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Chennai Elects First Dalit Woman Mayor. Here are Three Dalit Women Leaders Who Inspire.

In 334 years of history of Greater Chennai Corporation, the 28-year-old Priya is the first Dalit woman to hold the position and the third woman overall.

R Priya's swearing-in as Mayor of Chennai
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R Priya of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was sworn in as the mayor of Chennai on Friday. The 28-year-old is the first Dalit woman, and the third-ever woman to occupy this post since the Greater Chennai Corporation was formed, 334 years ago. Both, the current Chief Minister MK Stalin and current Health Minister Ma Subramanian, have served on this post at some point in their political careers. 

Priya, a councillor from Ward 74, Mangalapuram, was elected unopposed as there was no other applicant. While 28 might sound rather young for a politician, Priya is not new to politics. She joined DMK at age 18, while her father has been with DMK since 1987 and her grandfather Chengai Sivam was a DMK MLA. She has not given up on her education and recently completed Masters of Commerce from Sri Kanyaka Parameswari Arts & Science College for Women. 

Here, are three other Dalit women politicians who stand out for their fight against patriarchy and casteism.

Mayawati

She is the tallest Dalit leader who was elected four times as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh without any political family backing. Her first tenure in 1995 only lasted for four months, and the second and third stint were six months in 1997 and around 17 months in 2002–03. However, in 2007 she succeeded in embarking on her first full tenure as chief minister. Despite being out of power for a decade now, she still remains an icon for Dalits and lower income groups who are constantly struggling to attain upward social mobility. An often-missed electoral brilliance of Mayawati is her ability to weave a social coalition, as seen in 2007 between Dalits and Hindu Brahmins – the “upper caste” community who have historically been accused of mistreating Dalits.

Meira Kumar

She is the first Dalit woman, and the first woman as well, to preside over the sanctum sanctorum of the Indian democracy as Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Kumar entered politics in 1985 and won a by-election in Uttar Pradesh against two other Dalit candidates – Mayawati being one of them. As Speaker, Kumar is credited with launching a number of initiatives; one being reducing up to 30 per cent usage of paper in the House that happened after she issued tablet computers to Lok Sabha members. Her profile on Britannica Encyclopedia notes that she has also supported the nationwide movement of opposing violence against women.

Kumari Selja

She is a senior Congress leader and current president of the party’s unit in Haryana – the only woman to have held this post till now. She was not only the Cabinet minister from Haryana in the then Congress-led government, but also the only Dalit woman from the party to hold this post, noted a Rediff.com article. Selja maintains a low profile, and was quoted saying in an interview: “In politics, there is no beginning and there is no end. Politics is full of struggle, especially for those from my background. It has always been a struggle and will continue to be so.”

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