Celebrating Suchitra’s extraordinary feat Editor's Note - May 2017

That the daughters of India need a leg up has been reiterated time and again, and by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, who launched the beti bachao beti padhao scheme in January 2015 from Haryana, one of the Indian States infamous for a skewed gender ratio. That is why when a girl child takes a leadership role in the community, it really warms the heart. So, when the Sunday edition of the English daily, The Hindu, carried as its cover the uplifting story of K P Suchitra, an 11-year-old girl from a village in Karnataka, who had managed to persuade the entire village to build toilets in their homes, Rotary News had to tell her story.

So with help from Rotarians from RC Chamarajanagar, Senior Assistant Editor Jaishree travelled to the Kamarahalli village in Karnataka to tell the inspiring story of Suchitra, who is doing exactly what WinS Global Chair and TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta is advocating — school children compelling their parents to build toilets at home and ushering in behavioural change. The story is simple enough; Suchitra’s friends would run to the school to use the toilet as they were “ashamed” to use the open fields. But while the story may be simple, Suchitra’s feat is not. Every evening, this tiny dynamo of energy visited her friends’ homes and pleaded with their parents to build toilets in their homes as it was not only unhygienic but also unsafe for their daughters to use the open fields.

Her persuasion worked and now all the 20 houses in her village have a toilet, and in a ripple effect, the Gundlupet taluk, comprising five villages including Kamarahalli, is ‘open defecation free’, with work on in the last three homes without toilets to build them. Jaishree returned totally smitten by the dimpled smile of the extremely bright and chirpy Suchitra, who is making waves beyond her village and State. Suchitra has become the regional heroine; a local Minister has planted a sapling in her school in her honour; the Delhi Commission for Women has honoured her with a cash prize of Rs 30,000, and as the Rotarians leave, she gingerly requests them to donate a laptop “not for me, but my school”! (Read her story on Page 22)

Imagine the kind of change such feisty girls, as also boys, can usher in our country, particularly rural India, where it is needed the most. We need to clean up many things in India; let’s at least begin with physical cleaning up. Suchitra has not been co-opted by anyone — neither the government nor the voluntary sector — to do what she is doing. She isn’t even mouthing any big mantras of Swachh Bharat, but even without being aware of it, she is one of its shiniest mascots. Hopefully, over the years, the leadership spark in her, which fortunately has been recognised and celebrated by those in authority, will ignite into a fire to bring about positive change. We owe it to this little girl, and thousands like her whose stories we don’t get to hear often enough, to ensure that she gets the education she deserves. For now, she wants to become a doctor, but that dream might change as she grows up, and finds her aptitude for something else. The system, along with our collective consciences, should facilitate that such budding heroes in our country get all the opportunities to excel and emerge as community leaders.

And then perhaps, one day, India will get the calibre of leadership it deserves, both in civil society, governance and even politics.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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