January 22, 2021 3:34:11 am
NOT many would think of joining a gram panchayat as an elected member to serve a village after doing a PhD from JNU and winning a fellowship in US. But after spending nearly 10 years at Chitegaon village in Mul tahsil of Chandrapur district as the spouse of a social worker, Kalyan Kumar chose what may seem to others like a very uncharted path.
A couple of months before the gram panchayat elections, Kumar (41) suggested to the villagers of Chitegaon — where Elgar Pratishthan, a charity organisation set up by his wife Paromita Goswami, is headquartered — that he would like to be part of the gram panchayat if his association with the village as a “facilitator of many things” must continue further.
“I have been working with the villagers since 2009 and chipping in with whatever I could do for the village, leveraging all the resources at my command. Two months ago, they brought the issue of the incomplete and dilapidated Samaj Bhavan (community hall) to me. They were also fed up with the earlier gram panchayat body. So, I said I would like to be part of the body and then work. The villagers welcomed the idea…. since I have been working with them to set in motion works in several government schemes,” Kumar told The Indian Express.
He wanted members to be chosen by consensus but some villagers jumped into the electoral fray. Kumar was elected from the general category, winning by a margin of 65 votes.
Kumar, who is from Patna, had started coming to Chitegaon after he and Goswami became friends at Yale University in US, where he was studying as a Fox Fellow from JNU in 2005. Goswami was at Yale on another fellowship, and the friendship soon culminated into marriage.
Choosing to be part of the Elgar family, Kumar got first-hand practical knowledge of the issues of labour, a subject close to his heart, having done his PhD in Labour History from JNU. “I got engaged in trade union activities in various industries such as power and steel at Chandrapur, working to settle contact labourers’ problems,” says Kumar. “Later, I also worked in the MNREGS sector on issues of the wage-earners.”
But Kumar soon realised that legal strength is key to solving people’s issues. “We had to fight a lot of people’s cases in court but were dependent on lawyers for them. It also required financial resources. So, I did a three-year LLB course and stared practicing at Mul… from there, I graduated to Chandrapur District Court and later to Nagpur High Court,” says Kumar.
But he would spend his weekends at Chitegaon, working with the people. “That will now continue as a responsible member of the panchayat,” he said.
Asked why he chose to be a panchayat member, Kumar said, “I don’t believe in creating my own bubble outside the government system… I believe in working by being part of it.”
Asked if it is romanticism of sorts that can wither away with the often frustrating experience of working within a government system, Kumar said, “This romanticism has worked well at Elgar for the past 20 years. Elgar has, after all, been fighting within the government system all these years. So, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work further.”
Goswami said she is happy for her husband. “It’s really been a remarkable journey for him, from JNU to Chitegaon. He has been a very popular figure in Chitegaon and people have now bestowed him with power that will only strengthen his work among them,” said Goswami, who herself fought her first election in the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly polls as an Aam Aadmi Party candidate, but lost to Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress.
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