situated in a remote area and does not have easy connectivity with the urban surroundings.
Lack of basic amenities like water, electricity and nutritious
food earlier made the conditions worse in the region.

During the orientation meetings, Tara Devi shot into the limelight as a result of her sincerity for bringing about a positive change in her village during the 10 years when she was elected as Sarpanch twice. By participating in the SGRPR, she has got the crucial handholding
support for her work.

Dalit woman Sarpanch has successfully utilised her knowledge by promoting and fostering gram sabha on gender issues. She has also received support from the women community-based organisations of the area and is mobilising the villagers with the support of these groups to participate in the gram sabha meetings.

Tara Devi’s sustained and consistent efforts made an impact on the local community and facilitated the process to incl­ude gender issues on the planning agenda. She also started regular inspections of the local health sub-centre which was earlier devoid of proper infrastructure, furniture, equipment, medicine, etc and constructed the new building by
involving VHSC members.

In yet another significant step, Tara Devi improved the condition of the anganwadi centre and made arrangements for water and power with the help of the SMMS. She visits the centre regularly and checks the quality of food served to children. The sarpanch has also taken steps to enhance the standard of girls’ education in the village and improve the arrangements for drinking water.

Depicting her concern over immunisation and health check-ups of pregnant women, Tara Devi makes arrangements for delivery and has organised several blood donation camps. She is accessible to the women in need and is available for any kind help. Recently, she saved an anaemic woman referred to the hospital by the sub-centre in a critical condition by arra­nging blood for her. She has invested Rs 47.15 lakhs in the Indira Awas Yojana and Rs 3.85 crore for construction works in the village and strengthened the gram sabha by ensuring people’s participation in the decision-making process.

Tyagi says that the sarpanch has ensu­red coordination among gram panchayat, gram sabha and the upper tier
of pancha­yat samiti.

As a result of Tara Devi’s sustained efforts, the child sex ratio has significantly improved in Samerdha Nosera with a recent survey revealing the figures of 1,014 females against 982 males. The instances of maternal and
infant mortality have come to an end and there is no case of girl child dropout from schools. Two new auxiliary nurse midwives appointed in the village now regularly visit the area. There is need to trust the abilities
of women belon­ging to marginalised communities and give them a little bit of support and opportunity.
With this appro­ach, a number of Tara Devi’s hidden behi­nd veils may appe­ar in the mainstream development
discourse and make a big difference, says Tyagi.


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