Geeta Devi, the 32-year-old no-nonsense mother of two is the sarpanch of Baiyapur Khurd village near Sonepat, Haryana. She won the elections in 2005 as well as in 2010. More than half of her 14 committee members are women. Devi’s tremendously confident and articulate nature belies the fact that she has never been to school.
“I was never interested in politics. It took a lot of coaxing by the husband and my brother-in-law to take up the challenge. After becoming the sarpanch, I have become much more confident and self-assured.” Asked if she ever felt pressurised by her male family members in taking decisions, Devi says as far as discharging her official responsibilities go, she only goes by the decisions reached by the sabha. “No one can pressurise me.” Seeing her in-your-face attitude, one would believe so.
Devi’s most important contribution to developmental work has been the construction of a 35-foot wide road in her village. “Earlier, we used to wade through this road during the rainy season. The road has been elevated and the concrete laid. It has become an all-weather road now and the pride of this village,” confirms an octogenarian lady sitting huddled next to the sarpanch.
Devi’s other major contributions have been in the field of getting employment for scores of village youths. “A major problem here is lack of documentation of their qualifications. No one was sure about how to go about the documentation process. We have worked on it and now so many youths from our village are employed.”
Her work has also started to effect an attitudinal change towards the girl child. Haryana occupies an uneviable position in the female infanticide chart of the country. “Now because of greater awareness, people don’t look with total disfavour at the female infant. Of course, there’s till a long way to go, but at least we have made a beginning,” she says.
There is no shop selling alcohol in Baiyapur Khurd. The only one, about 100 metres away from Geeta Devi’s house lies locked. “It was quite an effort to get the alcohol shop closed. Village youths were taking to consuming alcohol from an early age. It was imperative that the shop downed shutters. Now neighbouring villages are trying to emulate us... Women are gifted multi-taskers. That is why we should be given more responsibilties.”