Chhavi Rajawat: A Sarpanch with a Difference

When I and most of the people around me think of a sarpanch, the image that comes to mind is that of a man, maybe somewhere between middle-aged to someone who is elderly who heads the village panchayat. But this Sarpanch is different, she was the youngest Sarpanch at the time. I remember when her becoming the youngest Sarpanch came in the news when I was in high school, and my parents had presented her story as an example to us. So years later when I got the opportunity to visit her village I took it right on. This is how a simple visit to a village turned out to be deeply inspiring for me.


I was welcomed with sweet smiles and super sweet rabdi, which they told me is often how they welcome guests who come for their Bai-sa. This rabdi, by the way, is a famous delicacy of the village. The village residents sat me down to let me enjoy the rabdi and started talking about their Bai-sa. They refer to Chhavi as ‘Humari Bai-sa’. The discussion started with a couple of people and slowly more and more people started joining in. I introduced myself to each one of them and they all would start by either saying that ‘Bai-sa jaisa Sarpanch to kahi hua hi nahi’(There has never been a sarpanch like bai sa anywhere) or ‘humara bhot kaam karaya hai bai-sa ne’ (Chhavi has done a lot of work for us), saying it all with huge smiles on their face. They were all so happy to show me around the entire village and share stories and anecdotes along the way, telling me how she used to go around and work in the village. When I looked at the village through their eyes, every nook and corner of the village bore numerous marks from the time when she was sarpanch.


As we walked, Ladhu ji and Sattu ji proudly announced that the road we were walking on was built during Chhavi’s time as sarpanch. The road is now more than 10 years old but still going strong, and they insisted that very few villages can boast such longevity for a road. They shared a light moment as they recalled how their Bai-sa personally monitored how I was welcomed – with sweet smiles and super sweet rabdi, which they told me is often how they welcome guests who come for their ‘Bai-sa’. With excitement on his expression, Ladhu ji almost sat down on the road showing me that the quality of this road is very good.


Recounting his memories he said that when the roads were being built, Chhavi used to come daily to check the construction and would often insist on redoing it if there was even the slightest mistake in symmetry or width. He said that in those days, they didn’t understand the point of it, but now they know that attention to detail like this is what has made the work last for years! Her intention was not only to build a road for the village but to build a road that lasts for a long long time. The villagers pride themselves in saying that not many villages in India have such good and sturdy roads. They further added that we often see in villages that because of social realities the development often does not reach a few parts of any given village or constituency, but our baisa never worked like that, she would make sure that the development reaches each and every Dhani (hamlet) be it from any caste or even for people who are in her opposition.


Then they took me to a road and described in detail how it used to be very dirty and used to stink, to the extent that everyone in the village used to completely avoid that area, which is why they suggested avoiding that road during the winning rally on the day Chhavi won the sarpanch election. But to everyone’s surprise, after finding out the reason Chhavi insisted and made sure that the rally goes through that area. Soon after she took the office, she had it cleaned so thoroughly that it was hard to recognize it as the same road!


There are many stories like these, but the ones that stayed with me the most are her efforts to ensure a toilet in each house long before the government scheme of Har Ghar Shauchalay was introduced. Her village already had toilets in every house because of her vision. The villagers mentioned that not only did she ensure the construction of a toilet in each house she would teach the residents about the importance of having one in the house and the importance of cleanliness in our day-to-day lives.

She worked to tackle child marriage in the same way. I remember from my conversation with her that she addressed child marriage soon after taking on her role as a sarpanch, she mentioned that she started talking to the parents about the benefits of educating their children and the impact of early marriage. She mentioned that it was through these conversations that she was able to make her village completely free of child marriage.


Another memorable story that the village residents shared was about her playing with the kids of the village in the evening; villagers described that they could see a group of kids laughing and playing, it almost looked like a ball of human kids. And with these kids was their leader, Chhavi, who was hard to spot with her hair all over the place, kids climbing on her and everyone was completely engrossed in playing, Ladhu ji mentioned that the mere sight of this play was comforting, as he recounted the image.


But the story that stayed with me the most was her work with water. When she took office as sarpanch, the village was facing severe drought. Chhavi mobilised the entire village and her network to come together to restore the village reservoir. With collective effort and determination, they revived the reservoir, bringing about a remarkable transformation. Today, the same reservoir holds an abundant water supply that can sustain the village not just for a few months, but the entire year. With good monsoons, even for two years! This has not only provided drinking water to the residents but has also supported animal husbandry, farming, and overall economic growth.


I was surprised when the story of the village reservoir ended in front of a three-story house, where the resident proudly announced that this house and his thriving small business are the results of Chhavi’s hard work in restoring the reservoir, which not only gave water for their day to day needs but also helped them in their business. As Ladhu ji likes to say, “Bai-sa aisa kaam karke gaye ki hum sabko Mallamal kar gaye.” (Chhavi worked in a way that made all of us flourish/rich). He had a huge smile on his face as he said this. My visit ended with a sweet chai, as they wouldn’t let their Bai-sa’s guests leave without having tea.

Looking at her work from the eyes of the village residents was a beautiful and inspiring experience for me. I think Chhavi’s work in her village is a simple yet strong and impactful example of sustainable and inclusive development — development that understands the needs of the people and provides simple yet long-lasting impacts on the lives of those around them. After serving as sarpanch for two terms and fulfilling all the tasks requested by the villagers, Chhavi chose not to contest the sarpanch elections for a third time, making space for new leadership. However, she continues to work for the village without the title and is often found encouraging more people to work for rural India, joining hands with others to work towards sustainable development.


Moreover, Chhavi Rajawat’s commitment to her community extends beyond her tenure as sarpanch. She is now focused on reviving a defunct girls’ college in the village, operating it as a not-for-profit institution. Through this college, she champions women and youth empowerment, providing avenues for education and skill development that are essential for driving long-term progress in rural India.

As I was leaving, the villagers gave me a farewell with huge smiles and a message saying that ‘Hum kamna karte hai ki humari bai-sa jaisi sarpanch har gao ke mil’ (We pray that every village gets a sarpanch like Chhavi). And on that sweet note, I gave my goodbye to Chhavi’s village, village Soda.




Chhavi Rajawat with her team of elected ward panches and her grandfather Brig Raghubir Singh



Mrigtrishna Rathore:

Mrigtrishna is a Psychotherapist based in Jaipur. Her journey involves weaving together art, food, games, and various activities to foster mental well-being, following a holistic approach that integrates diverse elements to create community-based spaces for mental health.

Apart from working on mental health, she enjoy reading books and sharing stories of people which are often filled with so much beauty and emotion.