Thirty-two-year-old Arati Devi who in 2012 left a lucrative career in banking to contest panchayat polls and become a sarpanch in Ganjam district of Odisha, has been nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Leadership Award 2014.
The Asian Peace Foundation informed Ms. Arati about her selection through a letter. According to Ms. Arati, her recognition would surely encourage educated youth to take active role in grassroots-level governance for development of the country.
She is the sarpanch of Dhunkapada panchayat in Ganjam district, standing apart from most other sarpanches as she is an MBA degree holder and till 2012, working with IDBI Bank in Berhampur. In 2012, she decided to leave behind her career as a banker to enter politics by contesting panchayat polls.
It was a hard decision, she says, as she had spent her school and college days in urban areas like Berhampur and Hyderabad. But her mental and physical ties with her parental village Dhunkapada had not dwindled. She used her managerial skills to improve village-level governance and was able to streamline the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the village. According to her, for several decades, families were not getting wheat through PDS although it was reaching the panchayat.
She started a major literacy campaign for women in the panchayat under the name Tipa nuhe dastakhat (no thumb impression, only signature).
Under this project, all women in the panchayat would be educated to be able to write applications and to stop giving their thumb impressions for any official work. She has also been a catalyst to revive the traditional folk art troupes of her village. She says she has decided to spend rest of her life in service of rural people.