Cassian Baliarsingh

The multilingual movie ‘Sir Madam Sarpanch’ is receiving rave reviews from audiences and critics alike for its unique storyline. But, what has made it all the more interesting is that the movie, based on the life of a sarpanch, has an Odisha connection.

The movie is based on the life of Arati Devi, former sarpanch of Dhunkapada panchayat of Odisha’s Ganjam district. The film documents the life journey of Arati, how she came from the United States to set up a library in her father’s village and in the process became a sarpanch. She is touted to be India’s youngest elected sarpanch.

Known for championing causes like gram sabha, literacy for women, support to artisans by reviving folk art, and streamlining PDS in villages to ensure every eligible beneficiary gets the government’s free ration, Arati was the only Indian selected for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) in the US. She was also nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Leadership Award in 2014.

Speaking to OTV on her life journey, Arati Devi said, “I quit my well-paying job and became a sarpanch to give it back to society and work for the betterment of my fellow villagers. But, I never knew that my unique implementations in my panchayat would inspire other sarpanchs, administration, and government to take it to all panchayats. Now, it is surreal that a film is also being made on my life.”

“I have also put forward the cause of Odisha, the women of Odisha in every national and international event that I attend. I was the first person to start gram sabha for women because only men would attend panchayat meetings in the past. I also started ‘Nari Sikhya’ and was awarded for it. I knew the problems affecting my village and other villages across the country because India is a country of villages.”

“During a meeting, I coined the word ‘Beti Padhao and another fellow sarpanch from Haryana came up with ‘Beti Bacho’ that was soon embraced by the India government as ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’,” she added.

Speaking about her future and her entry into proper politics, she said that she is currently focusing on her village and has no immediate plan. She also highlighted the need for a female Chief Minister in Odisha.

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