Women's Day: Meet Lata Bhise, a sarpanch by day and 'puncture woman' at night
Lata Bhise, the sarpanch of Bhivari village near Pune, handles issues ailing her gram panchayat by day and her husband's garage in the evening, both with equal ease
Lata Bhise, 47, packs a punch and fixes punctures in equal measure. The sarpanch of Bhivari village in Pune district moonlights as a mechanic to run her husband's garage. "I handle the entire garage. But I don't wear a pant and shirt or a gown. I'm most comfortable in my saree," says the mother of four.
Bhise was elected unopposed as the sarpanch in 2015. She and husband Vitthol have four children: daughters Poonam, 27, Gitanjali, 28, and Jayshree, 21, and son Vijay, 24, who works as a clerk in a government office. Apart from the garage, Vitthol also has a mandap business.
Lata spends the first half of her day at her office, handling her duties as sarpanch. In the evening, she manages her husband's garage business
Started with a bicycle
Recalling how she began fixing vehicles, she says, "We have seen a lot of hard days due to our financial crisis and have always prepared for the worst. When my children were younger, my husband was usually away handling his mandap business. He would keep his garage , the only one in our village of 5,000, closed. One day, a girl came to our shop with her punctured bicycle, saying she could not go to school if she didn't get it repaired."
"But that day, my husband was out of town and I felt sorry for the girl. I had seen my husband changing tires and repairing punctures. So, I ended up repairing her bicycle. With all of my trial and error methods, I made an attempt and she managed to go to school. I did not even take money from her. But I was really happy knowing she was able to go to school that day because of me. That incident helped me become what I am today," she adds.
Made into a punch line
But instead of praising her for her efforts, the village turned Bhise into a joke. "After that incident, the villagers would tease and trouble me by calling me 'puncture woman'. Even the women would avoid speaking to me. But my children and husband inspired me and I continued working. Now, when my husband is out of town for his other business, I handle his entire garage. This business has helped me fund my children's education and save up for their marriage," she says.
However, Bhise's persistence has helped fix the villagers' attitude towards her. "The same people who used to tease me now come to me to repair their vehicle. I think my work at the garage gave me recognition and helped me win the election," she says.
A day in the life
So what is a day in her life like? Bhise says, "Everyday, I have meetings in my office from 10 am to noon, followed by an interaction with women and then by a visit to the school for an interaction with the girl students. Then, from 5 pm to 8 pm, I sit in my husband's garage."
"I only studied till the third standard and was married off at a very tender age. But, I believe girls can do extraordinary things," says the sarpanch. A proud Vitthol says, "My wife is an inspiration to me. She has had a greater share in ensuring the survival of our family."
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