The following is a conversation with Preeti ben, Sarpanch of Vadasar Gram Panchayat, Bhuj. It is transcribed from Gujarati to English. To keep it as authentic as possible, I have written it in the first person.
Vadasar is a small village located in an extremely internal area in the Bhuj block of Kutch District. It has very less population compared to other villages and consists mostly of women.
“The first time I became Sarpanch was in 2017. This is my second term when people have elected me. I studied until 10th standard and got married when I was young. I never thought that I would end up becoming a Sarpanch. For the second term, the people of the village encouraged me to stand for elections again because of my work.
Vadasar is a village which is in an extremely internal area and is quite small. When talking about the village, we can say that it’s an NRI village. But the men who have gone out for work do so for minimum wages.
COVID-19 was a tough time to manage everything. Vadasar was one of the first places to have a lockdown from early on. I made sure that medicines and rations were delivered to the needy, especially old people. We had placed strict rules on all public places and meetings to control the spread of COVID.
Also read: Kanku Ben: A Model Sarpanch in Bhuj, Gujarat
Children’s education suffered a lot during this time as schools closed. This is why we placed two girls who had volunteered to take tuition for children. They taught children in class 5th to 7th without taking any fees. The girls recieve their wages by donors from the Patel community. We had to set up this system as children had to go to Bhuj to study. I decided that this system will work better during lockdowns and it turned out to be effective and continues even now.
Talking about education, we have opened an Anganwadi. The contractor hired for the work did not do it properly and the doors were opening with difficulty. I filed several complaints but when no one listened. But all the people of the village fought to get the work done. Then the villagers decided to put black tape and revolted against it by shutting down all government premises.
Receiving funds to do different kinds of work becomes difficult. Work cannot be done until I have the money to make it happen. Vadasar faces many issues and in order to start solving them I need to fight for the funds.
As of now, I have worked on the provision of public facilities like gutter (sewage) lines, making of roads, and other infrastructure like a garden or park which were not there earlier.
Water scarcity is one of the biggest issues in the village. The borewell is 5 km away from the village, Vadasar did not have water and it came from another village. Vadasar’s Paani Samiti consists of only women. They ensure that people in all areas of the village receive water and there is minimum wastage. Checks are done from household to household. Samiti deals with all the issues pertaining to it. They also received Rs. 50,000 as an award for their work.
The overall area in the village is extremely dry, so I want in the second term I am able to get a small dam made or any such facility that will solve this water issue. It will further help us towards sustainable agriculture and also create employment opportunities.
In Vadasar, most of the men have either migrated locally or to other States for work. This leaves almost 70% of the women at home. I try to create awareness among the women and I want to empower the women because they live alone, they should be able to take care of themselves. If a policeman comes then what should they do? If any other man comes, then what should be done?
In case they feel that the situation can’t be dealt with on their own, the women know that they should call me immediately. Now, they all are aware of how to handle different situations.
I take them with me everywhere for meetings, so that they can also learn what happens in those meetings and gain exposure. We do conduct meetings but that has not been possible since Covid struck.
We also made 20-30 girls participate in karate courses. There is also a shooting course and other such training for the girls like workshops and information on safety, cyber security, etc. In the village, you will get to know which household has how many girl children in the house as there are nameplates on each household.
When I became Sarpanch, I ensured that my opposition was comfortable with me and made sure that I worked with them. I have always maintained good relations with them and they call me whenever they face any kind of trouble. I do not hold grudges against them if they stood against me.
In terms of family life, I have the full support of my husband and children. My children have grown up and can take care of themselves. On the remaining issues, my husband helps me.
In my second term, there are many things I want to work on. Women of the village leave for work to other villages at 6 AM and come back in the afternoon and evening. This is only because there is a clear lack of employment opportunities. So I want to focus my efforts on increasing opportunities so that women don’t have to travel far on a daily basis to work.
I want to create so much awareness amongst women and girls in my village that they have the confidence to step out on their own. My aim is to prepare the girls and young women of the next generation. They should be ready to take the Panchayat forward even if I am not the Sarpanch. For this, I have also formed a Balika Panchayat, so that girls can learn the workings of the Panchayat.”
Also read: Balika Panchayat: Creating A Platform For Adolescent Girls