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Madhya Pradesh Panchayat polls: Decoding the 'pink panchayat' of Rohna

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By Rakesh Kumar Malviya
Narmadapuram, June 27 (Ajit Weekly News/ 101Reporters) Located eight km from Narmadapuram district in Madhya Pradesh is the small village of Rohna. Its 396 households comprise of 1,886 people, including 1,400 voters. Most families here belong to Backward Castes, with some six per cent of the population listed under Scheduled Castes.

Agriculture is the main means of livelihood in Rohna, where 14 families live below the poverty line – however, this nondescript village is a matter of pride to its residents.

Social worker Lakshman Singh Rajput proudly told 101Reporters, “Our village has no illicit liquor or gambling dens. We are also ahead in agricultural output, with many farmers here into organic farming. Roopsingh Rajput was awarded for his farming efforts. There are many who also breed cattle and produce 2,000l to 2,500l of milk every day.”

And now, Rohna is in the news for its decision to elect a ‘pink’, all-women panchayat, completely unopposed.

How a ‘pink’ panchayat emerged in Rohna

Panchayat elections had not been held in Madhya Pradesh for a while, to finally being organised following court intervention. Women were granted 33 per cent reservation, in keeping with the 73rd amendment, though Madhya Pradesh increased women’s reservation to 50 per cent, the first state to make this change.

Rajesh Samle, a social worker and local resident who’s been working on agriculture and women’s empowerment in Rohna as part of the Gram Sewa Samiti, told 101Reporters, “When the reservation formalities for the three-tier panchayat elections were completed, our panchayat seats went to the lot of our women. That’s when discussions began about electing an unopposed panchayat for the village, to demonstrate our unity.”

“As for the candidates, Sharmila Rajput emerged as the front-runner, since she had been active on all village-level issues and had always taken the lead in community matters. Once her name was proposed, there was complete consensus from all quarters.”

Sharmila Rajput, the new sarpanch, is 48 years old. She was born in Rohna and was married to Rajendra Singh Rajput from the same village after completing Class 10. Under Sharmila and her all-women panchayat, women’s empowerment, education and health have emerged as key developmental issues.

However, the new village chief said she had not imagined ever being part of the village panchayat, let alone leading it.

“I wouldn’t have contested if the chief minister had not announced the Rs 15 lakh reward for an unopposed election and the sarpanch’s seat had not been reserved for women,” Sharmila added.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had announced that a women-only gram panchayat would be given Rs 15 lakh for development. He had also announced an award of Rs 5 lakh to those panchayats that would elect their chief unopposed. Moreover, panchayats that elected their sarpanch for two consecutive years unopposed were to be awarded Rs 7 lakh, and gram panchayats that elected an all-women panchayat were to be granted Rs 12 lakh. For those who had elected an all-women panchayat (including a sarpanch) unopposed were to be given Rs 15 lakh.

Elaborating on how Rohna got a women-only ‘pink’ panchayat, Local resident Monu Chouhan added: “Once the sarpanch was elected unopposed, the idea of a panchayat completely run by women emerged. Although a few men had filed their candidature, the idea of a women-only panchayat appealed to them. They immediately withdrew their candidature in favour of the women from their own families. Thus, all 18 wards elected women to the panchayat. This saw Sandhya Malviya, Pushpa, Dipali Yadav, Meena Viswakarma, Sunitabai, Jyoti Samle, Ritu Chauhan, Dhanwati, Rajan, Vidya, Saroj, Kusum Patel, Premvati, Jyoti Surendra Singh, Shobabai, Phula, Kasturi and Vyjanti get elected unopposed.

Vidya was elected the panch for the second consecutive year. Her son Veer Singh Chauhan earlier held the position.

Chauhan said that in this small village, more than four people filed their candidature for the sarpanch’s post, though that could have fuelled enmity within the community and raised their election expenses.

“This is why we held a joint meeting and agreed to elect an unopposed panchayat,” he added.

The irony, however, is that the decision to elect this ‘pink’ panchayat didn’t involve any say from the women in the community.

The role of kabaddi

While the very prospect of electing consensus candidates to office may seem remarkable, the unified approach to community matters in Rohna can be attributed to the game of kabaddi. According to senior kabaddi player Rajkumar Ginyare, “Coach Harish Malviya introduced kabaddi in Rohna in 1998. The game became so popular here that everyone wanted to play it. Eventually, Rohna produced several national-level players. But the sport’s most important contribution was its unifying nature.

“Earlier, people were divided among different castes and groups; kabaddi put an end to all that and brought them together. This saw villagers unite to put an end to the tradition of mrityubhoj (a memorial service for the departed wherein a big feast is held for the community), kept youngsters away from intoxicants and instead made them health conscious.”

In 2017, Rohna hosted the National Professional Kabaddi Championships. The event saw the participation of Air India, Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Indian Railways. National-level players like Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhury and Pradip Narwal Sandeep Narwal visited Rohna and put the small village on India’s kabaddi map. The final event attracted some 50,000 people, even forcing road traffic in this sparsely populated region to be diverted!

However, the village that’s currently celebrating the election of an all-women panchayat hardly sees any women’s participation in the sport, their involvement restricted to the bleachers.

Prize money and its uses

At present, the Rohna panchayat awaits the Rs 15 lakh it is rightfully due, although it’s not yet sure how the money will be used for developmental purposes. Panchayats that won the sum following the last local elections saw rules being framed to spend the money on projects.

“The gram sabha ought to have the right to utilise the money it’s won for electing its candidates unopposed,” said Lakshman Singh Rajput, a social activist, while Panchayat Secretary Vijay Chaurey added, “Since there have been no guidelines issued so far in this regard, we must get to decide how to utilise these funds.”

Meanwhile, Sharmila is overjoyed at being elected unopposed.

“We need to fulfil the expectations of our electorate. Our primary concern is the education and health of girls. I was unable to study beyond Class 10; I do not want this to happen to others. I’d like every girl in the village to go for higher education and earn a living. I wish for all adolescent girls to enjoy good health and to put an end to the prevalent discrimination between boys and girls.”

“In addition to these, one also has to fulfil the basic developmental responsibilities of the panchayat. We will work for the betterment of the youth, so that the village ultimately benefits in the long run.”

Panchayat member Jyoti Samle echoes her sarpanch’s views: “It’s a matter of joy to be part of an entire panchayat represented solely by women. We shall work hard to justify the faith bestowed on us.”

Acknowledging the role an elected panchayat can play in ushering in progress, local resident Vinod Yadav listed the issues that need immediate attention: “Our panchayat wants to prioritise education. The local school offers education up to the higher secondary level, but the building needs urgent repair. We also need to develop the ground for children.”

Regardless of their motivation, the residents of Rohna have set a precedent by electing a ‘pink’ panchayat.

(The author is a Bhopal-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

–Ajit Weekly News
rakesh/svn/

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