Jamrud Bibi from Tamil Nadu "A Panchayat is a people's institution. It should therefore be responsive to people's needs, be a mini republic, not a mini kingdom. A Panchayat should be a place for development and not for party politics."

Jamrud Bibi, age 50, President of Devipattinam Village Panchayat, district Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, owes her orientation towards public service to her father who is a leader in the Muslim community. Jamrud is married, with two daughters, and her husband is supportive of her role in public life. Interested in social service from her college days, she is especially committed to working towards communal harmony in her village, where people of different castes and religions ive together. Her Panchayat houses an important local pilgrimage center for Hindus, and she has taken special steps to ensure that those who come from miles around are treated with respect. An important contribution has been the construction of public toilets and bathrooms for the thousands of pilgrims. This seemingly innocuous act has earned her the respect of both communities. Her leadership has encouraged women to form Self-Help Groups. These however, are not restricted to savings groups; they have embarked on a collective struggle against liquor. They are aware that it is going to be a long drawn out struggle, but are ready for it!

Ensuring drinking water for all in her village is a special achievement of hers. She has constructed water-harvesting structures and has provided water through public taps. She has taken a stand against providing piped water to individual houses, since she feels that would lead to unequal access to water, and lead to wastage of this precious resource! Jamrud Bibi has been especially resourceful in raising resources from local members of parliament (MPs) and members of the legislative assembly (MLAs - the state assembly), as she does not have any party affiliations she does not hesitate to approach anyone for help. Her real dream is to work wards a self- sufficient panchayat, not one dependent on external funds. Steps towards achieving this goal involve levying taxes from outstation vehicles and collection of a flexible house tax depending upon people's ability to pay.

Jamrud Bibi respects panchayats as an institution and is a hard taskmaster:on investigating the repeated absence of two ward members, she found that they did not live in the Panchayat, and had them removed.

Her vision is evident from her commitment to issues of secularism, her approach to providing drinking water, her distance from party politics and desire for a self-reliant Panchayat.

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I am a PhD scholar, doing research on Women Empowerment and their services