Meet Sanjo, The Dalit Woman Pradhan of a Dangerous Village in Uttar Pradesh
"Make your own identity, fight against the social norm," said Sanjo.
Sanjo, with her Bullet.
Sanjo has been elected twice as the Pradhan in Gidurha, one of Chitrakoot district’s most dangerous villages. The village, located literally in the middle of nowhere in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelhand region, has been a den for dacoits for several years. Sanjo, a woman and a Dalit, didn’t have it easy. But, she proved to the villagers that she’s not a force to be reckoned with.
Sanjo enrolled herself in a 6-month women’s education programme when she decided to run for the post of Pradhan. Amid the mockery among the villagers for Sanjo’s ambitions, she left her husband after being stuck in an unhappy marriage for years. Things got worse for her. There was intense social pressure, with most of them surprised that a woman from her caste could even dream of running for the Pradhan post.
But Sanjo kept her education going. In fact, in her own words, this was the time she felt truly liberated. “The confidence studying gave me, especially with legal work and getting it done, urged me on”, she said.
It was that ambition and that fire in her belly that kept her going for 10 years as the village Pradhan. Amid the threats and the dangers from the dacoits, Sanjo kept working. Soon, she became popularly known as ‘Sanjo Pradhan’, a suffix that she was greatly proud of.
Sanjo took up work on several policies at the grassroots level— including aawaas (housing) for BPL & Antyoday. If one was to ever visit the village, Sanjo would be spotted running around the BDO (Block Development Offices), helping with petitions, filing complaints, and asking for accountability.
When Sanjo first decided to run for the post of Pradhan, she chopped off her long hair. She was trying to avoid being sexually harassed— and ‘pulling hair’ is just one of those many tactics that’s often used on women. Now, she wears her hair very short. She also started wearing men’s clothes and riding Bullet. “This was a way for me to make sure no one is trying to act funny,” she said.
Sanjo supports her entire family, including her daughter and her parents.
In a society where you barely see women Pradhans without a make member of the family often tagging along with them, Sanjo is an inpritation. She fought her battles on her own. And, she had too many battles to fight.
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