Ritu Jaiswal happens to be the only mukhia in Bihar to win the Ucch Sikshit Adarsh Yuva Sarpanch award in 2016 for her exemplary work as a village head.
But how did this woman living in Khelgaon, a posh locality in Delhi, manage to become the sarpanch of Singhwahini, a village in Bihar?
Let’s take a look at her story.
Right from childhood, Ritu was passionate about social work, and would regularly take part in local campaigns that aimed to help underprivileged people.
In 1996, Ritu married Arun Kumar, an IAS officer. A few years later, on a visit to her in-laws’ ancestral home in Sitamarhi’s Sonbarsha block, she came across multiple issues. There was no electricity, proper drinking water and a severe lack of basic sanitation facilities.
A shocked Ritu knew she had to do something.
She began by tackling the state of education in the village. A girl from Singhwahini had completed her BEd and was teaching in Bokaro. Ritu offered her a higher salary to come back and teach in the village school. The girl agreed and started teaching 25 girls who had dropped out from the village school.
Her efforts were rewarded when 12 out of them passed their matriculation exams with flying colours in 2015.
Ritu then moved on to other pressing issues like open defecation, domestic violence, female infanticide and organic farming. She held seminars and meetings and even conducted infotainment seminars for the villagers.
Ritu was already spending a majority of her time at Singhwahini and realised that if she was to fulfil her dream of transforming it, she would have to move there full-time.
Her husband and two children were wholly supportive and very accommodative of this decision, and Ritu soon made the permanent move.
The villagers of Singhwahini then requested her to contest in village elections. Though politics was not initially part of the plan, with their faith she decided to go for it.
Winning by a whopping 72% margin, Ritu used this position to her advantage. She attacked the problem of open defecation with the help and support of the villagers as well as the District Magistrate. Two thousand toilets were constructed, and defecators were reasoned with until finally in October 2016, Singhwahini was declared ODF (Open Defecation Free).
She then decided to tackle the issue of crumbling mud roads.
Realising that the villagers were reluctant to give up their savings and that government aid would take too much time, Ritu paid out of her own pocket to enhance the village roads. Her enthusiasm inspired the villagers to gradually begin to contribute, and today, all of Singhwahini has paved roads.
Winning the election also enabled Ritu to target another big problem —the inefficiency of the Public Distribution System.
Unfazed by the BDO (Block Development Officer) and dealers who refused to provide any help or answer her queries, she and her small team embarked on a mammoth effort to collect the ration cards of the 14000 villagers covered by the panchayat. They were then analysed and cross-checked to see if there was any mismatch or hoarding, which helped her weed out corrupt officials and dealers.
She also established vocational training centres for villagers, after which many of them became entrepreneurs or self-employed, even opening up shops.
When massive floods hit the Sitamarhi district in August 2017, Ritu had the option of returning to Delhi. But of course, this gutsy mukhiya did nothing of that sort. She stayed, and worked day and night, tirelessly, to help the victims and aid the rescue workers.
Ritu’s inspiring story reveals how good grassroots leadership can make a huge difference in a country plagued by corruption and inefficiency.
However, over the years, people, especially the young, have been losing faith in elections. They are seen as frivolous or pointless. But not voting doesn’t declare disbelief in the voting system. It only worsens our own condition.
It’s important to pursue facts when it comes to elections. It’s important to know your MPs and MLAs and their backgrounds. It’s important to have a well-read opinion because there are a lot of fake facts flying around. And most importantly, it is crucial to vote.
Because if you don’t, someone else will tell you how to run your life. And that’s not okay.
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!
We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.
Visit www.stereotypes.in to know more about the campaign and support the effort!
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
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