Sushila Devi was just a Class 5 student when she married Yogendra Ram, a landless farm labourer in Dilawarpur Goverdhan village, Vaishali district, Bihar. Three-and-a-half decades later, the gritty woman has served a five-year term as the mukhiya of her panchayat and is a committed grassroots worker of the RJD.
Sushila, who belongs to the Ravidas caste, used to be part of the Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti, a voluntary organisation working with marginalised communities in Bihar. “I joined the organisation at a monthly stipend of Rs 50 and worked in as many as 16 districts to educate poor women,” she recalls. In 2006, she returned to her village to contest the panchayat elections, but lost by one vote. Five years later, she bounced back by winning with a margin of 2,216 votes. “I was elected a mukhiya and had the support of all communities,” she declares.
It was her dedication to the empowerment of poor women which endeared her to locals as well as RJD leaders. She is now ready to shoulder any responsibility that the party gives her. But it wasn’t an easy journey. Members of her caste ostracised her family when she continued studying after marriage. “They boycotted us, but my husband worked hard to ensure my education up to matriculation,” she says. “I owe it all to him.”
Sushila is currently canvassing for Shiv Chandra Ram, the RJD candidate for the Hajipur constituency and a former minister in the Bihar government. He is pitted against Pashupati Kumar Paras, the younger brother of LJP president, Ram Vilas Paswan. Reserved for Scheduled Castes, Hajipur is regarded as Paswan’s pocket borough. But that doesn’t deter Sushila, who spends her days mobilising support for the party nominee through various self-help groups. Her village falls under the Raghopur assembly constituency, which Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, the RJD heir apparent, currently represents.
“Poor people get sammaan (honour) and izzat (respect) in RJD and that’s why I have chosen to support it,” she explains. “Besides, the party candidate (Ram) is a grassroots worker and is always there for us when we need him. He does not skip a single social event in our village. Even Tejashwiji comes to our village.”
Despite her political achievements, her family’s economic situation remains bleak. Sushila’s husband continues to labour in fields as a sharecropper to make ends meet. “Both my sons are still unemployed. One of them is a graduate. I have also educated my three daughters well, but they don’t have jobs either,” she laments. “I hope our ‘achhe din’ come after the polls.”