Little girl, big dreams
“I want to be a Sarpanch when I grow up”, said Kajal shyly. This little 8-year-old girl intrigued me from the moment I met her in the Jatka village government school on my first visit to Mewat in September 2013. She was the only child who gave such an unusual response to my question – what the children aspire to become when they grow up? I decided to accompany her home after school that day.
On our walk through the neatly paved streets of Jatka, she started talking about her village. “Till two years back, these roads used to be very dirty. Everybody used to defecate in the open. We would find it difficult to walk through all the filth to go to school. Then one day my parents attended a Gram Sabha meeting (general body meeting of voters in a village) in which the Sarpanch (village council head) told them that the panchayat (village council) had decided to change things for the better. Soon after that the kuccha (mud) roads started getting replaced with pucca (tiled) roads. I am very inspired by the positive change he has brought about in our village and want to work like him for the betterment of my village when I grow up. ”
I asked Kajal if she could take me to meet the Sarpanch. Charan Singh was a dynamic and energetic man in his late 40s. He was happy to share the story of the transformation of his village. “In 2011 when the Sehgal Foundation started working in Jatka and the surrounding villages, they took the panchayat members for a visit to a model village called Gomla in the Mahendragarh district of Haryana. We came back very motivated and wanted to develop our village along similar lines. The journey began with leveraging government funds from the Mewat Development Agency, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan to make tiled roads and household toilets to meet the twin goals of cleanliness and sanitation. I am proud to say that today there are toilets in all the houses in my village and all the residents use them. ”
Kajal took me to her house to show her newly built toilet. I was impressed with the high quality of construction work. Chatting with her mother over a cup of tea, I learnt that the Jatka village panchayat has also improved the functioning of the Mid Day Meal Scheme and the Anganwadi (government day care) center. Curious to know more, I went to meet Jamaludin, the Head of the School Management Committee. “Earlier the school headmaster did not follow the government’s menu for the mid day meal. The ration, too, was very limited. Most times, the children did not get food in school. When the new Sarpanch took over two years back, things began improving. The panchayat directed the School Management Committee to ensure that proper high quality ration was available at all times. The Sarpanch and the panchayat members would make surprise visits to the school to check on the quality of the food being served to the children. Along with that, regular training sessions by Sehgal Foundation on being more vigilant to ensure better management helped us improve functioning of the School Management Committee.”
Next, I met up with Memvati, Sehgal Foundation’s Good Governance Now program guide working and living in Jatka. She narrated how Sehgal Foundation was working at two levels – the demand and supply aspects of governance in the 400 + villages of Mewat to strengthen the ability of villagers to claim their rights and entitlements provided by the government and simultaneously build capacities of village level institutions to deliver government schemes effectively. Sharing her story of Jatka’s transformation, Memwati said, “Under Sehgal Foundation’s Good Governance Now program, a number of men and women from Jatka were trained in the basic tenets of various government schemes such as the Public Distribution System, Mid Day Meal Scheme and Integrated Child Development Services. These governance trainees were shocked to find that the local anganwadi (government day care) centre in Jatka was not adhering to the food menu issued by the government and was providing only one type of meal instead of six. They organized a community level meeting to discuss this issue. The residents spoke to the anganwadi worker. This pressure from the residents helped change things for the better. Now, food is cooked according to the government’s menu and the anganwadi center gets a regular supply of all the rations.”
As I waved goodbye to Kajal and Memwati and my car pulled out of Jatka village, I murmured a small prayer in my heart: “May Kajal’s dream of becoming a Sarpanch come true and may there be many more effectively governed villages like Jatka….”
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