This ‘jeans-clad’ city-girl used her MBA and corporate career to become the sarpanch of her village
Chhavi Rajawat became India’s first ‘jeans-clad’ MBA-educated sarpanch in 2010. When the residents of Soda, the village her family hails from, and where her grandfather Brig Raghubir Singh had held three terms as sarpanch until 1990, approached her with their predicament, she could not refuse.
“I grew up believing the entire village was my family, they consider me the ‘daughter of the village’,” she recounts.
The LSR-ite did her MBA from the Balaji Institute of Modern Management Pune, was working as the head of corporate sales at Airtel, had started her own horse riding academy, and was going to take over Hotel Kailrugji from her mother, when the drought went from bad to worse at Soda.
In the year 2010, Soda’s sarpanch was to be a woman, under the Women’s Reservation Bill. So, and baisa became their only hope. “I had no prior experience in grassroot governance. They told me, I simply had to attend two meetings a month, but I immediately said – if you want to use me as a puppet – which I realised was probably their plan – I will not take this up,” she says.
Upon coming into power, the drought needed to be tackled urgently. She raised Rs. 2 million through friends and family, and tied up with JCB for an earth mover, and fixed a tenth of the reservoir to harvest rainwater. In 2010, with a good monsoon, the reservoir filled up. “The villagers had never seen work happen at that pace,” she narrates.
She chalked out a four-pronged agenda – water, sanitation, electricity and roads – and ensured 800 out of the roughly 950 homes had concrete toilets within two years. They also moved the girls’ school to a formal building, constructed roads, laid a drainage system, opened up a State Bank of India branch and conducted rigorous financial literacy seminars such that every man, woman and child came to hold a bank account.
While taking on a second term wasn’t part of the plan – seeing through all the initiatives she had set in motion was an organic fit for her, so she contested the elections once again – this time, in an unreserved seat, no less – and swept them. “The honorarium for the sarpanch, however, is just Rs. 4,000 a month – which doesn’t even meet my mobile or fuel bill,” she quips.
“Some think I am vulnerable because I am a woman. I have been assaulted not once but twice while I was carrying out construction projects. But luckily, my support system back home said ‘Keep going, you’re on the right track.’ This support and encouragement have kept me going,” she says, signing off.