Independence Day: As a Dalit woman politician, I can now wear my identity with ease
With this sense of freedom, another question arises as the 77th year of our independence begins: Are leaders like me only going to be an anomaly?
Written by Nayana Motamma
I am not cut from the same cloth as several of my peers. Nor do I conform to the social and political norms, the images of what a person should be, that are so common in India. That is why I feel truly liberated this Independence Day: I was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly from the Mudigere constituency, as a Congress party legislator, in the elections held earlier this year.
My journey bears testimony to how far we have come in 76 years of freedom as a country. An educated woman, a Dalit with a modern outlook — a non-conformist — has been accepted by the people in an upper-caste dominated reserved constituency. My election was far from a foregone conclusion. There were many people who believed that I would fail because I do not check all the boxes of a traditional politician. I am not an Ambedkarite, as the term is now defined. Nor do I present the classical virtues that our polity demands from women who wish to make a mark in public life. To top it all, I am a mother’s daughter in the political world. In our patriarchal society, to be the daughter of a woman politician comes with its own set of challenges, which the children of male politicians do not encounter. For all these reasons, many believed that I was bound to fail.
For me, the electoral victory shows how much our country has matured. Remember, I was accepted by voters in a largely rural milieu. I worked mostly with women and young voters in the last few years to influence their thinking. I created an “aspirational value” around myself by instilling the belief that it was good to desire different things, like wanting to live life in a big way and not be “modest” just because you come from a Scheduled Caste. My approach as a political representative is different: I seek to inspire those of my constituents who come from economically deprived circumstances. I hope that they aspire for more — even if it is just to buy rice from a supermarket instead of a government-run ration shop.
To be able to aspire is what signals the expansion of freedom amongst people, and both my short-term and long-term goals are aimed towards enabling this expansion. For example, one of my top priorities, in the short term, is to strengthen and improve infrastructure and connectivity in my constituency where people in far-off villages of 20-30 houses often have to travel far to access a hospital, school or government office.
Another priority is building more and better hospitals that are easily accessible to people in rural areas. It may seem like I’m addressing basic needs, but that is precisely my point: For people to be able to experience freedom to any meaningful degree, their primary needs must be met. My long-term goals, of building coaching centres that are affordable and accessible to everyone, and enabling job creation, especially for women, are geared towards the same end.
The idea of India must continue to evolve and expand. The politics of the day, and the politicians who play a part in it, need to accept that things are changing. They need to move away from their traditional outlook to accept the newer political idioms and methods — and the politicians that embody them. By choosing candidates like me, with the voters then endorsing that choice, such a change will be made a widespread reality.
There is also another sense of freedom: I now wear the “Dalit identity” with ease as an elected representative — unlike when I worked as a corporate lawyer. That is because being a politician comes with a certain power, one which makes it inevitable that people will accept you. Consider the position of someone from my community who doesn’t have that power and how much the question of social acceptability — about who would befriend them, marry them, cooperate with them at work — weighs on them. It weighed on me when I was working as a lawyer, this sense of unease about acceptability.
As a politician now, I’ve been able to shed that because I know that when people want something, they will come to me and my background won’t matter. That is a liberating thought.
It’s easy to make cliched statements like more educated people or women need to be elected as representatives. But bringing about such a change requires more than words. It is about genuinely understanding the voters, the situations and trials they face on the ground and establishing an emotional connection. That is the key to bringing about change.
I realise that I am walking a tightrope in my political life because of my attitude and the perceptions of me. But it is in this space that I believe the essence of freedom lies: To be elected, to represent a constituency without diluting my core gives me a true sense of freedom.
With this sense of freedom, another question arises as the 77th year of our independence begins: Are leaders like me only going to be an anomaly? Is India truly ready for more politicians and elected representatives like me? My win, perhaps, is just a start. And with more leaders who don’t fit into conventional ideas of what a politician should be, the idea of freedom will expand more and more.
The writer is MLA from Mudigere, Karnataka
Courtesy : TIE
Note: This news piece was originally published in theindianexpress.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right