Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DBDS #012 GRAM SABHA AT VADAALI

16th June 2009 Mayank Parmar
I learned about Gram Sabhas as a boy in my school days and later as an MSW student, but I had never witnessed one or been part of the show. But now that we have started working with the rights-based approach and encouraging people’s participation, as soon as we got news of the Gram Sabha scheduled for Vadaali, we took charge and started mobilizing the people. We went door to door visiting every house in the village and asked people to come for the meeting.

Vadaali is a group Panchayat, and three other villages are also part of it. So, we began with a general meeting with the people of Bapajinamuvada, where we gathered a majority of the women and a handful of the men folk. We conscientized them about their right to attend the Gram Sabha, and also informed them of the date and the time of the Gram Sabha.

On the day of the meeting, our team reached the venue before time, but we realized that none of the people from the village had come yet. So, we got into our jeep and went straight to Bapajinamuvada. We reminded the people of the Sabha that was to happen that day, and managed to convince five women to come with us to the venue. On reaching there, we found that the Sabha had just begun. Since the Talati had given us permission to participate in the Sabha, and had also scheduled time for us to speak to the people about the NREGA and other issues, we were eager for people to attend. How disappointed we were when only five women showed up!

The meeting began with an official from the health department explaining the latest government scheme regarding health. After this, the TDO addressed the people, and asked them to present the needs of their village. At this point, it seemed that this Sabha would be no different from all the others in the past, with the officials taking centre stage and the people remaining silent. But just as the TDO was about to conclude, I saw a flock of women entering the Panchayat office and literally shouting at all the people present there. These were the women of Vadaali village, and they came in a group of more than 50. They insisted that their village had a severe water problem and demanded that it be solved that same day!

I could see that our efforts had been useful, that these women had come with their arguments well thought out. Ultimately, the sarpanch and the Sabha agreed that the women would get their water the next day. Their demands energized the entire assembly and within the next few minutes, another group also came out very strongly with their demand for water. These people too, were literally shouting at the officials present at the Gram Sabha.

At this point, I noticed one of the men speaking forcefully, but could not understand what exactly he was saying. However, the women at the meeting immediately pounced on him and did not let him get a word in edgeways. I later gathered that he was opposing the women’s demands, and that they silenced him with the argument that it was they, the women, who had to manage the difficult task of fetching water.

After pacifying the women by promising them that water would reach their village the very next day, the Talati ended the meeting. I heard all the men murmuring that this was the first time that the women of Vadaali and Bapujinamuvada had entered the Panchayat office. They had never before been part of the Gram Sabha.

The entire experience left me questioning myself and all that I have picked up from my books and other studies. This Gram Sabha was a new form of education, real and unedited!

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