The Vigour of a Woman Sarpanch LAXMI DEVI, SARPANCH OF THE SINGAVARAM VILLAGE, ANDHRA PRADESH

Her crushed green saree with yellow stripes glistened more than the golden sun. Her bindi adorned her forehead. Her rough hands portrayed the rumpled dry leaves which were once as soft as in a cocoon.

Laxmi Devi, holding a trenching spade and a few tobacco leaves in her hand, stood between the tobacco field where a dozen of other women sat cutting off the leaves from the plants to sew them to a string to dry them for production. No one could have pointed out to a single woman as the Sarpanch of the village. But there were only women working in the field, why would the word ‘Sarpanch’ even strike the mind after all?

‘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, Sarpanch of Singavaram village, Andhra Pradesh; Credits: Chahak Mittal

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.

According to the Gram Panchayat Act 1985, position for a Sarpanch cannot be contested or held by any person carrying more than three children. Five years ago, after the demise of P. Bullaram (Former sarpanch of Singavaram and Laxmi Devi's husband), Laxmi Devi was the only woman who could raise her voice against all the injustice done to the villagers when V. Pulla Reddy became the next Sarpanch three years ago. He couldn't match up to the expectations of the villagers. Laxmi was also considered as she gave birth to her seven children before the 1985 Act and she had also been a part of Women’s Front since a long time.

Since then, Laxmi Devi has been vigorously working over the problems of the people.

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.

The village stands out in terms of women education with a complete ban on child marriage. Two out of every three girls go to school regularly. Two primary and secondary schools function at a commendable level with proper mid day meals of egg and rice every day. The village has the lowest dropout rate among students, especially girls. Around 76 per cent of the houses have access to proper toilet facilities. Laxmi Devi's idea of sanitary napkins, which was uncommon to the women of the area, was a very prudent one that helped eradicate the problem of sanitation and disposal to a lot of women.

“Honestly, we never thought that our village would augment to such a level when she was elected as the Sarpanch,” said a bunch of villagers in unison.

Laxmi Devi and Bandaru Srinivasan, Laxmi Devi's son; Credits: Chahak Mittal

Her son, Bandaru Srinivasan, says, “I’m proud that she is my mother.”

“I’ve been a part of the Women’s Front throughout and I’ve had political experience from my husband who worked efficiently for the village and listened to them religiously,” said Laxmi Devi. "I'm not just a Sarpanch but a sister, a mother and an honest friend if and when needed," she added.

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!”

Created By
Chahak Mittal
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Credits:

Chahak Mittal

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