The Hunger Project Australia CEO, Melanie Noden, has just returned from India where she led a group of Executives from Commonwealth Bank of Australia on a Corporate Leadership Immersion Program. Melanie has shared the inspiring story of Basanti Gameti with us.
“I met Basanti at the Tulsi Sadhana Sikhar (Training Centre). She is 23 years old and of the Untouchable caste. She is fortunate to have gone to school and is the first girl to go to University in her Panchayat (village council).
Her community supported her to stand for election because she is educated. Although some of the people threatened her and tried to bribe her to withdraw her nomination, she won the election and is now the President of her Panchayat! She has told the older men on the council that she is the President and that they must listen to her. She has the support of other women. When one of the men on the council tried to take ownership of a temple, 50 women went with Basanti to the official and stopped him.
Having been voted in as the President of her Panchayat, she said: “I have responsibility and accountability to my community”. She started by doing a survey of her community and their needs. They had many needs and she said she will fight for her community to achieve them.
In her work, Basanti is true to her name which means “fresh growth and new beginnings”. She has fought for:
- installation of 15 hand pumps and 16 water tanks that benefit 640 families by filing a petition to the local council
- 25 houses to be connected to electricity
- a crèche opened to send children from 3-6 years old to school
- the school to be increased to year 8 and for girls to attend school
- the Government ration store to be re-opened and for people who are underprivileged or marginalised to be given food cards
She said that without the training she received from The Hunger Project she could not have stepped outside her house and she would be veiled. Now she is allowed to travel and go to meetings because her family trust the organisation. She has also been able to study a degree. She said she would not have known about processes such as how to get electricity without technical support. Also she was given training to understand the structures of the government and who to approach to get the changes her community needed.
Her vision is “thriving community and thriving people”. In the future, she would like to get a Girls Hostel opened so that other girls from her Panchayat can go to University. She would also like to get a private hospital and free medicines. After she steps down as President she would like to do her PHD and have a job in the hostel or a Government job. Eventually she would like to be a member of the State Assembly- and I suspect she will succeed!