Report: Ritu Verma
Muhfad is just like any other Indian village – no electricity, no water, and a run down school. Dusty tracks and playgrounds with typical arid vegetation mark its landscape. But it has the first woman sarpanch of the country. Ritu Verma profiles her.
Pushpa Nagar, a young woman now, used to play in these playgrounds till late. But now her young shoulders are carrying a responsibility. And it is her own discretion, her own choosing.
Yes, at the politically tender age of 22, she has been elected as the youngest Sarpanch from one of the more backward villages of India. The seat may be reserved for women but it does not in any way steal Pushpa’s credit and the bravado that has kept her going.
Women’s participation in electoral politics is not a new phenomenon. But the 1992 enactment of the 73rd Amendment , which reserves 33% of seats for women in Panchayati Raj institutions suddenly brought this issue into the national forum. Pushpa Nagar decided to challenge the traditional thinking that household is the female domain and the world outside is the domain of the male. She contested the election and today she is the youngest and literate sarpanch of Muhfad village in UP.
What’s more, she is the only girl in the village who has got a master’s degree.
Limelight has made her confident
When I went to her village, I found her busy in disposing off household works like any normal village girl. After a couple of minutes she came out in a golden coloured salwar kameez. I congratulated her for this victory. She was very enthusiastic and her enthusiasm had a very modest and shy touch to it. She told me with a wide grin that for the first time media persons visited their village as far as she remembers.
When asked what motivated her to contest in election, she said, “I always felt disturbed with the state of affairs in my village.” The invasion of television cameras after her victory has almost made her camera savvy as there is no apparent camera fright in her. But the irony of the matter is that she will not be able to see her own self on TV as there is no satellite television in her village.
Young Pushpa not to cower before anyone
Muhfad is no different from any other village which are reserved for women. Here too the husbands have been the actual ones to wield the decision making and administrative powers making their wives mere puppets in their hands.
When pointed out this fact she says with much confidence, “Our village is a reserve constituency for women but I found that no women Sarpanch could take independent decision. They were Sarpanch for namesake only the total command was in their husbands hand. So I decided to contest.”
And Pushpa is not just content with sitting on her laurels. She has dreams and the determination that shines from her eyes does suggest that dreams will not just remain dreams.
“No one thinks of asking the problems of backward classes. There is no electricity, no hand-pumps or taps for drinking water. In our village there is only one school that too with three classrooms only,” she says.
Of nimbu paani and watermelons…
In a typical gesture of Indian hospitality I was offered nimbu paani. It tasted earthy but very refreshing. As I was sipping it she continued. The ambience was essentially rural as kids around us were scooping out melons and gleefully gorging them without worrying about the flies buzzing around.
“People are living in miserable conditions. My first and foremost objective is to provide them basic necessities like electricity, water and to built some classrooms so that higher classes could be added. This will have a favorable impact on girls, who can then study in the village itself.”
And she says with much conviction in her voice, “They have given me a chance and I will fulfill their expectations.”
Support from family
Her father, sixtyish, is a typical Indian farmer and very proud of the fact that her daughter has won the Sarpanch election. Despite being from a conservative village he harbours liberal ideas - his youngest daughter is also doing MA in Hindi. Unlike the archetypal village father he is not very concerned about the marriage of his daughter.
Pushpa said, “I received tremendous support from my family. In fact, women need support from their families and also from society so that they can come forward to participate as active citizen of the country. I am very fortunate in this regard,” she replied very proudly.
And we will be very proud as well if she goes on to represent her people in the parliament which, she said, was a distant but intimate dream for her.