Indian MBA Leads Her Village as 'Headwoman'

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A small village in rural India decided it was time for a woman to run the local council. They turned to a 28-year-old MBA whose grandfather had once held the post. Now she'd like to spur infrastructure development and root out corruption.

SODA, RAJASTHAN, India (WOMENSENEWS)--It's the first gram sabha, or village council meeting, of this out-of-the way rural district.

The "sarpanch bai-sa," or village council headwoman, brings a junior engineer to explain federal laws applying to some rural workers on the 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. shift.

Unaccustomed to such efforts, the villagers later express happy surprise at the presentation.

"She is making us aware of our rights and she is so transparent in her dealings," says Radha Krishna Gujjar, a villager.

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The headwoman is 28-year-old Chhavi Rajawat. She wears jeans, drives an S.U.V. and rides horses, all of which make her stand out in this conservative village.

With an MBA in marketing, she was not long ago helping her mother run a boutique hotel. But then she heard about the elections for the traditional leadership position of Soda, her parent's village where she spent many happy childhood days.

The villagers were tired with corruption and decided a woman should have a chance at the position. They reserved it for a female candidate.

Villagers began pressing her to run. A busload arrived at her house in Jaipur.

"They told me more people were waiting in the village to come to Jaipur to put more pressure on me if I refused," she says, adding that they told her up to 19 other women wanted to enter the contest. Her visitors explained they were concerned that the village was on the verge of getting divided along caste lines.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I didn't want to disappoint them," says Rajawat.

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