Mumbai: Rajpuri village, nestled at the top of a hill in Satara district and close to the tourist town of Mahabaleshwar, got a sarpanch last month, after nearly 15 years. Villagers in this little known hamlet have always shied away from the otherwise coveted post of a sarpanch because of a widespread superstition — that whoever becomes the village head will die.
The gram panchayat elections in Maharashtra were held in January. And this year, a 31-year-old homemaker, Sheetal Rajpure, decided to step up to the challenge and dispel the myth. She was elected unopposed and took over as the sarpanch of Rajpuri last month.
“It is just a rumour. Two-three people from this village who had been sarpanch died in the past, but they all had some or the other illness. But, the rumour spread and the village remained without a sarpanch. The deputy sarpanch has been looking after the village affairs,” Sheetal, a mother of two sons, told ThePrint.
Rajpuri, a drought-prone village in the Mahabaleshwar taluka of western Maharashtra, has a population of 1,097 people and a literacy rate of 77.49 per cent, according to the 2011 census.
The sarpanch taboo
Stories about the three previous sarpanches — Satvasheela Rajpure, Kisan Rajpure and Ramchandra Rajpure — who died nearly 15 years ago are repeated every five years when a new gram panchayat is to be chosen, Sheetal’s husband, Vishwas Rajpure, told ThePrint.
All three — Satvasheela, Kisan and Ramchandra — died in their 40s and 50s.
“They didn’t die while holding the sarpanch’s post. And there are several more examples of people who held the sarpanch post in the past and lived a long life. But because of the superstition, no one ever wanted the sarpanch’s post,” Vishwas, a farmer and a painting contractor, added.
In contrast, there are at least two villages in Maharashtra where the State Election Commission had to cancel polls after they found that the post of panchayat members and the sarpanch were being auctioned. In the Umrane village in the Nashik district, the sarpanch’s post was auctioned for Rs 2.05 crore recently.
Sheetal also said that the superstition was stronger in Rajpuri due to caste reservations for the sarpanch’s post in the last two-three terms. “The reality is that there were no candidates from that caste. But, local villagers gave it a spin as to how no one was willing to take the role after three deaths in the village,” she said.
Gram panchayat elections after 40 years
Rajpuri village witnessed gram panchayat elections after four decades. Until this year, the villagers would sit together and pick their representatives without going for an election.
“This time there were people who felt there should be an election. The youth of the village took the opportunity to also muster support for having a sarpanch. The post turned out to be reserved for a woman, and many requested me to take up the role,” Sheetal said.