In March this year, I met a lady who seemed to be timid but when she let her mind speak, left me and many others in the room in awe of her thoughts that eventually culminated into action for a small village in Haryana. I am refereeing to Sushma Bhadu, who was elected as the Sarpanch of her village, Dhani Miyan Khan in Fatehbad district of Haryana in June 2010. For the past four years her revolutionary work for the village, especially women, children, sanitation has been definitely worth an applause.
In a region where khap panchayats have a final say on most issues, Sushma Ji has proven to be a role model for every woman around.
“ When I got married I realised that there was a lot of difficulty in wearing the ghunghat and performing household chores. It was a constant barrier in everything I did from making the morning tea to cleaning and cooking for the house. In fact I even fell down twice or thrice while working because I couldn’t see anything through it. It held me back from fully participating in my family or things that concerned the village. Most importantly, it drew me away from creating and portraying my own identity amidst others.”
Also, my husband Bhagwan Das insisted that I wear the ghagra (a traditional outfit of a skirt and blouse) 24 hours regardless of me being at home or outside. He told me it was our tradition and I was forced to obey his wishes. However, when my first daughter was born, I gave up wearing the ghagra. I told him sternly, I could either take care of your daughter or wear this attire. You can choose what you want. He would still assert that I wear the ghaghra. I knew how to find a way out of this situation. I told him, you wear the dhoti and kameez and I would agree to wear the ghagra”. As she tells me about this, her smile on her face and joy in her eyes was something I couldn’t help but notice.
This argument was the end of the ghagra chapter of Sushma’s life but the ghunghat continued to haunt her. Come 2010 when Sushma was elected as the Sarpanch, she took up various issues at the meetings held in the village. “All women I met, told me to help them get rid of the ghunghat. We questioned if workingwomen don’t need ghunghat at work, why should we be required to wear it at home? I shared this very legitimate question with my mother in law. I told her respect should come from the heart and not by hiding faces. She immediately agreed to support me but asked me to ask my husband about what he felt. (laughs). I told my husband that if he made me the sarpanch he should now also give me freedom from the ghunghat”.
Sushma’s journey to achieve her mission wasn’t free from hurdles and resistance in the beginning. At times she was even singled out. However, with time, women along with aangan wadi workers of Dhani Miyan Khan were in complete support of her views but no one was willing to take the first step or voice their opinion in front of the village men. “Everyone wanted to get rid of the hassle but wanted me to lead from the front and take the brick backs for it. I was ready for to take up the challenge and just asked for their silent support while I did so. We called for a ‘maha panchayat’ (large gathering) in 2012 where we all took the oath to never wear the ghunghat again. To my surprise all women took off their ghunghats that very minute and there was no looking back from this day”.
Another area of work Sushma Bhadu strongly raised her voice has been against female foeticide through the ‘Beti Bachao Abhiyan’. The sex ratio stands at 903 per 1000 men in 2011 census against 884 in 2001. “A woman and man are equal in my eyes, there is no difference between the two genders. If you educate the daughter, she will make you proud too. A girl takes care of her house and her mother apart from doing all the household chores. In fact men these days just brashly kick their parents away from their own house. Through the movement people in the village boycotted families who were found indulging in female foeticide. To ensure people followed it, I even announced a cash prize worth Rs. 51,000 for providing information about sex determination tests and illegal abortions.”
Education for all children, rich or poor is extremely essential. “I wanted every child of our village to be educated. I declared that our panchayat will fun the education of underprivileged children. Dhani Miyan Khan’s only school, Rajkiya Prathmik Vidyalaya was upgraded to a middle school in 2013. Now I can proudly say that our village has a zero drop out rate. The district is showing immense growth in terms of literacy rate, which stands at 69.10%in 2011 census against 58% in 2001”.
This powerful Sarpanch doesn’t stop at this. She is determined to bring to the village more and more facilities for its development. Sushma managed to get funding of Rs. 10 lakhs sanctioned from the State Government in order to build a water boosting system. You will find training centres for women, streetlights, streets all paved, concrete blocks, water and electric connection for every home and a blockage free drainage system in the village.
Sushma Bhadu represents a true iron lady of our country. “ My mission is to eradicate female foeticide, dowry menace, illiteracy and alcoholism from my village. I will fight endlessly to make sure this sees the light of the day”.