8th March 2014

Vandana Bahadur: A woman of steel in all-male gram panchayat

On a pleasant Sunday in January this year, as the nation was celebrating the 65th Republic Day, a 32-year-old woman was fending off 100-odd men at a panchayat meeting in Madhya Pradesh’s tribal-dominated Jhabua district.


As the sarpanch (head) of Khalkhandvi gram panchayat, Vandana Bahadur Maida is used to such heated exchanges. But on that day, tempers had run high.

However, Vandana, who belongs to the Bhil tribe, has fought enough battles in life to back off.Mixing firmness with mollycoddling, she had made the men see reason and assured them that their demand for electricity, more hand-pumps and ponds would be fulfilled.

For Jhabua’s woman of steel, it was just another day in office.Through sheer determination, Vandana has given woman a voice in this remote part of Jhabua district, around 170km west of Indore and nearly 250 km from capital Bhopal.

“I often have to face their (the men’s) shouting. But I have learnt to work around them,” says Vandana, a class eight pass and a sarpanch since 2009.

In 2013, the United Nations acknowledged Vandana’s contributions in the fields of education, women empowerment and sanitation by featuring her in a women’s calendar.

“Convincing women to come out of their veils and houses required a lot of effort. I started organising meetings in each phaliya (hamlet) and asked them to highlight their problems,” Vandana recalls.

Women soon started matching the men in strength at the meetings of the gram sabha, which represents three villages – Khalkhandvi, Karpatya and Guradiya – with a population of more than 26,000 people.

She used the women’s attendance to raise the larger issue of sanitation and convinced them the need of equipping their houses with toilets.

“Khalkhandvi today has toilets in 75% houses of the 379 houses,” she adds with visible pride in her face.

Backed by a supporting husband Bahadur Maida – a graduate himself – the mother of three has addressed women empowerment meetings in Jaipur, Delhi and Ahmednagar.

She then turned her attention to education and built additional rooms in the cramped primary school. “Now, I am fighting to get a higher secondary school here,” she says.

Vandana’s work is, however, is far from complete.

“I felt proud when I saw women turn out in large number to cast their votes during the last assembly elections. Many of them even want to contest elections. Maybe, I will one day too,” Vandana adds.

2nd March 2014

Their grit yields bounty, fetches them recognition

Kalpana Prakash, a woman farmer in her early 30s, is barely 5’ 2”. But she is walking tall, as she has become a role model for others in Bihar.

Reason: She has been bestowed with Krishi Karman award by President Pranab Mukherjee for showing grit and record production of wheat in adverse circumstances. Till a few years back, Kalpana was an ordinary farmer producing 40 quintals of food grains per hectare and eking out a livelihood out of farming at a nondescript village Pokhraria in Bihar’s Samastipur district.
But, of late, she adopted the systematic wheat intensification (SWI) method, followed by all possible support and training from the agriculture department. The yield increased 2.5 times. This happened when 33 out of 38 districts in Bihar were reeling under drought.

// // From 40 quintals of wheat per hectare, 32-year-old Kalpana was successful in pro­ducing 106 quintals of wheat perhectare. A record of sorts by a woman farmer, Kalpana was chosen for the Krishi Karman award for the commendable production of wheat in adverse situation.
Kalpana was elated while receiving the award from Pranab Mukherjee at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan where she got Rs 1 lakh and a citation from the President for her untiring effort.
“I am extremely elated at being chosen for the Krishi Karman award. Hope my story will inspire others to increase the yield by using hybrid seeds, adopting SWI technique and zero tillage as envisaged in the agriculture roadmap 2012-13,” Kalpana told Deccan Herald.
Krishi Karman award came into being in 2010-11 when the Union Agriculture Ministry announced a ‘reward scheme’ for recognising meritorious efforts of the states in food grain production. Two sets of awards were included under the scheme – one for the total food grain production and the other for individual food grain crops of rice, wheat, pulses and coarse cereals.
Kalpana is not the only one from Samastipur to have brought laurels to Bihar. Mohammad Zahid Khan from Inmasnagar village in Samastipur too has been chosen for the Krishi Karman award for producing 128.2 quintals of wheat per hectare through SWI method.
“It was the most memorable moment of my life to receive the award at the hands of the President, who asked me to increase the yield, have bumper crops next year too and put Bihar among the front-ranking States in food production,” said Zahid, while talking to Deccan Herald over phone.
So what was the actual reason behind this increased production of wheat?
“The Bihar government’s Agriculture Department, through its nodal officers, used to send us SMSes informing about the use of fertilisers, seeds and cultivation methods. The kisan salahkar (farmers’ advisors) at the block level used to visit our place with advice and logistic support. They would suggest how to fight moisture deficiency and tremendous heat,” explained Zahid.
While Zahid and Kalpana got the award in the individual category for record production of wheat, in which they were presented Rs 1 lakh each and a citation, Bihar got the Krishi Karman award in recognition of the state’s record production of wheat in 2012-13 in the midst of drought. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was presented a cheque for Rs 1 crore, a citation and a trophy as reward. “The award is given for excellent production under adverse circumstances. It was an arduous task to achieve this at a time when the rain-god had stopped smiling on us and the entire State was reeling under severe drought,” said principal secretary, agriculture department, Vivek Kumar Singh.
Singh had to give a presentation to the Centre how the state managed to ensure better production of wheat despite adverse circumstances.
“Last year, owing to residual moisture and terminal heat problem, the grain formation was relatively less. Moisture was deficient in the soil and hot weather conditions prevailed. However, we tried to overcome the odds by encouraging zero tillage sowing time and used the SWI method,” said Singh.
Earlier, a farmer from Nalanda, Sumant Kumar had won Rs 1 lakh for creating a world record in production of 224 quintal paddy per hectare through systematic rice intensification (SRI) method in 2011-12.
Shanti Devi of Naran in Rohtas village too was rewarded for record production of paddy variety named MPU-7029. She had achieved paddy yield of 95 quintal per hectare against experts’ prediction of 55 quintal per hectare by using the SRI technique.

7th February 2014

Haryana village adopts Jai-Ho

support model

An initiative to stop the slide in sex ratio has transformed Bibipur in Haryana into a model village. But far from gloating over the laurels, the village on Thursday announced that it would embark on a community endeavour that would set off a “chain reaction” and attract more helping hands to work for welfare of mankind.

The initiative, created on the 1 to 3 model made famous by the recent Salman Khan starrer Jai-Ho, calls for each villager to help three persons in some ways and each of those three should help two more, setting off the chain reaction where everyone in the village would have both received and rendered help to each other.

Sunil Jaglan, the 32-year-old village Sarpanch, told Deccan Herald that the village had held a Gram Sabha in which it was unanimously voted to adopt the 1 to 3 model of supporting each other.

“In some time, the number of helping hands in the village will be abundant because of the chain reaction. Every gesture of help will encourage brotherhood and harmony in the village,” Jaglan said.

// // Each man and woman who help more people will be felicitated and honoured periodically.

At least 70 persons who had received help from nearly a dozen persons in the village at some point in time were identified and called for Thursday’s meeting. “To begin with, we asked these 70 men and women to help at least three persons to start off the chain. This small initiative will generate hundreds of helping hands at the end of the exercise,” he said.

9th January 2014

Radio-over-phone ‘Gramvani’ aims to eliminate child marriage
Gramvani’ – a radio-over-phone platform in rural hinterland of Bihar and Jharkhand aims to set a perfect example of technology leading to social change, more specifically eliminate the social evil of child marriage.

'Gramvani' - a radio-over-phone platform in rural hinterland of Bihar and Jharkhand aims to set a perfect example of technology leading to social change, more specifically eliminate the social evil of child marriage. Reuters File Photo.Breakthrough, a global human rights organisation came up with the project as part of its ‘Nation Against Child Marriage’ campaign in August 2013.Encouraged by the response during its pilot stage running, the organisation has reintroduced the popular radio-tie up in Jharkhand and Bihar from January to March this year.

Built on an interactive voice response system, ‘Gramvani’ allows people to call into a number and leave a message about their community or listen to messages left by others. Shobha S V, the project’s multimedia manager says the project is aimed at involving the people in a dialogue that is crucial for bringing in any social change.

“In tune with how technology can be used to bring about social change by reaching wide sections of people, we have designed the mobile radio Gramvani that caters to the rural populace of Jharkhand, Bihar and other areas.

“It is important to engage people to bring about any real change. Through this start up, they listen to the various audio interviews, radio drama and discussion programs related to child marriage. They can also record their suggestions and queries and get back to us, thus making the conversation two-way and more effective,” she explains.

Such a program comes in the wake of a recent report by Unicef stating that in South Asia, nearly half the number of girls who married early belonged to India. The figures claim that twenty-three million girls in India face the imminent threat of child marriage.Child marriage in the country has been estimated to be decreasing at less than one per cent a year.

Working on a range of issues like health, infant mortality agriculture, domestic violence and gender issue, ‘Jharkhand Mobile Vani’ or ‘Gramvani’ aims to expand its ambit of broadcast and is currently working on a mechanism that allows the system to report cases of child marriage to the authority.

Meghna Rao, Campaign Manager of the project says they aim to make the radio project more robust. Till now, the people shared their experiences of child marriage with us and we tried to make them aware about the ill effects of the practice. We are designing the next step of this project i.e. the reporting mechanism where we can figure out a way of registering such cases to the officials and prevent such dastardly acts to take place,” she says.

Talking about the statistics and the findings during the research for the project since the past four years, Meghna says they found out that people practice child marriage out of the extreme fear for the safety of their girl child.

“While most of the women who called us believed that child marriage should not exist, around 80 per cent of the men say that they fear for the safety of their daughters. They prefer to marry off the girls at quite a young age than risking their lives,” she says.

Sonali Khan, Vice President of the Delhi chapter of Breakthrough hints at taking the project to more avenues and tying up with more advocacy groups to root out the problem of child marriage from India.

“As part our effort to strengthen Gramvani, we are training volunteers from the rural areas to report cases of child marriage from their respective localities and take schools closer to girls so that they can break the barrier of distance.

“We are also keen on tying up with Unicef and the Centre which has shown an active interest in our campaigns to spread the message of ‘Nation Against Child Marriage’ even further.”

Gramvani currently running in Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Jamtara districts of Jharkhand and 15 districts of Bihar can be reached with the ten digit phone number.

4th January 2014

It’s a woman’s world in Haryana


A village in Haryana is on a mission to set right the state’s appalling sex ratio. And the outcome was heartening: Child sex ratio in Bibipur village nearly doubled in one year, from a deplorable 561 girls every 1,000 boys in 2012 to 1,114 girls in 2013.
In a token gesture, the village panchayat has decided against having a chief guest for its Republic Day function on January 26. Instead, a woman with a girl child will hoist the tricolour. The panchayat has invited applications from women to zero in on the right candidate.

Sunil Kumar Jaglan, the 32-year-old sarpanch, told Deccan Herald that the village on January 1 honoured 100 women who gave birth to girl child. Jaglan, a post graduate in mathematics, said female foeticide could be contained by a series of persistent efforts backed by a scientific plan. In 2012, only 32 girls were born in the village while the number of boys was nearly double. In 2013, the village saw the birth of 51 girls while the number of boys was far less.

The data was tabulated by district health authorities. Iswanti Devi, in-charge of the local health center, said the child sex ratio figures were based on childbirths in the last two years. She said every pregnant woman was registered with the center and issued a personal health card irrespective of whether she delivered the child at the local hospital.

Jaglan said he banked on a pool of villagers, who doubled as undercover observers. They used to get information about expecting mothers, especially those with a girl child. The idea was to get such women registered with health authorities to prevent abortions. 

Those who resisted were named in gram sabha meetings and counselled to get themselves registered. “Campaign to save the girl child has been a constant feature in the village.

How else did the numbers of girl child increase in one year?” Jaglan said.
The village first shot to fame in 2012 by organising the country’s first all-woman gram sabha. A couple of months later, it organised a mahapanchayat with women representatives from five states participating.

28th DECEMBER 2013

Once a meek lady, now a fiesty


Meera Chaudhury of Janakpur village in UP is one fiery woman, for she will go to any lengths to ensure that justice is served with regard to gender, observes Mehru Jaffer .
The articulate members of the union of small and marginalised farmers now demand work and equal wages for everyone.
It is no longer possible for any one to mess with Meera Chaudhury of Janakpur village in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Over time, this 50-year-old has been transformed. From being a loving mother-of-six and a hardworking farmer, she is now a seasoned union leader.

Meera is the backbone of the local branch of a powerful union of small and marginalised farmers that was formed in December 2000, following a state-wide farmers’ conference held in Lucknow. She has been associated with the group since 2003 and understands the challenges, both environmental and administrative faced by the farming community.

A fiesty bloom

The first time that Janakpur took notice of this feisty woman was around five years ago when she led a movement against alcoholism ensuring that the age-old tradition of fermenting mahua fruit to make country liquor was eliminated. This drive earned her the title of ‘commander-in-chief’ of Meera’s Sena, a group of rural women and men that raises its voice against all cultural, social and government policies that do more harm than good. Farmers’ rights, livelihood issues, especially rural women’s access to work and land, and gender equality, are priorities for Meera and her group.

Understanding the need of the hour, Meera’s Sena has taken it upon itself to ensure the implementation of livelihood schemes in their area and has, on occasion, even confronted officials who create unnecessary hurdles. Recalls Satyendra Kumar Tripathi, a farmers’ rights activist, “On one occasion, Meera took the local bureaucracy head-on when she boldly asked an official, who was demanding a bribe, whether he hadn’t received his salary from the government that month.”

A woman for women

Of course, Meera’s brand of activism is centred on women. That’s because she knows that not only are they central to the home economy, they are the ones who are critical to the success of climate change adaption strategies, which can ensure a more stable future for the next generation. Gender inequality is what drives her to work tirelessly. “Both women and men are part of the same society but they do not enjoy the same rights,” feels the union leader, who has been a keen observer of women’s rights for over a decade.

Awareness is key

Supporting her in her crusade is GEAG. “Awareness is the key to any social change,” believes Tripathi. Keeping in mind that gender is a social construct and that the position of women is quite unfavourable in these parts, most awareness campaigns initiated by the organisation have started off by addressing and promoting gender equality. This has meant a special focus on looking at the disadvantages women are up against in their own environment so that they can challenge the unfair practices themselves. Meera herself has been a beneficiary of this approach, having been associated with GEAG for many years.  She says, “There was a time when I was afraid to even look at the men in my family. Today, I am ready to take on any man, including government officials.”

Equality on the cards

An incident that took place in Janakpur regarding the issuing of job cards under the government’s flagship rural livelihood guarantee scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), indicates how far she has travelled. “When the village head told me that under the MGNREGA, women were not entitled to a job card, I promptly called the toll free number of their office headquartered in New Delhi to report the matter,” she relates.

She also went ahead and convened a meeting in the village to talk to people about their entitlements under the scheme — how they have a right to demand 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year, how every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work can benefit under the Act, and how when women in the village – who are usually paid less than men for working for an equal number of hours – they can insist on equal wages.

Creditworthy, literally

Women like Meera and her friend Putla Devi are the pillars of the SHG movement in Janakpur. Taking time off from tilling, sowing and harvesting — common activities that local women are engaged in – they get down to other business like improving access to credit for poor women who are now perceived even by the mainstream financial sector as creditworthy. Women chiefly use their savings and credit to overcome climate change threats, a process that has benefited the larger community. Meera’s determined army is well on its way to building a more environment-friendly and gender-just life for themselves.


24th DECEMBER 2013



27th NOVEMBER 2013


27th NOVEMBER 2013

Bagful of Guinness world records, all for causes

A philanthropic sect in the Khap-dominated Haryana has carved a niche for itself chronicling as many as 14 feats in the Guinness Book of World Records, all with a social message.

Its Guinness records — including the 15th one for which the sect volunteers successfully performed on Sunday — have not been for any glitz or fame. Instead, they have all been driven to fulfill social causes that would serve the society at large.

Be it the largest blood donation ever covering close to 44,000 volunteers in just eight hours, or the largest number of saplings— a whopping 67 lakh —ever to have been planted in one daylight, the Guinness records earned by the Dera Sacha Sauda sect in Sirsa have all served various causes. The sect has a unique record to its credit wherein over 12,000 volunteers, including several women and girls, tossed a one rupee coin simultaneously before wrapping it up in their palms. This was done to urge people to save or contribute at least a rupee for some humanitarian deed each day.

The sect has a huge following essentially in northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan and some southern states. Another of its Guinness records was aimed at spreading the message of one god and universal brotherhood. The related feat entailed a gigantic piece of art spanning across 3,900 square meters of area, painted by more than 5,000 people using only their fingers. The art piece depicted symbols of faith of each religion.

Dera chief spokesperson Dr Aditya Insan, an eye surgeon by profession, talking toDeccan Herald on Monday said the sect’s ideology is the betterment of people and society.

“Such achievements are an expression of contentment that evoke a pragmatic and meaningful response for a larger human cause,” Dr Aditya Insan said.

Last Sunday’s record involved 10,500 people forming the world’s largest human blood drop on an area of 24,000 square feet in a stadium, breaking the previous record set in Dubai. The event was organised to mark the birth anniversary of the sect founder Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.


6th NOVEMBER 2013

Female infanticide in MP DISTRICT

Kharauwa, a tiny hamlet 35 km northwest of Bhind district headquarters, looks like any other village in the country from the outside.

But look deeper and the difference is apparent: very few female kids play in its lanes and bylanes.

Dig deeper and the reason is not very difficult to fathom: Female infanticide and foeticide is rampant in this part of Madhya Pradesh and Bhind is notorious for its skewed sex ratio: 837 girls to 1,000 boys.

 And in Kharauwa and its adjacent villages, this figure is even more shocking: 595 girls to 1,000 boys.“Despite efforts of the government, female infanticide is going on in Kharauwa and other neighbouring villages unabated. Since the family of a pregnant woman is never reported to the rural health workers, there is no way the government will get the correct picture,” said a villager who did not wish to be named.

Last year, a case of the killing of a girl baby was reported from Kharauwa village to the police. Since infanticide is never brought to the notice of the police, the authorities felt that mindsets were changing.

In fact, as many as 29 baby girls were rescued by the police soon after.

“Seeing the police, the villagers were scared for some time, but it is back to square one,” said another villager on condition of anonymity.

This practice of eliminating baby girls has been going on in villages like Dangchhekuri, Banipura, Chore Dabra, Haripura, Katwah Gurjar, Ansoli and Jatpura. All are dominated by the Gurjar community.

Even though a trained anganwadi worker said that the practice was under control, her sister told HT: “Jiske do ladki hain wo marega nahin to kya karega. Hum itni ladkiyon ka kya karenge (Someone who has two girls will kill the third. What will we do with so many girls?).”

Anganwadi workers who are against the blatant murders expressed their helplessness to stop the practice.“Pregnancies are not reported to us. The elderly in the village keeps vigil over the pregnant woman. Only is a baby boy is born that we come to know about it,” said an anganwadi worker.

“Most of these killings take place due to pressure of the elderly of the village,” said a villager.


6th NOVEMBER 2013

Rahul for empowerment of village heads in


In a veiled attack on the National Conference, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said Wednesday that elected village representatives needed to be empowered in Jammu and Kashmir.

Addressing a rally of Congress panches and sarpanches here, Gandhi made it clear that he was aware that they enjoyed virtually no powers in the state.The situation will change only when the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, which has a constitution of its own.

“What are the rights of the panches, sarpanches and local body representatives in Jammu and Kashmir?

Answering the question himself, he said: “The fact is they have no rights at all. Our first and foremost priority is the empowerment of panches and sarpanches in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The work panches and sarpanches can do, no MLA or minister can do because the ministers and MLAs do not have access to information which the panches and sarpanches have.”

“For me, the most important thing is the future of the elected village representatives.”
Gandhi said the other priorities of the Congress in the state were training thousands of local youths for employment and the empowerment of  women.

“Youths have to be trained for work and women have to be helped. Through programmes like ‘Himayat’ and ‘Umeed’, thousands of youths are being trained for employment.”

He said he had told Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that the legislation related to food security and land acquisition needed to be implemented in the state.

13th OCTOBER 2013


In a heart-warming sign, Muslims in two villages bordering Bangladesh in Tripura are jointly celebrating the Durga Puja with Hindus.

Dominated by Muslims, the Kulubari and Durgapur villages in western Tripura’s Sepahijala district, attract people of all religions across the northeastern state for their rare show of religious harmony in celebrating Durga Puja, which begun Thursday with the ‘Bodhan’ – welcoming the idols of Godess Durga.

“The festival is for all. Why should we not organise this with everyone else? This is Tripura. We would like to live here together, die together and also like to share everything amongst us,” said Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury, an elderly Muslim leader in Kulubari village.
“Men, women and children, Muslims and Hindus, with all sincerity and commitment have been jointly been organising Durga Puja for the past few years,” Chowdjury told IANS.

“We are really happy that Durga Puja is celebrated in our village with the active help of the majority Muslims. This is incomparable in many parts of our country,” said, Swapan Saha, a Hindu villager and a government school teacher.

2nd OCTOBER 2013



1st OCTOBER 2013

98% of PG medicos skip rural stint in Karnataka

Almost 98% of post graduate medical students in Karnataka have declined to work in rural areas, opting rather to pay the steep Rs 5 lakh as fine. Among MBBS students, 67% have opted out of the bond that entails them to a year’s rural service on completion of their course. They are more than willing to shell out Rs 1 lakh as penalty. Worse, less than 10% of PG students have actually paid the money as fine.

These are figures from the Bond Enforcement Cellof the department of health and family welfare. The cell takes care of the allotment of rural services to medical students and collects the penalties. As for the numbers, they only reflect poorly on the state government’s efforts to encourage budding doctors to serve the rural community. The rural service bond came into effect in 2006.

The number of defaulters cuts another sorry figure. Majority of the PG students are defaulters. Just 87 of the roughly over 1,000 students have coughed up Rs 5 lakh each as fine. The department is now tracking the students down to issue them notices.

The government decided to come up with the mandatory rural service to increase the accessibility of better healthcare for rural folks and to encourage young doctors to serve the rural community. But the bond didn’t go do well the medicos who complained that they had to spend around five years to get the basic degree and then spend more time to get that coveted PG degree and the one-year rural service only made the course longer.

The government is now on the verge of implementing the Karnataka Compulsory Service Training by Candidates Completed Medical Course Bill 2012, which will make the rural service mandatory. The Bill was passed by both the Houses, and has been sent to the Centre. It was approved by the Union health ministry and is awaiting clearance from the ministry of human resource development.

Source: TOI

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Note: This page contains information regarding problems faced in rural India and ‘Rural governance reforms’ to be/ undertaken by Central/State governments.


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