A 21-year-old woman sarpanch is strengthening the voice of democracy in Maharashtra's Naxal stronghold Gadchiroli by working day and night to bring about change in the tribal villages.
She drives through the kutcha roads along with the forests on a bike to reach out to the villagers and communicate with them.
21-year-old Bhagyashree Lekami is the sarpanch of Koti village located in Bhamragad Tehsil of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. The Koti village is situated on the border of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, very near to the densely forested and mountainous Naxal dominated area of Abujmarh, at a distance of 2,000 km from Maharashtra's capital city Mumbai.
Speaking to ANI, Bhagyashree said, "Our village is at a distance of 2,000 km from Mumbai. Even the government cannot reach here. This is why the government cannot understand the problems of our village. To change the situation of the village, the people in the village will have to come forward. Therefore, I decided to become a sarpanch." For two years, no sarpanch was elected to the Koti Grampanchayat comprising nine villages. Due to the fear of the Naxals, people neither file nominations nor cast votes.
But in 2019, the people of the village exercised their democratic right and voted to elect 21-year-old educated Bhagyashree Lekami as the sarpanch.
Lekami was just like every other student in the village who dreamt of moving to a big city to make a career but as soon as she was elected as the sarpanch she decided to stay back in the village and work for resolving the problems of the villagers.
As of now, Bhagyashree has completed two years of her tenure as the sarpanch. In these two years, the village has witnessed significant changes including the construction of pucca roads and water supply.
Bhagyashree wants to make her village number one."But I do not want to hurt the traditional identity of the village while developing. Whatever work I will do, it will definitely change the picture of the village, but the village will retain its importance", said the young sarpanch of the Koti Grampanchayat.
The biggest problem the village is facing is unemployment and lack of medical facilities, for which the sarpanch is working day and night.
Meanwhile, women's health and menstruation-related diseases have been placed on top priority on Bhagyashree's agenda. The sarpanch has already started working in this direction by making sanitary pads available to the women of the village from government funds.
To travel to the nine villages falling under the Koti Gramanchayat, one needs to cover the distance through kutcha roads. Some villages can only be reached through the river, either by walking in the water or through a boat.
All these villages have in the past witnessed Naxal violence including encounters, IED blasts, attacks on the police. Despite all these factors, Bhagyashree makes sure that she travels to all the nine villages on a bike and communicate with the villagers.
"I was born and brought up in this village. All the people have seen me since childhood. This is the reason why people give me love and respect and tell me their problems without any hesitation. They also hear what I say and never consider me weak as a woman. I also work neck and neck with my male comrades, added the sarpanch.