Women Panchayat leaders fight for rights, set example

October 1st, 2008 - 6:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiNew Delhi, Oct 1 (IANS) Amita Devi of Bihar is determined to secure compensation for those whose lands were acquired for the construction of a four-lane highway. During the women Panchayat leaders’ meet in the capital Wednesday, she carried with her a letter on the issue and plans to give it to United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.“Since the meet was in Delhi and we (women community leaders) were scheduled to meet Sonia Gandhi, I decided that I will personally submit a letter to her about the woes of the people who have been rendered homeless for the last two years. Any kind of help will be welcome,” Devi told IANS.

She is one of the 30-odd women Panchayat leaders from 14 states across the country who have come together to share their experiences of the Panchayati Raj and be a part of the Sarojini Naidu Prize 2008 presentation for the best reportage on women and the Panchayati Raj.

Devi, who is the president of the Dadar Kolhua Panchayat in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, said she is constantly rebuked in her family for encouraging women to step out and demand their rights.

“I have studied till the school level, but at home. For the first time in my area, my daughter has stepped out to go to the college. Seeing her, some other families have also decided to send their daughters for higher education,” Devi said.

“I always tell the women in the area to be more independent, have their own bank accounts and save money. To all this, my family constantly rebukes me, saying that I am spoiling the women of the locality, but I go ahead anyway,” said Devi with a smile.

Sunita Rajput of Assam, who contested Panchayat elections from an open seat and won an impressive 249 votes of the 300 polled, said she is trying her best to make the people aware of the various government initiatives so that they can avail these.

“For instance, people are now becoming aware of the RTI (Right to Information) Act. A lot of people have, in fact, been using the RTI to find out about their delayed pension.”

“They also know about the NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) but the fund has not yet been released at the Panchayat level, hence the scheme was not implemented,” Rajput told IANS.

Sangita Naik of the Borda Panchayat in the Kalahandi district in Orissa is fighting a lonely battle for removal of liquor shops near schools and colleges of her area.

“But these shops have licenses and the male Panchayat members don’t support my cause,” Naik said.

She is, however, undeterred. Going against the rigid social system, Naik supported two widows in performing their husbands’ last rites.

“One major problem that we face is the lack of medical amenities. In 10 Panchayats in the area, we have just one Public Health Centre and one doctor. Also, we desperately need a bridge from Borda to the nearby Artal because during the floods we get completely cut off from the rest of the world,” she said.

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