Nauroti Devi

The Humble Sarpanch

Despite doing the best for her village, this humble sarpanch chooses to focus on her unfinished agenda rather than talk about her achievements. A woman of substance, she is a true example of what one can achieve with determination and grit.

Four kilometres from the famous village of Tilonia is Harmada. A land of freedom fighters, Harmada today has a Dalit woman sarpanch - Nauroti.

This plucky woman had earned a name in the region for her struggle against injustice long before she was elected to this post a few years back. As she walks towards you, bare foot and clad in a simple, inexpensive sari, Nauroti is a picture of humility but the moment you start talking to her you know that she is no ordinary woman and no ordinary sarpanch either.

Nauroti was born in an extremely poor dalit family in Kishangarh district of Rajasthan and had to work on a road construction site for a living as a stone cutter. But despite the toil, she and many fellow labourers were not paid full wages on the pretext that they had not performed work according to the wages. It was like rubbing salt on fresh wounds, she felt. Nauroti raised her voice against this injustice, mobilized labourers and became the voice of the agitation. Finally, they got justice when their case was taken to a court by an NGO.

That was more than three decades ago. From then till now, Nauroti has continued her unrelenting battle for empowerment of the marginalized and her journey from a stone cutter in Puharu village to a sarpanch of gram Panchayat in Harmada is the story of unflinching courage and impeccable honesty in the face of every adversity.

It was in the early 1980s that she joined the barefoot college in Tilonia founded by Bunker Roy. What made her stand apart from other women was her boldness, her ability to learn fast and above all the leadership qualities she displayed when she mobilized the construction workers. She became a ‘sathin’ (female friend) for women’s empowerment and would travel to villages in the region and educate them about their rights. She also joined adult literacy classes and later learnt to work on computers. Later, she trained many other women who had never gone to school like her. She has also had the chance to go to the US and China.

Above everything else, it is working amongst the people that gives her real satisfaction, she says. Nauroti first became member of her gram panchyat – Harmada -- and about three year back was elected as its sarpanch by an overwhelming majority. As sarpanch, she waged a battle against the daru (alcohol) mafia and stopped encroachment of the graveyard in Harmara. She has been working tirelessly to get approval for development projects in the region and has achieved a lot in the past two and a half years. Nauroti says that there are two things she can never tolerate - injustice and dishonesty. When it came to her notice that a mate working for a project of the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was committing fraud, she immediately took action. Despite resistance from many quarters, she did not stop till the person was jailed.

It is the villagers who talk about what she has done for them and the development of the village, whether it is the construction of water bodies, hand pumps, toilets, houses for those below poverty line, but when you ask her, she speaks about her unfinished agenda. “There is a lot more to be done before my tenure is over,” she says and lists a number of projects that remain to be completed...

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