It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from or what people think about you, your ability is going to be your identity!
Hailing from a small village named Thajun, located in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, the now 23-year-old Jabna Chauhan has proved this by becoming the youngest Sarpanch of India.
The second child of a farmer – Shri Hariya, Jabna was good in academics in her childhood. However, the limited income of her father became a barrier to Jabna’s education after she passed class 12. The father had to raise a visually impaired son and two daughters.
“Our village did not have a degree college, because of which I would have to shift to Mandi to continue my studies. My father always wanted to educate all of his three children, but he was helpless. We could not afford the expenses of the college as well as the hostel at Mandi,” says Jabna.
Eventually, her uncle offered help to continue her education and got her a part-time job in a newspaper to support her expenses. Soon Jabna began travelling to every nook and corner of Mandi to collect news.
Through this experience, she joined a local news channel, ‘Oriental Times’, as a reporter and anchor.
While working as a journalist, she not only tried to focus on the problems of marginalised communities in her village but also made sure that these problems reached the authorities and got solved.
Within a year Jabna was a known person in Mandi, working effectively against gender bias and social atrocities and other women’s issues.
In 2016, when it was time for the Panchayat elections, Jabna was requested by the entire village to file her nomination. Jabna, who was just 22 at the time, was not sure about entering politics. However, she soon realised that this was the opportunity to do something for her village.
“As my elder brother was visually impaired and we were two sisters, most people would tell my father that he should get us married soon. But my father has never differentiated between us. Our parents were poor, but they have always taught us to do good for the society and be brave. When I was confused about fighting the elections, it was my father who fully supported me and gave me the strength to do what was right,” says Jabna.
On 1 January 2016, at the age of 22, Jabna was elected as the Pradhan of Thajun and became the youngest Sarpanch of India.
Jabna was initially sceptical, but now, after one year of her tenure, she believes that if one’s intentions are good, no field is bad for them.
“You need to jump into the sea to clean it, it is impossible to just sit at the shore and wait for the change to happen,” she says.
During her work as a reporter, Jabna had been noticing one major hindrance in the growth of the village – alcoholism!
Most of the men in the village were addicted to alcohol. The women of the house would work all day long on farms or in MGNREGA projects. The men would snatch the money in the evening and spend it on alcohol.
After winning the election, Jabna began to highlight the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco.
She contacted all five Mahila Mandal groups in the Panchayat and even formed a group of local youths – who were connected through a WhatsApp group.
She started conducting meetings and emphasising the role of women and youths in changing the present scenario.
About nine months ago, Jabna led a delegation from Tharjoon Panchayat to submit a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner for closing liquor vendors in the area.
After this, Jabna started contacting the Panchayat members of surrounding villages and convinced them to start such campaigns in their areas too. After prolonged discussions between the members of the Tharjoon Gram Panchayat and its residents, the Gram Sabha passed a resolution in February this year to ban the sale and consumption of liquor and tobacco products from 1 March 2017.
“It was challenging, but I was determined to stop this nuisance in my village. Men addicted to alcohol would verbally abuse and threat me. But I told them that I am not going to stop! And see…now no one drinks alcohol in public places in our village,” says Jabna with a sense of pride.
The battle started by this young lady has now spread to the surrounding Panchayats of Cheuni, Lambathatch, Baga Chinogi and Sharan – where the consumption of liquor and tobacco is also banned.
In fact, the Gram Sabhas have also banned the serving of liquor in marriages and have decided to impose a fine on those who would violate the rule.
Jabna has also won the district level award of ‘Best Pradhan’ and her Panchayat also stood first in the district in terms of cleanliness.
To achieve this, Jabna used women empowerment. She made a separate WhatsApp group for the village women to talk about cleanliness.
Two dustbins were provided at each house to collect daily waste.The women also made groups and cleaned the village once every 15 days. Toilet waste, which would be flushed in open channels, were covered and separate toilet pits were made.
Domestic waste was gathered in a separate pit while avoiding polythene bags. Cowdung sheds were also made to deposit so that people don’t collect cow dung near their houses.
Jabna, who continues to work as a journalist, also works with her father in their agricultural field and makes her own notes on the needs of the village.
Her efforts have brought street lights, and she says, plans are afoot to get the village paths repaired. Her next step is to get a degree college for her village and start an NGO for women where they can get some additional income.
Jabna looks like a fragile school-going girl, but her persistence and commitment to work would surprise you. She plans her day’s work, interacts with her team and takes decisions with firmness in her voice and sincerity in her efforts.
You can contact Jabna at firstname.lastname@example.org