Chhavi Rajawat - The Sarpanch of Soda
Imagine you are suffering from loose motions but cannot step out of your house to relieve yourself till after sunset.
Imagine you are sitting in an open field for defecation with no bushes to hide behind because being in arid zone, there is very little vegetation around. You are forced to stand up everytime you hear vehicle approaching or people talking and wait till they pass by and are a few hundred meters away from you. Only then you get to sit again. Imagine these interruptions happening several times during just one round of defecating in an open field!
As she speaks with me in the sunny back lawn of her ancestral home in her village, I can see pain and anger in her eyes but not helplessness. Meet Chhavi Rajawat, the Sarpanch of Soda village in Rajasthan. When I jokingly tell her that a village called Soda gives an impression of it being a village where people are fond of drinking, she laughs and goes on to narrate all that ails her village and how she cannot let the villagers down after they have given her a second term as their Sarpanch.
|Chhavi Rajawat- Sarpanch, Soda Village, Tonk District, Rajasthan|
Had she relied on government funds, perhaps the women of Soda would have still being defecating in the open. Not anymore! She motivated villagers to part with some of their savings to build toilets and at the same time appealed directly to her schoolmates, college mates & ex-colleagues in the corporate world to chip in. Which most of them did. Today, more than 800 of the 900 homes in Soda have a pucca toilet (as of March 2015). But then old habits die hard and some people, mostly men, still prefer to defecate in the open. How to stop them?
|One of the 800+ Toilets constructed in Soda Village|
Her mom, super-proud of her daughter, jumps in excitedly and narrates how she has motivated young children of the village to start tailing such men and deprive them of moments of solitude, something critical to the excretion process! If necessary, the kids also make noise and tease the chap making fun of his choice to defecate in the open. These guys shout at the children, threaten them, curse them but in the end, it is the children who win!
Chhavi is India's first and youngest village sarpanch with an MBA degree! Before taking the plunge into full time Sarpanch-giri, she worked in the corporate sector including companies like the The Times of India Group and Bharti Airtel.
Construction of toilets without any government help is just one of her achievements. Her other successes include converting 40 muddy pathways inside the village into bitumen surfaced or stone paved roads. Hence every pathway and every gali in Soda is now motorable, barring a few connecting the Dhanis (Settlements) on the outskirts of the village.
|Soda village at present has 40 such well surfaced roads, lanes& By-lanes|
During her first term as Sarpanch, she also got the biggest reservoir in the village desilted to improve its rainwater storing capacity. This reservoir today is the safest source of potable water in Soda. Prior to this, villagers depended on shallow handpumps to draw groundwater which is laden with deadly pollutants and is highly saline making it unfit even for farming. She managed to get all such handpumps sealed and news ones were installed around the village reservoir. As expected, getting the state government to release funds for desilting the reservoir proved to be a herculean task as usual with the officials dragging feet and delaying file movements. This left Chhavi with no option but to approach for sponsors in the corporate world who partly funded this exercise.
|With its groundwater heavily polluted, the reservoir is the only source of potable water for the entire village|
As you enter Soda off the Jaipur-Tonk road, you are greeted by the sight of State Bank of India's Soda branch flanked by its ATM! Around the bank are shops of barbers, tea sellers and samosa-pakodi doing brisk business during banking hours. The bank caters not just to Soda but dozens of neighbouring villages as this is the only bank in the area. Chhavi has ensured that every Soda resident has a bank account here for easy transfer of MNREGA payments and other government subsidies and incentives. Getting State Bank to agree to open a branch in her village wasn't exactly a cakewalk. It is here that her MBA degree and corporate experience perhaps came in handy and she managed to convince the bank's top brass by convincing them of the gains the bank would make.
|The village boasts of a Commercial Bank, a rarity in this part of the country|
A few hundred meters from the bank is a towering mobile tower which ensures that the residents of her village enjoy good mobile and data connectivity 24 x 7, something that most villages in the vicinity can only dream of. Perhaps, having worked in Airtel, Chhavi knew the right strings to pull at the right places to get this tower situated in Soda.
From a village which got electricity for barely 4 hours a day, Soda now has power supply for at least 16 hours a day. While all homes in the main village are electrified, the ones on the outskirts (Dhanis) have been provided with solar panels for lighting up homes as well as streets.
|Dwellings which have not been electrified have been provided with Solar power|
So what makes an alumnus of The Rishi Valley School, Lady Shri Ram College & Pune University to give up the `good life' and devote her prime years to a village? Doesn't she regret giving up luxuries of playing Polo, riding horses etc. for this unglamorous life dealing with not so hot & happening crowd?
No way! For Chhavi, the upliftment and progress of her ancestral village Soda is her first & foremost priority and nothing can come in-between. She is convinced that with 70% of India living in villages, the country simply cannot become a world power without improving the quality of living & quality of life of its rural citizens!
|This reservoir was dredged to increase its water holding capacity & supplies drinking water round the year to people & their cattle|