Sarpanch Chhavi Rajawat Says She Doesn’t Belong To Any Political Party & Why It Isn’t Easy
- IWB Post
- August 19, 2019
Being a woman in India is no easy task. On top of that, if you are a trailblazing woman, willingly or otherwise, the world is doubly amazed by your courage.
Little did Chhavi Rajawat know that the lanes of the village that she visited, holding her grandfather’s hand, would become her karma bhumi later.
Born in Jaipur, Chhavi attended Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh and later completed her schooling from Mayo College Girls School, Ajmer. After becoming a graduate from the prestigious LSR College, Delhi, she went to Pune and did her MBA.
After MBA, Chhavi worked for companies like Times of India, Carlson Group of Hotels, Airtel, etc. Her career graph was a rising curve and she was on top of her corporate game.
However, it seemed that the roots called Chhavi back. Chhavi’s grandfather, Brig Raghubir Singh had been the Sarpanch of Soda village, near Jaipur, for 20 years. Struck by the worst drought ever, in 2009-10, the elderly of the villagers saw a hope of light in Singh’s granddaughter.
She then went on to become the youngest person to hold the post of the Sarpanch and there was no looking back for her, ever since! From infrastructural developments to addressing the social issues, Chhavi has changed the face of Soda for the better.
Indian Women Blog contacted the sarpanch to know more about her work and vision for the village. And, between all this, we also explored the other facets of her life:
Share some memories of your stay/visits to your ancestral village Soda in your childhood.
Chhavi: I enjoyed my vacations in Soda – it was a place where I always got pampered by everybody in the village and had friends of my age group who would collect peacock feathers as gifts for me.
And, did you also accompany your grandfather to the panchayat meetings? If yes, how had it shaped your role as a Sarpanch?
Chhavi: I was a restless soul, could hardly sit still, so no, I never consciously sat through any of the meetings. But, I used to visit homes and attended important events with my grandfather and accompanied him to the schools during Republic Day and Independence Day. I loved watching my grandfather motivate the girls and villagers to respect women.
Your career graph was on an all time high. Was there any specific event that made you quit the job and become a Sarpanch?
Chhavi: Over the years, the condition of the villages in my area appeared to have worsened. 2009-2010 was the worst drought that the area had suffered. So, when the villagers made the request, on humanitarian grounds, I could not refuse. The hope, especially, in the eyes of the elderly melted my heart. With my education and experience in the corporate sector, I thought I could play the role of a bridging agent between the village and the government as well as the private sector. The idea was to connect the dots by arranging for funds and the required expertise of varied sectors and collectively work towards bringing in the much needed integrated development.
Sarpanch is the head of a village and it’s where the development of the country begins. You are one of the few Sarpanchs with an MBA and that’s exemplary. However, don’t you feel disheartened that the educated youth of the country are either unaware or negligent of the issues in rural areas?
Chhavi: While Panchayats are not yet empowered in the true sense, yet I do believe, this is the most appropriate platform to be at if you really want to bring about a meaningful difference and see the real impact of development.
What I am disheartened about is not receiving the support I was looking forward to – in the form of funds and expertise. While organizations such as JCB, Bosch Power Tools, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd., TIL, Bharti Foundation have helped but it’s not been enough. I do believe there is a need for more students from schools as well as professional colleges such as business schools, engineering, architecture, etc. to come as interns to villages to truly understand rural India and participate in its development initiatives.
Long before the government brought forth “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan,” and “Jahan Soch waha Shauchalaya,’ most houses in Soda were already equipped with functional toilets. What’s your vision for the future of Soda?
Chhavi: To bring about a complete, holistic development and create a model village so others get motivated to develop other villages – even if it be one village at a time.
My first tenure focused on infrastructural development, ensuring the basic amenities were made available to all. The second tenure is focused on more important and long term aspects such as improving the quality of education, introducing skill development to provide alternate source of income to an otherwise agrarian rain-fed economy, improving the ecological balance by also focusing on protecting the natural resources, and improving agriculture practices while also providing farmers better market access with fair pricing.
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BTW, you are not associated with any political party. Does that hamper your work plans and drafts in any way?
Chhavi: I am often told that the support would be easier if I were associated with a party but I am really not sure because I do see other Sarpanchs suffer simply because Panchayats are not empowered as they ought to be. Making plans and drafts for the Panchayat is not a problem, but for all funding needs the proposals are forwarded to the District headquarter where the government officials sanction the projects. And, MPs and MLAs often only support Panchayats on basis of caste.
So, how do you deal with it?
Chhavi: To ensure work continues I always have a plan B and I always look for funding from the private sector. And of course, patience and perseverance is the key.
Chhavi: Villages have their own ecosystem where people help each other (even if by lending money at the high-interest rates); barter system is practiced even today. My village was slightly lucky as I brought the SBI bank branch in Soda in 2011. It was able to provide them a good safety net. But for those making ends meet on a daily basis, it was painful. To me, it seems it really wasn’t well thought out. Those who should have been affected as we know it, continue to remain largely untouched while others suffer.
In the current scenario, I worry about how the movement of digital India is coming in and how it’s affecting the rural youth who have no one to guide them to use it properly and in the right way. I fear that this may just give easy access to yet another pandora’s box, and with the illiterate who barely even know how to use the cell phone, their privacy and security may be at stake with digital banking finding its way in.
Village life sets a perfect example for a balanced ecosystem while in cities and metropolitans we are slowly taking up the space of nature and animals. What do we need to change or learn from the villages to make our growth sustainable in the long term?
Chhavi: We need to learn to respect and acknowledge the fact that technology, no matter how advanced, cannot recreate what nature provides us. We and our survival area dependent on nature, and, we need to stop taking it for granted.
In schools and homes, it is important to teach this basic aspect of life. There is a strong need to formally teach basic etiquettes, civic sense, and respect for common spaces which, unfortunately, most of us Indians do not have. Sadly, similar ill effects are creeping in in the rural sector as well.
How can the education system in India help in creating awareness and engaging the younger generation in the rural development?
Chhavi: By introducing sister-school concepts and college and professional grad students interning in villages/doing community service. The division between rural and urban India need to be blurred for a healthier Nation.
The point of views of the elder and younger generation conflict with each other on many issues. How do you resolve them?
Chhavi: By making them speak on a common platform. Dialogue I believe, is the key to any situation where more than one person is involved!
What is the key to empowering rural women?
Chhavi: To add “value” to their life.
To explore the personal side of Chhavi, we asked her some light-hearted and fun questions:
Chhavi: Being a daughter and a friend!
Describe the ‘mitti ki khushboo’ for you?
Chhavi: My favorite!
Favorite food from the kitchens of Soda?
Chhavi: Baati and lassan-kaachri ki chutney
Me: One unknown fact about you that no one knows?
Chhavi: That’s just why no one knows!
Favorite street game with kids?
Chhavi: Cricket and satoliya!
Call her a fighter, catalyst for change, face of rural India, or young achiever, Chhavi Rajawat is the leader our country needs to grow and develop sustainably and in the right direction. Chhavi and Village Soda’s journey together is a reflection of what can happen when the educated youth of a country shoulders the responsibility to empower the less privileged ones.