Meet Odisha’s Arati Devi Who Inspired Bollywood Movie ‘Sir Madam Sarpanch’ & Coined ‘Beti Padhao’

Bhubaneswar: ‘Sir Madam Sarpanch’, a social satire helmed by the National Award-winning director Praveen Morchhale, is loosely based on the incredible story of Arati Devi, touted to be India’s youngest elected sarpanch from Dhunkapada panchayat of Odisha’s Ganjam district, and other such real life events.

The film revolves around an Indian girl who has grown up in the US and returns to start a library in her ancestral village in central India. But a run-in with a local politician makes her contest election for the Sarpanch’s post. “I had read about these incredible women who for the love of their country, gave up a life of comfort and job opportunities abroad to return home and do something substantial for their villages. My film re-imagines the on-ground situation these superwomen found themselves in,” the director had told the media.

Arati had quit her well-paying banking job to become a sarpanch in 2012. She was an investment officer with IDBI Bank. Two years later, she was nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Leadership Award, having championed causes like literacy for women, support to artisans by reviving folk art and streamlining the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the village. She was also the only Indian selected to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) in the US under Obama government in 2014.

“I never knew that the 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,” Arati said, adding that she went to Delhi to watch the film on the request of Praveen, who managed to get her mobile phone number with much difficulty.

She also spoke about the threats which she had to brave while making changes in the PDS rationing to ensure every person gets 5 kg rice. “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. 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 government as ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’,” she added.

She had launched a literacy campaign ‘Tipa Nuhen Dastakhat’ (no thumb impression only signature) in her panchayat and around 700 women are now able to sign and have basic reading and learning abilities.

Arati said that Praveen would soon be visiting Odisha to witness the development process in Dhunkapada and the state and meet Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

A spin-off from the excellent web-series ‘Panchayat’,  ‘Sir Madam Sarpanch’ documents Arti’s life and was released across theatres on April 14. It recently bagged an INALCO Jury Award at the 29th edition of the prestigious Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas hosted in France.


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