A World’s View Without Glasses – Siswa Grampanchayat : A Revolution

Recently I came across an article in TOI – Sunday edition about a small village gram panchayat being run by 12 young, educated & mostly unmarried girls.  Thanks to the SAMRAS scheme being implemented by Modi’s Govt. (all secular people can read it as ‘Govt. of Gujarat’). 

I believe, that if this scheme is nationally adopted and implemented, it will bring following advantages to society as whole:

–  All politics related to women’s reservation bill will see a dead end, as this directly without reservation bring women to mainstream activities

–  Devolution of Power, an important step to panchayat raj system adopted by India in early 70’s would become a dream.

–  Young girls getting hands-on of the administrative work will give them more freedom and will help to address the evils of dowry, sati and others which are not even curbed even with all-women favoring  laws

–  Lastly but more important (& I put my male ego aside while writing this), women/girls have always better convincing power and flexibility to compromise for betterment, which is a need of hour for any form of Govt./Administration to effectively function.

I pray let someone in ‘Parliament’ think of replicating this SAMRAS model of social inclusion to entire country and kudos to the residents of Siswa village for openly embracing such a bold step at most unexpected form of government – Gram Panchayat.

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Siswa grampanchayat’s Powerpuff Girls

Soumitra Das drives to a village in Gujarat’s Anand district to meet 12 collegians who will decide the fate of 7,000 villagers for the next five years

The floral tapestry sofas arranged in a semi circle around a smoked glass coffee table that holds a bunch of fabric roses, are not enough to seat all 12 girls. Hinal Patel pulls up a couple of chairs. Twenty three-year-old Nisha Patel adjusts her georgette dupatta to sit firmly on her slight shoulders before she whips out a pen, holding it to a notepad.

It’s a Sunday panchayat meeting. Except there are no members squatting under a shady banyan. And there are no men.

Hinal, the 25-year-old sarpanch of Siswa village in Borsad town of Anand district in Gujarat, Nisha and 10 of their friends meet every weekend to debate over the nitty gritty of running the village administration. The all-girls panchayat was appointed last month as part of the Samras scheme introduced by chief minister Narendra Modi a decade ago. Under it, as many as 254 villages have entrusted their panchayats entirely to women. The goal, say government representatives, is to avoid inter-village enmity; an inescapable outcome of election politics.  

The idea has found its fans. All-women panchayats have increased from 20 in the last elections to 254. On December 29, elections were held in 10,405 villages across Gujarat, of which 2,147 opted for Samras. All members were elected unopposed. Siswa stands apart on a more interesting count. All 12 grampanchayat members are college-going girls, aged 19 to 26, excited at the thought of improving the fate of 7,000 fellow villagers. 

A year ago, Hinal says she was preoccupied with landing a well-paying job after graduating from Bengaluru’s Shree Raghvendra College of Nursing. Today, it’s the challenge of renovating the old bus stand at the far end of Siswa that’s taking up her time.

“I said an instant ‘yes’ when my father asked me if I was ready to take up the responsibility,” says Hinal, flashing a dimpled grin. Her parents Shailesh and Pravinaben Patel have served as village heads too.

For the last three terms, Siswa has been unanimously electing a woman sarpanch under Samras, says Shailesh. “Five years ago, we appointed an all-women panchayat and it worked wonderfully. Women are convincing. Villagers tend to listen to them better. This time, we decided to go a step further and appoint young, educated girls who are brimming with fresh ideas.”

The 12 girls on the final list fitted the criteria. They had to be educated, single, and belong to the same village. Twenty-year-old engineering student Radha Patel went to the same school as Hinal, and lives a two-minute drive away in an oldworld home that boasts high wooden beam ceilings. On the drive there, past a string of temples (“there are 15 in all!”), she makes it a point to mention her father, Vijay Patel, who despite being a modest farmer made sure she stuck to academics. Radha calls the opportunity a “Godsend”, leaving her overwhelmed at the thought of thousands backing her in support. It’s the primary healthcare centre that tops her list of priorities. Equipping it with new-age facilities, and setting up an educational institution that will offer Siswa’s students the option of pursuing science without having to relocate to Vidyanagar, are number one and two on her checklist.

For Nisha, working in a team is hardly a bother. The manager at a motorbike showroom heads a group of 25 staffers. “But I wasn’t sure if I’d manage to balance both. My mother was adamant. She convinced me, and I’m glad she did,” she says, sharing their latest plan of putting Siswa on the e-map with launching a website to help the community converge on a common platform. “And yes, we’d like to increase employment opportunities through gruh udyog (small scale entrepreneurship).”

In indigenous Indian fashion, the team picked the palanquin as their election symbol. “It symbolized the idea of carrying on our administrative responsibilities even if we relocate after marriage.” Ironically, the thought of wary elders inching away from the girls, hardly keen on taking empowered women home, is far from their minds. “No one is forcing them to marry us. Times have changed,” says Radha.

And for critics who point fingers at the incentivedriven scheme (the Modi government has raised the incentive for an all-women Samras panchayat controlling a village with a population of 5,000 to 15,000, to Rs 5 lakh), Siswa’s sarpanch has this to say: “When they select all-male panchayats under Samras, nobody seems to have a problem.”

Author of Article Soumitra Das

TOI original article link – Click Here

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