Suni had to overcome several hurdles in life, in her family, her community and in her workplace to become the village sarpanch Photograph: (Others)
In spite of Suni's efforts to surmount the existing inequities, the systemic limitations are formidable as became evident in recent election
Bahubandha gram panchayat (GP) is well known in the Udala Block of Mayurbhanj for remoteness and poverty. The panchayat has five revenue villages and 11 wards, all inhabited by Schedule Tribe (ST) communities. Around three thousand people live in the GP area and, mainly, depend upon daily wage labour and migration for their livelihoods.
Sushri Suni Singh, a tribal woman of 27 years is in her second term as the panchayat head of the GP. In the 2012 elections, she won the seat of Sarpanch without competing in a reserved category which shows her popularity among common villagers.
Suni’s journey to this stage has not been a smooth one. She had to overcome several hurdles in life, in her family, her community and in her workplace. She could achieve this position because of her strong will power and courage to face life, and to help others at the time of difficulties. She also shares the credit for her achievement with the Self Help Groups of her area. According to Suni, her aptitude for leadership and confidence developed when she was a leader of Maa Hingula Self Help Group (SHG) of her village.
Under the Total Sanitation Campaign, Suni's GP was given two hundred thousand rupees for the work her villagers did to do away with open defecation. (Others)
Suni’s childhood was full of struggles and she was hard pressed with lots of family responsibilities. They are four sisters and one younger brother. Her mother’s daily wage income was the only source of income to fulfill the minimum needs of her big family. Her father died when Suni was in class 9th. Two of her two elder sisters were married and Suni was then the eldest sibling in her family. She dropped out of school and took up the burden of feeding her family. She went for daily wage labour to take care of her two younger sisters and her brother’s education. As time passed, she joined an SHG to save a little money and the organisation provided her a platform to work for the people. She used to help people to get work under the MGNREGA, and to get IAY and Mo Kudia shelters.
In the last panchayat election, her GP had a reservation for ST women candidates. Her villagers, the SHG members as well as villagers of other hamlets proposed that she contests the elections. That time round the competition was very tough. She won the election with a margin of only seven votes, and this was the first time that she became the Sarpanch. In 2012, there was no reservation for women candidates but still, she decided to contest the election. There were seven contestants but Suni was the only woman candidate. Suni won the election for the second time with a majority of 250 votes. Her hard work in her first tenure could make her Sarpanch for the second time.
As head of the village panchayat, Suni closely monitors school education, serving of Mid Day Meal, and Integrated Child Development Services (Others)
Suni is clear about the procedures of Panchayat work. In her first tenure, Suni was awarded the Nirmal Gram Puraskar for her tremendous achievement in sanitation activities in her GP. Under the Total Sanitation Campaign, Suni's GP was given two hundred thousand rupees. Through MGNREGA work, she has connected all the villages in the GP area with all-weather concrete roads, adequate farm ponds, sheds for livestock, among other things. Around 500 new pensions have been introduced and 300 IAY houses have been built in her GP. She also closely monitors school education, serving of Mid Day Meal, and Integrated Child Development Services. Unlike other tribal women Sarpanches, Suni goes to the block office alone to discuss the needs of her GP.
Sushri Suni is keen to make each and every household connected to piped water supply. With her initiatives, people of three wards are getting such supply and an overhead tank is under construction which will supply water to another six wards. Her dream is to construct a small dam for irrigation to increase agricultural production in the GP.
Under the PESA act, she could gather the minor forest produce with the help of the villagers. After adding value to the products, the villagers could sell it at lucrative prices in the nearby market of Baripada town, the District head quarter. But there are no skill centers to impart them training, though Modi government talks about the ‘start up India’ and ‘skill India’.
Her vision for her own future is limited by the constraints of the social and political environment. She wants to become the member of the Zila Parishad, the highest tier of PRIs at the district level but she cannot think of becoming a member of the Indian parliament despite enjoying immense popularity. The systemic limitations are clearly visible but she has tried to surmount them.
On the top of it, all her hopes were crushed during this election because of money power. She lost the recent election even though she had achieved so much.