Anita Devi was only two years old when elections were last held in her district. Today, as the sarpanch from Gatalsud village in Jharkhand, she is the first person to hold an elected post after 36 years. And yet Anita says she is much more than this. She sometimes works as a tailor and has even trained others in tailoring. She is involved in farming. And she runs her household and looks after her two teenage sons.
Anita says she “never dreamt of joining politics”. She contested elections only because the villagers, specially the youth, felt she would be the right candidate for the post. She is dismayed by the fact that with no elected representative for decades, development has suffered immensely. Once elected, she has had to learn about the workings of the panchayat from scratch and is still trying to make up for lost time.
Her responsibilities have also made Anita more self assured. She says that everyone feels she has become more talkative now. But, in her opinion, this is one of the fallouts of being a sarpanch. To get things done and to understand problems, she has to talk to a lot of people.Confident Anita feels that now, “she can speak to anyone without hesitation”.
Building quality educational institutes, sanitation, clean drinking water, quality seeds at reasonable prices for farmers and training centres for women and youth are priorities for her. Anita has worked hard to get roads built, arranged digging of 40 wells, constructed a 100 bed hospital and wants to give girls an education beyond Class VIII, as is the current norm. The schools have computers but no teachers. What’s worse is that no one in the village feels the need for better education facilities and quality teachers.
Anita also wants to improve health conditions in her village. Since the area has been on the developmental back burner for more than three decades, she feels that people are largely unaware of available schemes and facilities. When Anita lodged an FIR at the police station, they refused to help her. Most officials ignore her and the work that she has been doing in this area. But Anita is determined to get things back on track.
Soft spoken Anita owns a mobile phone and has used a computer once for “typing letters”. She admits that she doesn’t know anything about computers but is proud of the fact that her sons use it comfortably. She, however, wants the training centres to teach computers and tailoring to women and youngsters, in particular. As she says confidently, “things will become even better over time”.