In 1995, when the 73rd Amendment permitting women to contest Panchayat elections was first implemented, the villagers of Changa, 18 km from Anand in Gujarat, approached former Sarpanch Kashibhai Patel to suggest one of his family members for the position.
Kashibhai was confident that his eldest child Sudha, then 21, an MA in Hindi Literature and more importantly one who was well aware of Changa’s problems would be able to do justice to the post, but only if the people were willing to overlook the fact that Sudha was visually challenged from birth.S udha was one of the eight women who filed their nominations apart from four men. There were threatening calls and people raising her disability as an issue, but the officers clarified that a candidate with a right to vote was qualified to receive one too. Sudha’s efficient handling of the curfew on the day after she was elected laid to rest all doubts about her capability. Sudha Kashibhai Patel created history — not only as the first visually challenged lady Sarpanch of India but also the youngest ever to be nominated to any such level in a government office in Asia.
From 1995 to 2000, Sudha set unprecedented standards in healthcare and social development. Under her dynamic leadership, the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Changa was selected as the model PHC in Gujarat with a fully equipped operation theatre, laboratory, maternity room, community hall and a computer for the doctor. She educated villagers on grain management and taught village women to make pickles and fruit preserves. “The needs of any village are simple: basic amenities such as drinking water, electricity, a school and a hospital. I was able to provide these, RCC roads, expanded schools and took up the causes of the physically and mentally challenged.”In 1997, Sudha was declared one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World and was invited to Hawaii. She is the recipient of the Outstanding Women Panchayat Leader of India Award, the World Human Rights Promotion Award and most recently the Rustomji Meherwanji Award for her work with visually impaired children.
For, the feisty 34-year-old, and youngest elected sarpanch of Changa village of Petlad talukar in Anand, has made it her mission to ensure that people stay fit .
Though she is visually challenged, nobody can accuse Sudha Patel of lacking vision. For, the feisty 34-year-old, and youngest elected sarpanch of Changa village of Petlad talukar in Anand, has made it her mission to ensure that people stay fit .
For this, she teaches yoga to scores of people in Kheda and Anand district. Though she is visually impaired, she was nominated as the head of the Kheda district by Baba Ramdev to teach yoga to people there. She has been regularly holding yoga shibirs in the district. Her shibirs are attended by more than 200 people.
“I have been doing yoga since 2005 and looking at the effort, ease and ability with which I do yoga, Baba Ramdev nominated me as the head of Kheda district for the same,” said Sudha Patel.
Apart from this, she has won seven national and international awards for her work in education and welfare activities. She also holds the key posts various organisations that undertake welfare activities for the differently-abled.
Ask her what she wishes on Women’s Day she said, “Just ensure that the physically-challenged are give proper education and equal opportunity. Everything else will fall in place.”