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Breaking the stereotypes

As a child, Rakhi was an extremely hard working and determined student. In Class 5, Rakhi was made the vice president of her class. This was her first chance at leading others. She was no longer responsible for just herself but for the entire class now, and she embraced this mantle with ease.

When she entered Class 9, Rakhi told her father, “I want to contest the panchayat elections.”

But her father told her she was too young. So she continued with her school responsibilities and waited till she finished her studies. She then approached her father again.

“I want to contest the elections now,” she said. But her father refused. “No, you will be getting married soon and then you won’t be able to concentrate on your work,” he said.

However, Rakhi was determined. She knew what she wanted to do. And marriage was definitely not in her immediate plans.

So she met with a group of panchayat members and expressed her desire to be part of the council.

“If you vote for me, your daughter, I promise to not get married until my term ends,” she told them, while campaigning for herself in her village.

Eventually, she won the election and became the vice president of her panchayat. In fact, she became the first woman vice president of Upli-Oden panchayat.

Ever since she took up this role, Rakhi wakes up early in the morning and patrols the village and other nearby villages from 4 am to 6 am. She goes around on her on her motorcycle, discouraging people from defecating in the open. Initially, it was difficult to change the mindset of the community members. When she stopped men and women walking towards the fields, mugs in hand, they would argue with her and voice their opinions about defecating within closed rooms.

So Rakhi started talking to them about the importance of hygiene and how open defecation contributes to the spread of disease. As a first step she encouraged them to cover the excreta with mud. Slowly, after she had made the community considerably aware of the health benefits of using toilets, she brought up the subject of building toilets at home and promised panchayat support for the same.

Rakhi and her panchayat also built several public toilets in the village to ensure no one defecates in the open.

At 6 am, Rakhi leaves for her college, which is 50 kilometres away from her home. Rakhi is the first woman from her village to pursue law. Once, when she saw a boy troubling a girl in her college, she immediately reported the matter to the police and had the culprit arrested. Since then, the boys in her college have stopped harassing girls.

In the evening, Rakhi spends time with the women in her village, talking to them, listening to their problems and providing solutions. She also constantly reads up about government schemes to ensure that villagers are aware of all the benefits they are entitled to.

When I asked Rakhi what motivates her, she said she wants to become a politician and fulfil her father’s dreams for their village; Rakhi’s father was also the vice-president of the same panchayat until he had a third child and became ineligible to contest elections. Active on social media, Rakhi uses her Facebook page for sharing personal snippets from her life, besides using the platform for advocacy and information for her 3,000+ friends and followers.

“In India, politics is not considered a good word or a profession, especially for women. But I want to help people, find solutions and provide them with a better life. It’s the desire to do good for the community that is leading me to politics and not money,” she concludes.

This story was first published in The Better India on 

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Rakhi Paliwal is the vice president of Upli-Oden panchayat.
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Red Rickshaw Revolution aims to celebrate the achievements of ordinary women doing work from all walks of life.
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Rakhi Paliwal with the team of Red Rickshaw Revolution, a journey dedicated to identifying women leaders in India.
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Red Rickshaw Revolution works to empower women for social development in India.
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