“Hum yahan se shuruat karne ke liye tayar hain”, said gritty 72 year old Jagwati Devi sounding hopeful about the recently formed Village Child Protection Committee in Pariharpur Village, Madhubani. We are lucky to catch her in the middle of a very tight schedule. Jagwati Devi is the Sarpanch of Pariharpur Panchayat and the President of 399 Sarpanchs in Madhubani, not an easy position to be at, in a politically charged environment.
Our work which began in Madhubani, in 2014, entails deep dialogues with communities on the care and protection of children. Substance abuse- mainly alcohol and tobacco among adults, and its influence on young children who start consumption of these harmful substances even before the onset of adolescence was found to be a big problem in communities. Conversations also shed light on how drunk men found around alcohol shops were restricting the mobility of women and young girls in the village.
Hearing such conversations taking place in her village, Jagwati Devi decided she had to do something about it. She brought the women of her village together, to stand up to the alcoholic men and the local illegal liquor mafia. “I took the women along with me, we attacked and took control of one of the illegal shops in the
village”, she told us rather matter-of-factly.
Jagwati Devi’s did not stop there. Seeking a long term solution, she escalated the matter to the block administration, and has ensured that no new liquor outlet, whether licensed or not, is set up in her village. Pariharpur village does not have a liquor shop anymore. “It’s not like the men have stopped drinking alcohol completely. They have now to walk much further to get it. It has also made the area safer for girls and women”,
Jagwati Devi is hopeful of working for the betterment of her village – one battle at a time. A much sought after person, she bids us a hurried good-bye promising to spend more time with us, the next time we visit.