‘God Lives in the Panch’ is a tale of a relationship between the two protagonists, Jumman Shaikh and Alagu Chowdhary. They have immense faith in each other and share a bond of enduring friendship even though their respective personalities are quite different. The entire village praises their commitment to each other.
Since childhood, both have studied together and grown closer under the instruction of Jumman’s father. He was a strict educator and quite stern with mistakes. Jumman eventually became a deed writer. Alagu’s father was completely opposite to Jumman’s and believed in a liberal form of education. In course of due time, however, he started to lag behind Jumman in studies. However, a testament to their strong knot, their mutual regard remained formidable.
Jumman had an old and dependent Aunt. She owned some property in her name but found old age too taxing. Consequently, they mutually decided to help each other. Jumman would inherit her land in return for taking care of his Aunt in her last days. Naturally, the responsibility for her upkeep and care fell on Jumman’s wife.
Even though the two started off positively enough, Jumman’s wife started to get flustered by the demands of an aging Aunt and this frustration started to show in her disregard for the Aunt’s daily care. Gradually, the rancor started to boil over with frequent quarrels and clashes between the two. Becoming exasperated at the continued neglect and humiliation, the Aunt finally complained to Jumman. He, to her utter disbelief, remained quiet under the spell of his wife.
Consequently, the Aunt asked for a monthly allowance to procure her own food but the appeal fell on deaf ears. Growing desperate, the old lady started to narrate her misery to villagers but did not receive much warmth save from Alagu. There were mixed responses from the villagers with some offering her consolation and others resorting to ridiculing her troubles. Finally, as the last resort, she decided to take her cause to the Panch.
The Panch Goes to the Session
The enduring justice of the Panch was called in to solve the matter. The day was fixed and so the Panchayat was convened. At first, Jumman was asked to nominate a villager as the Panch as he was the defendant. His uncertain response led to the offer being transposed to his Aunt.
She proposed Alagu’s name, her only sympathizer. Jumman felt confident that his old friend will decide in his favor and so Alagu chaired the session. Answering the call of duty as the Judge, Alagu announced his verdict –either Jumman returns his Aunt’s property or agrees to a monthly dole for her expenses.
Expectedly, Jumman was enraged and equated Alagu’s decision to the betrayal of their friendship. This dealt an irreparable damage to their friendship as Jumman started holding a grudge against his former friend.
As fate would have it, some days later one of Alagu’s bullock died. Out of options, he was impelled to sell his other bullock to Samjhu Sahu, a cart owner. Samjhu was a greedy and opportunistic man. To maximize his profits he overworked the bullock to the point of abuse. Resultantly, the weary animal died and left Samjhu in a pickle.
The agreement of sale between Alagu and Samjhu allowed for a spell of one month to fulfill the payments. The bullock died within such time-period and Samjhu decided to refuse the outstanding payment he owed to Alagu. Entreated by some other villagers to desist from payments, Samjhu became defiant and a feud broke out between the two men. Seeing no other option, Alagu decided to knock on the doors of the Panch.
History Repeats Itself
At the Panchayat setting, Samjhu was invited to offer a name for the Panch. Aware of the history, he nominated Jumman for the chair the session. Alagu resigned to his fate, waited for the proceedings to take their course. Jumman, even though hurt by his friend, knew the sanctity of the position he was in. He could not break the commitment of the Panch to absolute neutrality and fairness.
Answering the call of his conscience, Jumman ruled that Samjhu had to pay the amount he owed to the seller Alagu. Even though the bullock died before the finish of a one-month period, it was in healthy condition when the sale was made. Hence, its eventual death could not be reason enough to justify non- payment.
Inflated with joy and relief, Alagu embraced Jumman. The two decided to drop their bitterness and forget the past mistakes. Thus, the distinguished call of duty of the Panch was honored. By dispensing fair verdict both Jumman and Alagu preserved the sacred ideal of equitable justice and fair-play.
The ethical values, espoused by the protagonists of the story, beautifully intertwine the flaws of human nature as well as the strength to overcome them. Any great institution is only as good as the one who operates and controls it.
The timeless adage of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ only holds true when human beings devote themselves to their call of conscience and duty. The central theme highlights that justice knows no friendship or enmity.
A person who assumes the position of dispensing justice must deliver it without regard for personal biases, and loyalties like caste, race, creed, kinship etc. The principles of justice, truth and fairness are even more important today when the social life is stricken with the evils of systemic nepotism, personal ambition, materialism, greed, and inequality.