24Nov2015

Shikrawa’s budding changemakers: Two case studies

Sanitation is the priority here

For a long time, residents in Shikrawa village, Punhana block, Mewat district, Haryana, faced multiple problems due to the hazard of a broken sewage drain near the main road in the village. The choked drain caused wastewater to flow freely into the village streets, and the area had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a site for accidents. The unhealthy conditions caused children and adult villagers to fall sick and contributed to the death of several buffaloes. Women carrying water pots on their heads had often slipped and fallen, injuring themselves and causing the spillage of the water they had painstakingly collected.

An active Sushasan (good governance) champion, Asgar, and many others had pleaded with the sarpanch (village head) and panchayat (village council) members to clean and fix the drain. But the village leadership refused, as the members of Asgar’s ward (an administrative demarcation of a cluster of villages) belonged to the opposition party. To prompt the panchayat to resolve the problem, Asgar sought the help of the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), which provides free legal services to citizens and raises citizen awareness on their rights and entitlements under various government acts and programs.

While attending a legal literacy camp in November 2014, Asgar and other residents from the ward filed a complaint with the DLSA secretary. The sarpanch was present at the camp when Asgar and others filed the complaint. In front of the secretary, the sarpanch immediately agreed to fix the problem. Four days after the camp, the sewage drain was fixed, and the adjacent road was cleaned. The area has remained clean since.

Asgar shared this development on community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat’s special program series, Kanoon ki Baat (Talk on Law), and encouraged villagers to participate in governance and grievance redressal. “Because of the legal literacy camp,” Asgar said, “many people have become more aware of their legal rights and more willing to demand them.”

Women leaders show the way, pressure sarpanch to fulfill duty

Sunita and many other women in Shikrawa were frustrated for several months by their inability to obtain several entitlements: Below Poverty Level (BPL) ration cards, government-sponsored water tanks, pensions, and adequate services in the anganwadi (day care) centers. The problem was that the sarpanch had refused to sign the forms that the women completed to apply for their benefits. The women used the opportunity at the legal literacy camp in their village to raise the issues in the presence of DLSA secretary.

The DLSA secretary made the sarpanch sign forms for the ration cards, water tanks, and pensions at the camp itself. Soon after, several BPL women received ration cards, fifty BPL families including Sunita’s received water tanks, and three widows received their pensions. The women’s group began to see improvements in the three anganwadi centers in the village. “Since the camp,” Sunita said, “the food served in the anganwadi centers has been better, and the facilities are cleaner and better maintained.” The women of Shikrawa village effectively used the camp to become inform, affect tangible results for their village, and serve as an example to fellow citizens of the potential of legal empowerment.

(By Aditya Pai, Harvard Law School, Sehgal Foundation intern 2015)