At the age of 22, Jabna Chauhan became the youngest Sarpanch in India.
The daughter of a farmer from the Thajun village located in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, Jabna overcame poverty and deep-seated patriarchy to run the affairs of her village. Despite performing well in school, she had a hard time acquiring an education after Class 12. Her father, who was also raising another daughter and visually-impaired son, couldn’t afford to send Jabna to a degree college outside her village.
Fortunately, her uncle stepped in and offered to pay for her college education in Mandi. To support herself, she worked as a stringer in a newspaper, collecting news from all over the district. While working as a journalist, she not only tried to focus on the problems of marginalised in her village but also made sure that these problems reached the authorities and got resolved.
In 2016, when it was time for the Panchayat elections, the entire village asked Jabna to file her nomination. She was just 22 at the time, and unsure about the move. However, she soon realised that this was the opportunity to do something for the betterment of her village. On January 1, 2016, at the age of 22, Jabna was elected as the Pradhan of Thajun and became the youngest Sarpanch of India.
As the Pradhan, she has effectively taken on the scourge of alcoholism, which affected working women in her village, through extensive community outreach and generated massive public support. She reached out to the government officials posted there to close liquor vendors in the area and other neighbouring villages with the same message.
She even got the Gram Sabha to pass a resolution to ban the sale and consumption of liquor and tobacco products from March 1, 2017.
“It was challenging, but I was determined to stop this nuisance in my village. Men addicted to alcohol would verbally abuse and threaten me. But I told them that I am not going to stop! And now no one drinks alcohol in public places in our village,” says Jabna with a sense of pride.
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Her extensive efforts in the area of effective waste management, repairing roads into the villages and setting up street lights have also earned her praise.
Jabna won the district level award of ‘Best Pradhan’ for her efforts. She hopes to build a degree college in her village soon since she couldn’t access one herself back in the day. She also wants to start a non-profit for women, which would allow them to earn additional income.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)