Chhabadibai Tejir Sonawane (45), woman sarpanch of Tembhli village, where India’s first Unique Identification Numbers (UIDs) were allotted on Wednesday, wanted to buy a gift for Sonia Gandhi. But, she didn’t have the money.
“I can’t afford to spend money on gifts, even for my children,” said the tribal woman who heads a nine-member panchayat of three villages —Tembhli, Asusa and Hodgujri — with a population of about 4,000.
Sonawane was elected last year in a ward reserved for women. Her family of four owns a small piece of land but it doesn’t support them all-year-round. They are forced to work as labourers to survive.
Excited about meeting Gandhi, Sonawane told HT that she did not rue her penury because her integrity, as well as the political awareness that a woman could make it to the top, inspired her. “I am trying to do something for my people. I will ask Soniaji to help…” she said. “I told Soniaji we need education, employment, bank loans, homes and land of our own. She promised to help.”
Sonawane drew a parallel between herself and Gandhi: “Soniaji manages the country with the help of her male colleagues. I try to replicate that.”
But does she really wield any power in male-dominated tribal villages? “Yes. I do force my views on the seven male panchayat members. They may not agree initially, but they relent,” smiled Sonawane.