Rajkumari Kewat is a second-term Panch, or ward member, from the Gujred Panchayat (village) in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India. Rajkumari represents and is committed to improving the lives of over one thousand individuals in her role as ward member.
In 2015, Rajkumari attended a Women’s Leadership Workshop organized by The Hunger Project-India and community partners. At the workshop, Rajkumari described her frustration with being unable to achieve total sanitation coverage for her community during her first term — administrative delays had held up approval for her plan to construct toilets. Determined to achieve her vision for the community, though, and empowered with new tools and skills that she obtained from the workshop, Rajkumari successfully ran for re-election and immediately made an action plan to begin construction on the toilets.
Rajkumari was able to persuade council members during the Gram Sabha, a village council meeting, to ratify her plan. However, Rajkumari faced new challenges once work was initiated. First, she had to convince the families without toilets to get one for their homes. She also had to ensure that they understood the importance of using their new toilets. To improve results, Rajkumari began educating her community members on the importance of proper sanitation and its positive impacts on health.
After her successful educational campaign, Rajkumari faced a new roadblock in construction and funding delays. She made several trips to administrative offices and continued pressuring officials to release the funds, while monitoring construction work. Rajkumari’s hard work paid off and 302 toilets were constructed for 1,206 individuals.
For the second round of work on her goal to achieve total sanitation coverage, Rajkumari surveyed the remaining families without toilets. She identified 15 families who still lacked adequate sanitation. These families were extremely marginalized and had limited access to current government programmes on sanitation. Rajkumari convened a special Gram Sabha meeting where she argued that the community could never achieve total sanitation coverage if these families were not included. The Gram Sabha concluded with two resolutions:
- The toilets being constructed should be available to and used by all families in the community;
- There would be a penalty for those who defecate outside of toilets: a warning for first-time offenders and a fine of 50 rupees for second-time offenders.
Eventually, the 15 families each received toilets for their homes. Due to Rajkumari’s efforts, her Panchayat was awarded the National Sanitation Mission for achieving total sanitation coverage.
Although she’s achieved her vision of providing everyone in her Panchayat with a toilet for their home, Rajkumari still finds herself busy assisting pensioners, building new infrastructure such as roads, and monitoring food distribution programs. After years of hard work, Rajkumari is not done helping her community.
Cover image by Millie Allbon