This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Debmalya Nandy. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Lesson In The Importance Of Strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions

More from Debmalya Nandy

The Gram Panchayat Help Desk discovered that Victor Kharia needed help.

Victor Kharia, a resident of Majhkhara Village of Pantha Gram Panchayat in Jharkhand, is a well-known face in his locality. His neighbors talk of him with sympathy as the man has nearly lost everything in the course of life, and his struggles and plight for survival is a heart-chilling tale. Victor, after losing his wife, has been alone all his life and has been fighting a lone battle of his own which goes unnoticed and unheard amidst the daily cacophonies. It is difficult for people like us, born with cushions and privileges and having got ample opportunities to make a living out of them, to even begin to understand Victor’s life struggles and situations.

Victor,  representing the most vulnerable section of society who have next to no access to resources, has one thing in common with the richest industrialists of the nation. The right to vote in independent India, a so-called thriving democracy, and one of the largest growing economies in the world, is probably the only power left with this 80-year-old emaciated man. It is during elections, that at least for a quarter of a day, Victor feels valued and needed.

Ranthi Horo, the Gram Panchayat Help Desk facilitator, looked visibly pained while she narrated the story of Victor and described his struggles. “They took him in a vehicle to vote and left him stranded after he had cast his vote, he had to come back walking to the village”, she said in a numb voice. This probably shows the true face of our democracy where the notion that “people elect government” has become a half-truth with citizens having very little choice, and the ‘power to vote’ has ended up becoming a ridiculous compulsion for many.

Victor did not probably know what he voted for and whom he voted for, yet he voted and contributed to the ‘celebration of democracy’. His fingers worked fine on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) but unfortunately, they did not work on the biometric instrument used in making an Aadhaar Card which is compulsory to avail most government benefits. As a result, this man is excluded from availing government benefits which are on for vulnerable and destitute households.

Victor voted and fulfilled his political responsibilities to the nation, he has been doing hard physical labor and does his bit for the society, he is, in fact, fulfilling every responsibility that one must carry out as a citizen, but in return, Victor gets nothing from the state. His right to food is violated as the man is not being able to fetch his ration in the absence of an Aadhaar card. The biometric machine does not take his fingerprints since the finger lines are hazy, but the EVM does register his vote, cast with the same fingers. He is excluded from the services that the state offers for staving off poverty and hunger. Yet Victor lives on, exposing the cruelties of the modern governance mechanisms and it’s implications on the most marginalised and vulnerable sections.

The 80-year-old man, who works at a nearby house, is quite unwell and stays in a filthy, unhygienic place. He stays alone and doesn’t have anyone to look after him. He works for a family at their farm and gets little compensation and a meal which keeps him alive.

“Some days, he will get vegetables and rice for lunch and, on some days, he gets only rice”, Ranthi said with a heavy voice. Her humanitarian qualities and caring attitude got herself a place at the Gram Panchayat Help Desk, an initiative taken up by Gram Panchayat in collaboration with the local women collective.

Ranthi kept repeating that Victor works like a bonded laborer. “Ekdum naukar jaisa kaam karte hain, bilkul naukar ki tarah” (He works exactly like a servant), she murmured a number of times.

Her careful eyes did not miss that the man does not eat well and is weakening day by day, she feared that Victor might suffer more if he is not attended to. She said that Victor has three Mahua trees which earn him some income in specific seasons but it is not adequate for sustained living.

The newly formed ‘Help Desk’, which only started operating since the last couple of months, had written to the Mukhia (the sarpanch or leader of the Panchayat), describing the difficulties that Victor is facing and the fact that he is not getting ration under the Public Distribution System (PDS), and how Victor wasn’t able to access the old-age pension he is entitled to.

The Mukhia, Basant Guria, is quite popular in the Panchayat for the connect he has with the people. He is credible to the people and his leadership is widely accepted in the community. The people have great faith in his sense of judgment.

The Mukhia had arranged 15 kg rice for Victor and had handed it over to him in the Gram Sabha. Basant had further committed that the Panchayat will look after him, and will provide 25 kg rice every month to him until his ration card is made and he avails the subsidised grains.

The Gram Panchayat Help Desk of Pantha has not only identified the plights of the old man, but it also went on to make the Panchayat act on the matter by ascertaining benefits to the person through the Gram Panchayat itself. They are further helping him in getting a ‘job card‘ made so that Victor can work in rural employment guarantee schemes when in need. He might just be able to cope with his immediate economic distresses through this.

The Gram Panchayat is currently trying to get Victor’s Adhaar card made through some alternative mechanism and also, the Help Desk is helping him get a bank account so that he can avail his old age pension.

The Gram Panchayat Help Desk of Pantha, facilitated by PRADAN which is a reputed national-level civil society organisation working in the area, has been an example of how the Panchayat can be of service to its citizens and ensure doorstep governance for the most vulnerable families. It is also a model for how local collectives and Panchayati Raj Institutions can come together to serve people and ensure that citizens have access to opportunities, services, and access to information and their rightful entitlements.

The Gram Panchayat Help Desk of Pantha, as part of their special strategy for the vulnerable families residing in the Panchayat, has been identifying such people and families who are living on the margins, having little means of production, and helping them access their rights and entitlements and providing them with an opportunity to fight back within the mainstream. The social securities are a safety net for the extremely poor families and the locally elected governments have a role in ensuring the deliveries. The Pantha Gram Panchayat is doing just that, through the Gram Panchayat Help Desk.

The huge network of the women’s collective is a further advantage to such initiatives as it ensures a greater reach and maximum outcome.

80-year-old Victor is a citizen of independent India, which is just 73 years old. Victor has almost grown up with the free Indian state. While the man from Pantha is aging at 80, independent India, on the contrary, is still maturing and gaining more power. The state will attain its full power only through decentralised actions, empowering Panchayats and giving more power and control to the citizens. Often, people ridicule the fact that it seems as if citizens handover all their powers to politicians through the tip of their fingers while they vote for them. But, it is the state’s responsibility to give back the power to the citizen by decentralisation of power through the strengthening of local governance. The Gram Panchayat Help Desk may be seen as a small initiative, and Victor’s case might just go down as an inspirational story, but the lessons learned from this can change the current idea of ‘Governance’.

Featured Image For Representation Only
You must be to comment.

More from Debmalya Nandy

Similar Posts

By Nandini priya

By Priyanka Goswami

By Kaushik Raj

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below