Jyoti Rani, 36, from Rori village in Sirsa district, has panchayat samiti member Nitasha Sihag to thank for taking the corrupt ration depot owner in her village to task. She says the depot owner would make excuses to deny them ration. On Women’s Day (March 8), during Sihag’s visit to Rori to deliver a lecture, Rani got her WhatsApp number. She then contacted Sihag, who forwarded her complaint to the district food and civil supply controller and a probe was ordered, leading to the officers being questioned. Rani started getting ration supply within two weeks.
Sihag, 32, is an elected member of the Panchayat Samiti at Khari Surera village in Sirsa district of Haryana (the Samiti is a buffer between Gram Panchayat and Zilla Panchayat). With an MBA from Meerut University and a couple of corporate stints under her belt, Sihag is tech savvy and connects with the people of her constituency via social media.
Sirsa panchayat samiti member Nitasha Sihag is leveraging WhatsApp and Facebook to inform rural women about government schemes
The proactive politician is leveraging WhatsApp and Facebook to inform rural women about government schemes. She claims she gets about three dozen messages a week on an average on Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter from people about their problems. She has compiled a list of the most common problems and forwarded it to the chief minister. Sihag recently joined the women’s wing of BJP in the state.
According to Sihag, a large number of people who contact her are housewives. She was quick to realise that women in Haryana, hemmed in by the high walls of patriarchy, were reluctant to step out of their home and fight for their rights. Although there are some winds of change blowing.
“Women are conditioned to keep quiet about the problems they face. Domestic violence tops the chart of crimes against women in this westernmost district of my state,” says Sihag, adding that using social media to inform women about government schemes started a flow of communication between them.
“Women are conditioned to keep quiet about the problems they face. Domestic violence tops the chart of crimes against women in this westernmost district of my state” — Nitasha Sihag
Sihag gets updates about welfare schemes from the government websites and the headquarters, and she passes them on to WhatsApp contacts and Facebook and Twitter followers from her neighbourhood. These people identify the potential beneficiaries and help them avail of the benefits. For example, after her WhatsApp broadcast on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana — which provides LPG connections to below poverty line (BPL) families at a subsidised price — many families came forward to claim the benefit.
Realising how important it is for her to be reachable, the young politician makes sure to share her WhatsApp number whenever she goes to a public meeting or social gathering. “While the internet might not have last-mile connectivity in my village, and the very poor might not be using it, people around them must be connected and these people can pass on the relevant information to them,” she said.
College student Ritu Kumari got her number from one such meeting and reached out to Sihag on Facebook. Having done a course in mehendi designing, she wanted to take advantage of the central government’s Skill India initiative. She contacted Sihag in this regard who helped her connect to a Skill India centre in Ellenabad tehsil in the district.
Other college students have been reaching out to her for help on matters like drinking water supply, LPG supply, ration, roads, benefits for the girl child, power cuts, health and education facilities.
The mother of two boys has previously worked in the private sector with brands such as Reliance and BPCL (Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd). As rewarding as life in private sector may be, she said her job as a politician has been the more satisfying one.
Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira
Images: 101Reporters Pictures
The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.
Sat Singh (Twitter: @satsingh15) is a Rohtak based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.