The main speaker was Mangnibai a Sarpanch or panchayat president from Rewa district who has taken the Swacchh Bharat Mission for cleaning India by eradicating open defecation to heart. In the space of a year since she was elected she has had toilets constructed in 800 households in her panchayat and then convinced people to use them. Initially she faced a lot of opposition as people did not want to give up their age old practice of open defecation in the fields. However, she mobilised a section of the women and imposed a fine of Rs 500 on those who were persisting with open defecation. Thus, she was gradually able to get everyone to use the toilets and the panchayat has become open defecation free. However, the use of toilets increases the requirement of water which has to be brought from distant sources. So there was a demand from the women, who mostly have to get the water, for a piped water supply system. Mangnibai has risen to the demand and initiated the process of getting a piped water supply system sanctioned for her panchayat. Not only has she mobilised her panchayat members and villagers but she has also got the generally lethargic bureaucracy to work. She is shown in the picture below delivering a speech on her work at the conference in Bhopal.
There were many women who came up and spoke about their work but what was more interesting was their description of the challenges they faced in their work. Invariably they found the bureaucracy to be a major hindrance. Especially the panchayat secretary who always tried to block various development works that the EWRs tried to get sanctioned and implemented. One EWR, a Sarpanch, described in detail how the panchayat secretary was refusing to do all the paper work necessary for sanctioning projects and she insisted that a resolution be passed in the meeting to remove him from his post. While others tried to explain to her that the process of removing the official would have to be initiated in her district she remained adamant that Bhopal was where she would get justice!! The women were also very vocal about the pressure from their husbands and family who did not like their going out to do their panchayat related public work. One woman said that she has to continually fight with her husband to go out of the house to do her panchayat duties. She said that there was tremendous opposition from her husband and other family members to her coming to Bhopal to attend this conference as she had never gone out of her district earlier. She said that she told her husband that the sun might rise in the west instead of the east but she would attend the Bhopal conference!!
Hundreds of women from across Madhya Pradesh, some of whom are shown in the picture below, attended the conference which was inaugurated by the Women and Child Development Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Ms Maya Singh. The Minister said that despite the legislative assembly being in session and many of her male colleagues advising her not to be absent from the assembly, she had come to the conference because she wanted to impress on the EWRs that they must use the opportunity they have got to the hilt to enhance the situation of women in society.