Women Panchayat member stops corruption in village school
“Do you know that I can send you to jail for creating trouble in my school? What is your name?” asked the head master of the government school in Uton village of Mewat district, Haryana, India.
The fearless woman replied, “My name is Laxmi. I am a Panchayat (village council) member of this village. You can send me to jail if you want, but I will not allow corruption in my village.”
Laxmi displayed the rare confidence that is not usual among the women of Mewat district of Haryana, India. Mewat is largely inhabited by an ethnic tribe, Meo Muslims, and is characterized by some of the lowest socioeconomic development indices. Aggressive and deep-rooted patriarchy at home, in society, and violent behaviour of their male counterparts have kept the women of Mewat silent for ages.
Laxmi said that it was not easy for her as well. “When I became a Panchayat member, my brother-in-law said that he would handle the work and my name would be on the papers. I did not know anything about matters outside the four walls of my home but I did not agree to be a proxy member.”
She decided to play her role as a village council member effectively. To learn about the role and responsibilities of a village council member, Laxmi “attended Panchayat trainings organized by Sehgal Foundation, a Gurgaon-based NGO working in over 400 villages in Mewat.”
“I also attended the year-long Good Governance Now training, organized by the Foundation. During the sessions, I learned about various government schemes available for village development. These include Public Distribution System, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and Integrated Child Development Services. The year-long training gave me confidence to play my role as an active village council member and take up governance matters of my village,” she added.
Laxmi’s confidence helped her play an active role in the development of her village, besides exposing corrupt practices. She talked to the headmaster of the school and tried to make him understand that the mid-day meal cooks, working in the school, are involved in corrupt practices.
“I have been keeping an eye on the women that cook mid day meals in the school for last few days. They have been taking the dry rations (food items that government provides free of cost to prepare lunch for schoolchildren) to their homes. By doing so, these women are depriving schoolchildren of their free share of full meals.”
The headmaster of the school did not pay heed to Laxmi’s complaint. It made her go to the higher authorities. Laxmi decided to complain about the ongoing corrupt practices at the office of Block Education Officer (BEO) in Tauru, Mewat, Haryana. She went to the office with 4-5 women of the village, whose children are studying in the school.
Receiving the complaint, the BEO investigated the matter, and issued a warning to the school. As the result, the government school in Uton village now serves mid-day meals in accord with the set government menu and ration size. The headmaster ensures that the school staff does not engage in any corrupt practice.
Today, Laxmi is a role model for many women of her village and nearby villages. She motivates them to raise their voices when they see something wrong happening in the society.
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