“Success is not about how much money you make; it is about the difference you make in people’s lives” — Michelle Obama.
Women empowerment has seen a paradigm shift over the decades, with participation of women at the grassroots level being equally hailed as essential. The author explores the journeys of three such women, who have brought about change by their foray into good rural governance.
An ordinary journey made extraordinary
What is meant to be, always finds a way . . . Destiny is a strange thing, and the story of Gheetha, who hails from Shammerpet village, Telengana, is a classic example of it. Her life changed course with her marriage.
“Post marriage, I decided to pursue the completion of my class X examinations from the Government High School, Srirangavaram, Telangana. However, thereafter, circumstances within the family were not conducive to facilitate further studies. I call this phase of my life ‘my first innings’... Those were challenging times. I did not know much about the outside world, just the household and its chores. I have, however, no regrets whatsoever. This phase taught me a lot too,” Gheetha says.
Her “second innings,” however, saw no looking back, as Gheetha was catapulted from being a housewife to contesting an election for the prestigious post of a sarpanch (village council head). Self Help Groups (SHGs) was formed in Gheetha’s village, but there was no one to look after the bookkeeping. The women of the SHG urged Gheetha to take up the responsibility, which she did happily.
“For me, it was a matter of service, which was very much appreciated by one and all, and this is what mattered to me, more than anything else. Subsequently, this service was converted into a paid assignment as the village book-keeper. It was a beautiful amalgamation of social work and profession. It earned me a lot of goodwill amongst the villagers too. Besides, I served as a kind of role model, as most women were confined to household chores only. I encouraged them to come forward and participate in social activities and trainings. It was a kind of movement!” reminisces Gheetha.
Because of her services and the goodwill Gheetha had earned, people urged her strongly to contest elections for the post of sarpanch, but as an independent candidate. However, due to financial problems and lack of political support, she suffered a defeat, but by a narrow margin of only fifty votes! Even in this defeat, she won the hearts of the villagers, as they appreciated her grit, hard work, and tireless service.
Her future plans: “To continue the good work, magnify it, and expand it to more beneficiaries.”
Gheetha’s message for her readers: “Every woman is a personality in her own right; this is something that all should respect, acknowledge, and nurture. It is this inner talent that plays an important role in the development of society.”
Nishitha Reddy - Living up to her name, and how!
Nishitha Reddy had always been a topper in studies. Financial problems and marriage at the age of 18 cut short her dream to pursue higher studies. However, her marriage into the village of Mysireddypalli, Telangana, opened a unique opportunity of amalgamating her passion for learning with social service: writing books on behalf of the SHG of women, who were illiterate. Soon after, opportunity came knocking on her door: The District Rural Development Agency was in need of a community activist (CA) for Reddy’s village, with the responsibility to look after SHGs at the village level.
“My appointment was unanimously supported by one and all; it was recognition for my service. I was then appointed as village organisation assistant (VOA) and there has been no looking back. I also continued my studies and completed my graduation. I am currently pursuing my post-graduation,” Reddy says.
The first challenge Reddy faced as VOA was the lack of infrastructure, even for conducting SHG meetings. Women had to sit under a tree, facing the brunt of extreme weather conditions.
“I wanted to resolve the issue; it so happened that one day the minister was visiting our village. I mobilized the women and submitted a proposal for the sanction of a Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas building for the village SHG women. The minister appreciated the initiative and gave the go-ahead for the construction almost immediately.” she says.
However, the joy was short-lived as the allocated land had been encroached, and the squatters began attacking Reddy’s house and threatening her. She immediately informed the minister, seeking help; the police were informed and deputed in Reddy’s village until the construction work was completed. Her efforts saw her subsequent election to the post of working president for the women’s cell.
“My passion has always been social work; it gives me a lot of satisfaction. It is my dream to turn my village into a model village for all to draw inspiration from,” Reddy says.
Reddy’s message for her readers: “It is paramount that women take more active part in the decision-making processes that change the course of their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in. The progress of women is vital for the progress of the society”.
Living her dream – C Nouzia Bhanu’s journey
C Nouzia Bhanu chose to be a political leader with a difference – to stand-up for the cause of the poor, and for the cause of women, an ambition nurtured from when she was a child.
Preparing herself well for the opportunity, Bhanu took a plunge into the political arena with her nomination to the MPTC or Mandal Parishad Tutorial Constituency in the 2014 elections, in Chilamathur Mandal, Anantpur district, Andhra Pradesh, which she won by a majority of 700 votes. Soon after, another opportunity came knocking – to stand for elections to the MPP or Mandal Praja Parishad; since the Chilamathur Mandal MPP seat was reserved for women candidates, and since she was the only one who had completed a secondary school education among all MPTCs, she was chosen by all 15 MPTCs in Chilamathur Mandal, making her the leader of all 11 village presidents, 15 MPTCs across the Mandal of 63 villages and 11 village panchayats.
Bhanu has born and brought up in the town of Hindupur. Her inspiration had always been the speeches by visiting political leaders and other successful people. Words of motivation in these speeches, and the desire to help people found resonance with her, inspiring her to study hard, and be something. She completed school in Hindupur, subsequently pursuing her intermediate (10+2); marriage caught-up with her, but she did not give up studying. Motherhood followed, but family support always remained by her side, pushing her towards the achievement of her dreams.
“The happiest thing for me is working for people, making them aware of their rights, and helping them avail them. We, as a team, have sanctioned 1044 old age pensions, 1500 houses with ‘pattas’ (title deed) and new ration cards for all eligible candidates. I receive a lot of support from everybody, right from the MPTCs, village presidents, government officials and MLAs. Activities, close to my heart include working for the cause of prevention of child marriages,” she says.
Bhanu was awarded “Best MPP” on the 69th Republic Day by district collector Veerapandiyan, IAS. Bhanu, now, is learning the nuances of good rural governance.
Bhanu’s message for her readers: “No dream is too big, if one decides to follow it with perseverance and courage”.
The fulfilment of dreams of these women serves as a role model for many young girls and boys to be what they dream to be.
The author is a writer, consultant-communications/media outreach and soft skills trainer