‘Sarpanch’ generally brings in an image of an old man wearing a turban and white dhoti or lungi, with a huge moustache, rough fingers pulling and twisting them from either side to keep them in shape, other hand holding a long wooden stick with a shaky dense look in the eyes.
Laxmi Devi (55), being the first woman Sarpanch of the Singavaram village, near Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh, breaks through the gender stereotypes against women, looks just as wonted as every other woman in the village working seven to 10 hours in the field to earn a livelihood. Her wrinkled eyes, her ruffled skin with dark brown spots, and her hair covered under the veil of her saree, her rough hands with scratches all around her wrist that wore golden bangle with faded rust said it all.
In rural India, a place where women are not only subjected to the domains of household, but also struggle to find a place in the education sector and public sphere and decision making, Laxmi Devi stands opposite to the patriarchal society norms to make a better living for all the people, irrespective of the gender. She speaks about her ambition and her dreams which were always directed towards achieving a secured and respectable life for women. “I used to scold my father for fun at the age of eight years just to have an authority over something. That little girl never knew about the fact that she is supposed to be a woman, and women are not supposed to be authoritative,” said Laxmi Devi. “This time I got my turn to complete my urge to do something for the community and women and children,” she added.
Over the last three years, after Laxmi Devi came to power, Singavaram, with a population of 3000 households, became the first and only village near Alampur district, in Andhra Pradesh, where there is 24-hour electricity. There is mineral water plant in the village which makes tap water available to every household and school. The village is supplied with proper tankers for irrigation and harvesting, also hand pumps for groundwater consumption is been made near all the fields where farmers work. Proper roads and street lights were a new contribution to the development of the village. Other great benefits such as pension and ration were made completely accessible to all.
She shares her vision, “My dream is to empower the women in every possible way. I want to tell them; never feel inferior, your will is the maker of your destiny. Also I feel every woman should be educated to be capable enough to make her own decisions rather than getting married at an early age like me, and being buried under a heap of responsibilities. Poor people should have a double bed in every room with proper mattresses and toilets inside every house. I would want the next Sarpanch also to be a woman. The way a woman can see things, no one else can!”