This is part of the series of real-life Betigiri stories.
This story published in The Better India (see link below) is about Neelam, a woman sarpanch (head of village panchayat) in Chappar village in Jind district, Haryana, who ran for elections because she wanted to see a positive change in her village.
Haryana is known for a skewed sex ration and a culture that is not favorable to the girl child. In the past few months, concerted efforts have led to an improvement in the sex ratio of boys and girls at birth.
However, Neelam has been fighting for better treatment of girls in her village for some time now. She is an inspiration to all the women and the men in her village.
Chappar villagers distribute sweets and welcome every newborn girl child. And, after so many years, women of this small village have started living without a ghoonghat (veil). Women have re-initiated their studies and become more confident and active in village matters.
Neelam has been doggedly fighting against this centuries-old tradition of ghoonghat (veil), a symbol of male dominance and female subservience, in the Jat-dominated Haryana where women dare not speak in front of the male members of their families. Neelam was also asked to keep a veil after marriage, but it used to suffocate her and she felt strange at not being able to speak openly to her own family members. She revolted. No one understood. No one approved. Many complained against her. But she refused to back down, and now she not only mingles with male members of her in-laws’ family, villager elders and officers, but also calls her husband Sohan Lal by his first name and has created a large scale change in her village. “People would say your wife holds meetings and is seen without ghoonghat. You should keep her in control. But now I realise the importance. As a sarpanch, she has done a lot for the village,” says Neelam’s proud husband.
In her village, Neelam first launched a campaign to spread consciousness about women’s rights and against social evils such as dowry and female feticide, and gradually became the voice of women in her village. “Earlier, we didn’t have a voice, even when I disagreed with some decisions of the house, I was supposed to just stay put behind the ghoonghat. I now participate and voice my opinion,” points out Jyoti, a villager. All this was made possible by Neelam, sarpanch of a small village, Chappar, in Haryana.
See Youtube video interview of Neelam below:
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