Agent of change, a symbol of new India and many more adjectives were used when Chhavi Rajawat was elected as the first woman MBA sarpanch of the country.
Two years on, the 31-year-old, who created a stir when she spoke at a UN meet on rural development in March 2011, appears to have run into old India — of gender bias, bureaucratic indifference and political interference.
“It seems only politicians and bureaucrats rule the system. Claims of strengthening the panchayats are mere hogwash,” said the sarpanch of Soda, which is 85 km away from the state capital Jaipur.
She would prefer no panchayats to the weak and shackled institutions they were, said Rajawat, who went to Rishi Valley School in Andhra and Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, before doing her MBA from Pune.
Egged on by some locals, officials “were obstructing development plans”, she said. “It has more to do with the fact that I'm a woman. The ego of many officials gets hurt.”
Her domestic help “was recently beaten up as a warning” and her request for police protection turned down. An FIR was registered against her father to “harass her”. “Had I been a man, it would not have happened," said Rajawat.
She quit a high-paying job with Bharti Airtel because she wanted to transform the village her grandfather, a former army man, served as the panchayat head for 15 years. And she has made a difference. Women are sending their daughters to school and want them to go for higher education as well.
Her latest standoff with the bureaucracy is over a recently built pond. The construction was illegal and would interfere with the flow of water to the main pond but was allowed by the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), she said. A centre that would give information on NREGA was being blocked, she alleged, hinting at political interference.
SDM Prakash Chand denied Rajawat’s charges and said the revenue court, and not the panchayat, would have the final say on the pond.
The way forward? "I'll keep fighting for the rights of the villagers despite the challenges,” said Rajawat.