This is a new post in brand new year. Let me wish all my readers a very happy and more importantly peaceful new year. :)
I am in India for four weeks. So I have been very lazy with writing. I got my hands on some interesting books while I was out shopping. Sarpanch Sahib is one of them. This is a collection of seven biographies of female Sarpanchs (village heads) of seven different remote villages in India. What is more interesting is that each of these stories is written by a different female journalist who had to get out of her metropolitan existence to meet her subject in a far off village. Edited by Manjima Bhattacharjya, this book shows you a completely different and honest face of the Indian woman.
It starts off more or less to review the effects of the 73rd constitutional amendment that was done in 1993. It mandated elections to be held for membership to the panchayti Raj and reserved one-third of the seats for women. Since then over three million Indian women have become politically active and one million are elected to political office every five years.
However, the role of women in politics is still looked upon with doubts. This book travels through all the trials and triumphs associated with a woman leader and puts them across honestly, without even a hint of dramatic feminism.
There is Sunita, an Adivasi woman, Sarpanch of a Brahmin dominated Tighra village in Madhya Pradesh. I found her story inspiring. It took her about a year and nine months just to open her own account and access the funds granted to her for developmental work. She had to fight with men of power, men of higher castes and initially men (and women) of her own family. All of this just to start working as a Sarpanch after being elected by people. Journalist Manju Kapur narrates Sunita's journey from a ghunghat-clad skinny daughter-in-law to a fuller Sarpanch who looks into her opponent's eyes. She even jokes that all the fighting made her put on weight!
Or even the illiterate Chinapappa of Pachikanapalli, Tamil Nadu. She helped twenty one kids of the nomad Irular tribe with enrollment in a nearby school. She takes us through the struggles of being an illiterate Dalit woman. Each adjective adding a new constraint to her efficiency.
I am always stumped by the "images" that foreigners carry with them about India. Many times, their travel diaries are full of descriptions of the non-existence of women in India. I myself have been caught in never ending, heated debates about how Indian women are not as helpless as the West perceives. Reading this book opened my eyes to a new reality.
We should learn to measure success relatively. For me, Sunita who was married at ten, entered politics at twenty two years of age from a mute Adivasi background is much more emancipated than any metropolitan Indian or even Western woman. Not getting things done with bribes, getting out of her house to go to court because she has been accused on fake charges and silencing higher caste men are her achievements. They are probably bigger than any qualified politician (if there is a term as a "qualified politician"). If these struggles are delaying developmental work, it is like latent heat being absorbed to make something invisible happen- the empowerment of these women. Once they are powerful enough not to care, development will take place with a greater speed and honesty.
Over the past few years, I have learned to open my eyes to these realities that exist around me. It is easy to get wrapped up in your happiness (or sorrow) and not look around. But in every humble woman lies a great power. When you take a step back to look around you find that women who are on the so called lower rungs of the society pyramid are actually emotionally and professionally much more successful than you. Mostly because they have to deal with struggles that would never cross the path of an educated, modern woman. Their expectations are humble and their everyday life makes it impossible for them to dwell on their problems.
It is not so important to be better than everyone else. Sometimes that leads to loss of compassion. The true beauty of a life well lived is to be better than what you were yesterday and also to help others on your way, achieve that dream!