When Jaya Baruah first stood for elections in 2001, she faced the harsh reality of being a woman in rural India. The number of people who mocked and doubted her abilities just because she was a woman seemed to increase with every passing day. But this did not in any way deter Jaya. Instead it strengthened her resolve to change things for the better.
Today, 37 years old, ‘Class X pass’ Jaya is serving her third term in the panchayat from Puranimatithatagaon village in Jorhat district, Assam. She started off as the president of the gram panchayat and is now a zila parishad member.
However, Jaya’s journey of discovery actually began much before she contested elections. As a young girl in school, she used to wonder why so many children from economically weaker homes never got a chance to study. When she got married after completing her schooling she decided to do something about this and started working with local NGOs on getting more children to school.
Besides providing clothes and books for school children she also helped women suffering from domestic abuse.
While Jaya made a small start back then, things have not really improved even after more than a decade. Tucked away in a remote corner of north eastern India, the area has more than its share of problems. There are no community toilets and few schools. Healthcare is abysmal due to lack of qualified doctors in the area. This in turn affects education for all, since children very often do not attend school due to ill health. Certain areas do not have access to water and in some places conditions are so poor that people are forced to use sewage water. Jaya’s immediate focus is on building a hospital in the area so healthcare services can improve. Steps are also being taken to resolve other issues.
Jaya looks forward to community support because she believes that by working together towards a common goal, almost anything can be achieved. Inspired by her brave efforts, more women are now coming forward to assume leadership roles. She uses a mobile phone for making and receiving calls and messages and even accesses the internet. While she has seen a computer, her friends mostly do the ‘computer work’ for her.
Resilient Jaya realises that the internet can give her information about schemes and help her learn about development issues from other villages. So while Jaya proudly claims that she ‘works with almost 30,000 zila parishads and six panchayats’ in reality the internet has helped her extend her reach far beyond. With Jaya’s firm resolve and steely resolution, change for good is slowly but surely becoming evident.