JAIPUR, January 5, 2012
Dalit woman sarpanch emerges as poster girl for gender issues
Has addressed issues of sex selection, infant-maternal mortality, child health
A Dalit woman sarpanch elected to an unreserved seat in Bikaner
district of Rajasthan has successfully brought gender issues to the
mainstream development discourse with the help of a Jaipur-based
advocacy group. She has addressed the crucial subjects of sex
selection, infant and maternal mortality and reproductive and child
health by focusing on gender fostering.
Tara Devi, elected as Sarpanch of Samerdha Nosera village panchayat of
Khajuwala block in Bikaner district in February 2010, is now a
household name in the region thanks to her dedication to the cause of
protecting the girl child. She has also provided inspiration to the
marginalised Dalit communities.
Situated 113 km away from Bikaner, Samerdha Nosera is among 20 village
panchayats in the district included by Sangam Matri Mission Sansthan
in a project for "Strengthening Gender Response of Panchayats in
Rajasthan" (SGRPR). The Society for Participatory Research in Asia
(PRIA) has initiated the ambitious project in several districts of the
The gender-specific data collected under the SGRPR show that the major
reasons for decline in child sex ratio are inadequate health
facilities and negligence towards the female newborn. A survey in
Samerdha Nosera revealed a ratio of 57:35 between home and
institutional deliveries, indicating that women did not find the
The remote village does not have easy connectivity with the urban
surroundings, while the lack of basic amenities earlier made the
conditions worse in the region. PRIA State coordinator Krishan Tyagi
said here that the advocacy group approached the village panchayat and
the village health and sanitation committee (VHSC) to improve the
situation and organised orientation and capacity building meetings for
the panchayat members.
During the orientation meetings, Tara Devi emerged as a leader
bringing about positive changes in her village during the past ten
years when she was elected Sarpanch twice. By joining the SGRPR, she
has got the crucial handholding support for her work.
Mr. Tyagi said the Sarpanch has successfully utilised her knowledge by
promoting and fostering Gram Sabha on gender issues. She has also
received support from the women's community-based organisations of the
region and is mobilising the villagers with the support of these
groups to participate in the Gram Sabha meetings.
Tara Devi's sustained efforts made an impact on the local community
and facilitated the process to incorporate gender issues into the
agenda of deliberations for planning. She also started regular
inspections of the local health sub-centre — earlier devoid of proper
infrastructure and medicines — and constructed its new building by
involving the VHSC members.
In another significant step, Tara Devi improved the conditions at the
anganwadi centre and made arrangements for water and power supply. Mr.
Tyagi said the Sarpanch visits the centre regularly and checks the
quality of food served to children. She has also taken steps to
enhance the standard of girls' education in the village and improve
arrangements for drinking water.
Tara Devi is also very active in organising VHSC meetings for
development of the annual health plan and utilised the untied grant of
Rs.10,000. She is working for betterment of Dalit and Muslim
communities and constantly tackling new challenges.
Depicting her concern over immunisation and health check-ups of
pregnant women, Tara Devi makes arrangements for delivery of women at
the community health centre and has organised several blood donation
camps. She has invested Rs.47.15 lakh in Indira Awas Yojana and spent
Rs.3.85 crore on construction works in the village.
As a result of Tara Devi's efforts, the child sex ratio has
significantly improved in Samerdha Nosera with a recent survey
revealing the figures of 1,014 females against 982 males. The
instances of maternal and infant mortality have come to an end and
there is no case of girl child dropout from schools.
Mr. Tyagi affirmed that the emphasis of SGRPR on encouraging women
Panchayati Raj representatives had led to the emergence of a popular
leader like Tara Devi. "We need to trust the abilities of women
belonging to marginalised communities and give them a little support
and opportunity," he said, adding that a big difference could be made
in this manner to rural development.
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