Growing up, one read or heard many quotes pertaining to leadership…women leadership, to be specific…Women, who initiated change that revolutionized life and living:
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
“As a woman leader, I thought I brought a different leadership. I was interested in women’s issues…as a woman, I entered politics with an additional dimension – that of a mother…” – Benazir Bhutto.
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein.
A woman is the ‘caretaker’ of the house and hearth, which is what makes her identity, role and empowerment so vital for the development of a country. Empowering an individual does not include only awareness generation, entitlements and namesake participation, but it includes active participation, independent and informed decision making, and a progressive approach. Essentially, empowerment may not even be gigantic steps in one go, but small, well measured steps towards the goal.
Lilavati, the sarpanch (village council leader) of Jhamuwas village, Haryana, is a dynamic leader. Hailing from a schedule caste background did not deter her from standing for election, one which she won with resounding success. Winning an election solely on the basis of one’s own planning and campaigning is an arduous task, executed well in the case of Lilavati, thanks to her sheer grit and determination. It is commonly seen that though women win elections, their role is executed by either of the male members of their families, limiting their role to mere puppets in the hands of their husbands, brothers, brothers-in-law or similar. In the case of Lilavati, this was not the case. Determined to render meaning to a hard-earned role, she strived to channel the power handed-over to her through her title as a sarpanch, in a judicious manner, and for the greater good of her village. Says Aarif, block coordinator, Sehgal Foundation: “Lilavati’s work is spread across many domains, and is for all to see. Her village is appreciative of her work, as it has brought about significant change. She played an important role in the setting up of an Industrial Training Institute, which was an initiative of the Haryana Government. Besides this, many plantation drives have been carried out in order to ensure that the village remains green. Her contribution in raising issues during the gram sabha is well known. In fact, Lilavati can stand-up for the cause of her village at any level, even if it means voicing concerns before the Additional Commissioner.”
Lilavati wishes to turn her village into a model village, where women’s participation is encouraged, for which awareness, she feels, is important. Understanding the way village governance bodies function, government schemes and entitlements, citizen’s rights and duties, and the courage and creativity to do something better and differently, according to her are vital for bringing about change at any level.
Renuka’s cheerful voice makes her sound like a young girl, fresh out of school, camouflaging the fact that she is the sarpanch of her village Agon, Harya since almost a year. Says she: “I was encouraged to run for this post, despite the fact that there were many other candidates. It did not intimidate me; I never once doubted my abilities, also because I enjoyed the support of my village and family. In fact, it was they who encouraged me outright.” Having completed her schooling with the active support of her family, she understands the need for a basic education, especially for girl children, which is why she actively propagates the cause. “I actively campaign for the causes of sanitation, cleanliness, health, hygiene and immunization. These are important for a healthy community; only when the people of a country are healthy can the country progress, as man power is an important resource.”
Renuka has also worked for the improvisation of basic infrastructure like the construction of roads, sewages and drains, and toilets. “I love what I do; it is empowerment in the true sense of the word; not only do I get a chance to do something for my village, but in return I receive a lot of good will, which is very important. I hope to do more, much more, for the improvement of my village in every field,” says Renuka with determination in her voice.
As they say: Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.