Arati Devi, elected as the country’s youngest sarpanch five years ago from Ganjam’s Dhunkapada gram panchayat, the 31-year-old MBA graduate has become a role model for many women in grassroots-level politics.
“My political journey was not smooth. Things were very different and difficult at the ground level. But I am happy that I could bring changes in my panchayat, which I hope will continue even after me,” said Arati.
Her efforts are evident. There are now ‘pucca’ roads and electricity connections in several villages of her panchayat. The PDS system has been streamlined and there are no teacher vacancies in schools. She has planted over 1.5 lakh trees in her panchayat and revived folk art troupes.
As a result of a literacy campaign “Tipa Nuhen Dastakhat” (no thumb impression only signature) she launched in her panchayat around 700 women are now able to put their signatures sign and have basic reading and learning abilities.
Arati Devi left her lucrative job in a bank to bring about change in her village. The sarpanch who aims to reach the Parliament from panchayat said issues of rural polls have changed in the last five years and that she is hopeful of getting a BJD ticket for Zilla Parishad member.
But to achieve these she had her share of challenges and bottlenecks. “The first challenge I faced was from men around me and their insecurity. I have undergone mental harassment. People even came to attack and abuse me physically. They lodged dalit atrocity case against me. But it was my will power for which I could overcome everything,” said Arati, who represented India at the International Visitors Leadership Programme on state and local governments in the US in 2014.