Indien: Sonia

Village head (sarpanch) Sonia is a strong, quiet, and preternaturally mesmeric young woman from a poor family of Kol adivasi (tribal people) agricultural workers, who has changed an entire village.

— Sonia

Sonia (born 1968)-village head (sarpanch) of Ninhi Charhi-comes from a poor family of Kol adivasi (tribal people) agricultural workers. For over 16 years, she has motivated other women in her village to educate themselves. Sonia also won the panchayat (body of elected representatives of a village) elections despite efforts by the locally powerful to beat her down. Her five years as chief have changed the face of her village beyond recognition, bringing to it education, water, electricity, healthcare, sewage disposal, and a local newspaper that she publishes in the local language.

Sonia is a strong young woman. From a poor family of Kol adivasi agricultural workers, she joined the Mahila Samakhya Education Center 16 years ago, and has motivated other women in her village to educate themselves. After she became village head, she arranged for the primary school-until then used as a cattleshed and hay barn-to be spruced up so that children could study in it. She also freed adivasis' lands. With little more than her firm resolve, perseverance, and ability to rally people to her fight against powerful adversaries like local politicians and the police authorities, she organized an agitation on the issue of agricultural laborers' rights, which led to increased payments for the workers. Her five years as sarpanch have seen the face of the village altered beyond recognition. Besides handpumps for clean water, she also got drainpipes built for sewage disposal. Sonia has also brought in electricity connections and proper roads. She keeps track of government schemes for social welfare, and has ensured that 60 of the village elderly receive an old age pension under a government scheme. The most remarkable thing about this petite, soft-spoken woman is her boundless energy. Apart from handling her responsibilities as village chief, Sonia also publishes a newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, in the local Bundeli language. The newspaper aims to disseminate national and international news. Sonia's strength and courage are mesmeric, but quiet. Rudeness and imprecision are not options.

Mahila Samakhya