11 am, 13th Sep12….
A speeding military van stops at the door of the Sarpanch’s residence. Two army men come out rushing and walk towards the house door. They are looking for the Village Sarpanch to convey an important message- that a blast is going to take place in sometime and people of certain areas need to be warned. As Varsha, a skinny young woman, her head duly covered, steps forward, the army men give a doubting look and repeat to her that the Sarpanch be called instead. Varsha confidently tells them that she is the Sarpanch herself and she will take care of the situation. They reluctantly show the area map to her and tell that area 318 needs to be warned for a blast. Almost sure that she has not understood, they ask her if she even knows the area they are talking about. Varsha confidently gives them a complete location address of area 318, giving minute details of the place. She also tells them her plan for giving the villagers a heads-up. Obviously shocked, the army men’s faces break into broad smiles and they leave the place, shaking their heads in disbelief.
That’s Varsha for you- the 25-year-old Sarpanch of her village- smart, confident and articulate. “Apratim Shakti hai us mein samajhne ki” is how the women from her “Samuh” sum her up.
Born in a poor Dhobi family, she lost her mother at a very early age. She had to live with her uncle and despite her best efforts; she could not study beyond the ninth grade. She always dreamt of roaming around in God’s great wide world but typically, she was never allowed to go out. She was married off at the age of fifteen and as she puts it- ‘Saare sapne adhure reh Gaye’.
So when she was invited to be a part of a women’s Self-Help Group (SHG), a “Samuh”, she felt the door opened to her her long cherished dream of going out into the world and doing various things. When she was asked to do the book-keeping, she felt delighted that finally she could actually use her education. She said to herself, “Apna bojh hi utha sakoon to bahut badi baat ho jaayegi”.
The excitement of the offer kept her awake all night as she rehearsed in her mind how she would persuade her husband, Sumukesh to agree to let her take up the offer, knowing fully well that other members of the family would not be keen to let her do so. Anyhow, her persistence paid off and she was finally allowed to go ahead.
As she started enjoying her book-keeping work and got very good feedback for the same, she realized that she was capable of doing a lot more. She really started enjoying her new work, as it was a liberating experience for her. Slowly she started discovering the leader in her who naturally takes responsibility in critical situations around her. There were several instances when the quorum for conducting meetings was lacking and it was Varsha who came forward and took it upon herself to ensure that not a single meeting got cancelled on account of this.
She also discovered that when she actually spoke, people would start listening and they loved the way she expressed her and explained things. A Gram Sanghatan was formed after a period of six months and everybody from all the Samuhs in Babina were invited to attend it. More than 200 women came to attend the meeting. The Coordinator asked several questions to the attending women just to test their knowledge and to gauge the training inputs that would be required to form a Gram Sanghatan. The Coordinator asked questions ranging from how a Gram Samuh is formed, how a Block Samuh gets formed and how they all operate, details about bank transactions, etc.
Varsha was the only one who could satisfactorily answer all the questions. She not just answered the questions but took the onus upon herself to see that everybody else also understood. This quality of hers really impressed the gathering and they unanimously proposed her name for the position of GS president. And lo and behold, she became president of the Gram...