Welcome to Phulera.
Archana KR shares some of her favourite moments from Season 1 of Panchayat.
Panchayati (Panchayat). When I hear this word I am taken back to my childhood days. Our village’s Panchayat office was a small, pretty building with a red tiled roof (in Kannada we call it Henchina Mane). In the front, there was a big tree and some round stones.
In those days, the buses usually stopped in front of the Panchayat office. On Saturdays there would be many people waiting for the morning bus which would reach my village at 11:30 am. But people would start queuing up from 7 am, often wearing a knup or long plastic covers to protect them from the rain. Only a few people would be carrying an umbrella. I used to think that the people with umbrelass were very rich back then.
On most days, our Panchayat office would be locked and the premises would turn into a space for kids to play or a makeshift adda for the elderly to chitchat. On Saturdays, the office would open, as that was when many people would go to the weekly santhe and they would use the Panchayat office as a place to keep their knup, rain coats and other materials. Only a few people would actually be there to discuss some Grama Panchayat related topic.
I was reminded of all this and more when the TV series Panchayat got my attention. The show is about the life of an engineering graduate Abhishek Tripathi, who becomes a Panchayat secretary in Phulera, a remote village in Uttar Pradesh due to lack of better job options. Through the 8 episodes of Panchayat, you can see what a Panchayat is, how it works and why women’s representation is important in local government. The show underscores why passion is important to serve society, and how before one tries to do so, they should try understand society.
Here are some of my favourite moments from Season 1.
When Abhishek enters the village on his bike, the sight of the road reminded me of my village road which has never seen tar before. The road is filled with sharp, big stones and becomes muddy in the rainy season when the stones look fresh and washed. Most people would walk or travel by Tiller or Jeep, and we would joke that if you travelled by road with a full tumbler of water, by the end of the road you would only have 5% of water left.
The Panchayat Secretary finally reaches Phulera Panchayat and meets the former village sarpanch Brij Bhushan Dubey (who is the husband of the current village sarpanch, Manju Devi), the deputy sarpanch, and his assistant.
Abhishek is surprised that the doors of the Panchayat office are locked and the keys are missing. Actually, the pradhan pati has misplaced the key! Finally they open the door and the secretary is shocked by how dirty the office is inside. It reminded me of our village’s Panchayat where it was not uncommon to find rats, snakes and other reptiles. The sight of the office makes the young man feel sad, but this is a common sight in many Panchayat offices. That’s why many educated people don’t like to work in Panchayats, especially young people.
I is for investigate
In the show, the Panchayat has to invest a certain amount of money for basic facilities like street lights, road repairs, water issues etc. But the elected representatives make decision without thinking about things from the citizens perspective.
It is so important to do an investigation to uncover the truth as this helps to solve local problems.
My grandmother was the only female Panchayat member in my village. Every Ugadi, they would cut a tree (usually in front of the Panchayat office) and then decorate that place. And the Panchayat would spend money on this. I was very curious to know why they did this and I asked my Avva (Grandmother) “Why is the Panchayat cutting trees when they are a place for people to rest and wait for the bus in summer time?’ My Avva said they have been doing this for many years as they believed that if they didn’t something bad would happen to the village!
In the show, something similar happens. There’s a Bhootha Ped (haunted tree) in the village and all the Panchayat members decide to put a light there instead of in the village or in front of the Panchayat office!
Many times a chair creates hierarchy! Recently, I visited a government office in Bangalore and there was a round table with seven chairs. One chair looked different from the other six. I pulled out the ‘different’ chair to sit down. Immediately, the Director’s Personal Assistant said ‘Madam please, aa chair use madbedi adu director chair’ — ‘Madam, please don’t use that chair that is the Director’s chair!’ Most of the people who came to that meeting tried to sit on the same chair and each time the PA had to tell them the same thing!
In the show, Abhishek buys a comfortable revolving chair since he finds the crude plastic chairs provided in the Panchayat office quite uncomfortable. This chair soon becomes a bone of contention between him and the Pradhan and it leads to some problems!
It made me really glad that in Reap Benefit, we don’t have this chair hierarchy!
The writing is on the wall
When I was young, I used to read slogans painted on walls and on the back of autos. In those days, the government would share slogans related to girl education, literacy etc which boys would convert into jokes. Similarly in Panchayat, the BDO announces that family planning slogans will be put on the walls of the community. Abhishek gets the slogans painted and then walks around with Pradhan and other Panchayat members to check on the work.
The slogan “Do bacche meethi kheer, do se jyaada bawaseer’’ compares children born after the first two, to a case of piles! This provokes a strong reaction among villagers who have more than 2 kids. This puts the Pradhan pati in a tough position since they all threaten to vote against him at the next election. He has the slogan removed which prompts Manju Devi to call out the Pradhan pati on his weak leadership. The Pradhan pati sees a picture of Sardar Patel and gets inspired. He has Abhishek call a meeting of the ward and tells the gathering that he stands by the slogan after all. Abhishek tells the gathering that they should tell anyone offended by the slogan that it is like a warning on a cigarette packet — it is meant to offend and scare. Pradhan instructs Vikas to put the slogan back. But after the meeting, the BDO calls Abhishek to tell him that the piles slogan is not mandatory!
This showed how government orders often change and the effect it has on ground level workers.
Rural life isn’t for everyone!
Working in a village is very difficult, especially if you want to have a social life. I know that many of my friends after their MSW wrote PDO and FDA and got an appointment in small villages. My friends were frustrated as the villagers didn’t trust them. If mistakes were made the new person always took the blame.
In the show this happens to Abhishek. Frustrated by the lack of night life in the village, he decides to drink beer but forgets to lock the door of his room and finds his monitor stolen from the Panchayat office the next morning. A furious Pradhan reprimands Abhishek for being careless and asks him to find new accommodation.
“Hum bhi sarkar.”
In 1993, a constitutional amendment was passed in India that called for one third of Sarpanch positions in Gram Panchayats to be reserved for women. There is also a long-term plan to extend this reservation to parliament and legislative assemblies.
In the case of many female candidates, apart from their signature, much of their job is done by either their husband or son. Female candidates are often not aware of politics, rules and their responsibilities as they have few opportunities to learn about these things.
Manju Devi is the Pradhan on paper, and the entire village has happily made its peace with her husband the Pradhan pati being the one in power. Ignorance is bliss for this uneducated homemaker who is only bothered about her daughter’s marriage. She prefers to call the shots at home but hands over the reins of the Panchayat office to the man of the house.
In the series it shows ultimately that women are not only capable of taking care of their families, but can also take care of the whole Panchayat! But she needs someone to teach her and support her. When Manju Devi learn the National Anthem so that she can hoist the flag at a ceremony, her grit, empathy and learning attitude was revealed.
Never a dull moment
Abhishek’s duties as a Panchayat secretary — from making birth certificates to implementation of government policies like MNREGA and family planning — all these things are shown in the most hilarious manner possible. From addressing grassroot corruption, dowry culture to how blind beliefs are born, the show presents some never seen before aspects of a Panchayat in the most light-hearted manner. If you haven’t seen Panchayat yet, do find the time to. You won’t regret it.
As the Covid19 crisis continues to unfold, many of our Solve Ninjas are calling their Panhayat leaders and to understand the situation in their village and find ways to support them by helping create awareness on vaccinations, showing them how to use our tools and more. I am happy to see Reap Benefit create a platformfor these Solve Ninjas where they can get an understanding of the Panchayat at such a young age. We really want to strengthen our Local Government and build a problem solving movement hand-in-hand with them.
If you want to help the nation fight Covid19 do consider signing up to be a Vaccination Ninja!