Wednesday, Jun 07, 2023

Nirmala Bharatiya: A Dalit Daughter Aiming To Rise Above Caste Politics

Nirmala Bharatiya: A Dalit Daughter Aiming To Rise Above Caste Politics

Nirmala Bharatiya was chosen by Priyanka Gandhi as the candidate from Chitrakoot after the Congress general secretary heard her speak about the problems of the farmers in the region during an event organised by the party under its 'Ladki Hun, Lad Sakti Hun' campaign.

Chitrakoot's Congress candidate Nirmala Bharatiya
Chitrakoot's Congress candidate Nirmala Bharatiya

When Nirmala Bharatiya was offered the Congress ticket from UP’s Chitrakoot constituency for the ongoing assembly elections in the state, she lapped up the opportunity without a second thought.

“The only way to make change happen was by becoming a part of this system…by participating in the politics of the country,” she says. 

She says she has been working towards it for quite some time now.

She pursued a Bachelor's degree in political science, followed by a degree in law, and a Master's in social work. While she pursued her education, she kept fighting, on the side, the small battles of the people in Mau where she lives. Sometimes it would be about problems of electricity, at other times it would be an irrigation issue bothering a group of farmers in the area. 

It was during one such fight in 2014, for which she had marched into the office of the sub-divisional magistrate, where she was spotted by a senior member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

“She was fighting for the rights of a farmer in her area, and I saw how the SDM, instead of resolving the problem, was misusing his power to shut her down. So we decided to rope her into our party so that she was able to do the good work she wanted to do,” says Ram Singh, Nirmala's mentor and BKU Zila adhyaksh, Chitrakoot.

After her induction in BKU, she fought and won the Zila panchayat elections in Chitrakoot in 2016, under Singh’s mentorship. Singh says he crowdfunded Rs 32,000 to ensure that she could fight the polls. She, however, lost the panchayat polls in 2021.

According to Singh, Nirmala was not afraid of the struggle required to achieve success, and it was this approach of hers that made her a suitable candidate in the assembly polls. 

Her candidature is part of Congress’ promise of offering 40 per cent of the party tickets to women in these elections.

Born in a Dalit family, Nirmala, the eldest of the six siblings, grew up in abject poverty. The family earns its livelihood through a small ration shop, and by selling candles and incense sticks that they make at home.

Having seen her parents struggle in order to make ends meet between feeding the family and getting the children educated, she says she had, early on in her life, resolved to “fight for what she believed was right”.

She was chosen by Priyanka Gandhi as the candidate from Chitrakoot after the Congress general secretary heard her speak about the problems of the farmers in the region during an event organised by the party under its “Ladki Hun, Lad Sakti Hun” campaign.

Ensuring she makes the best of the opportunity that has come her way, she has been campaigning aggressively ever since her nomination was announced.

She says she leaves her home every day at seven in the morning, and visits at least 12-18 villages in a day. During her visits, she organises “nukkad sabhas” in these villages where she interacts with the villagers and talks about her poll promises. 

A large part of her campaign is directed towards promising upliftment of the women in her constituency. Nirmala herself went to college at the Bundelkhand University, at least 30 kms away from her home. Because of the distance, she attended very few classes physically, and only went to the university to take the exams. 

“I do not want that to happen to other girls and women in my constituency. I want to ensure that there are schools, and colleges within distances that can be travelled easily and safely by women,” she says.

She has also promised to build toilets, and provide skill development training for women. 

“Governments keep saying that they have made toilets in the villages but nothing has happened. I also want to ensure that women get vocational training in sewing, pickle and papad making so that they can earn a livelihood,” she says.

The Chitrakoot constituency that goes to the polls on February 27, has seen only two assembly elections till now, one in 2012 which was won by Veer Singh of the Samajwadi Party, and one in 2017, won by the incumbent Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

To turn the tide in Congress’ favour, Nirmala has been paying door to door visits to her voters, ensuring them of a “change” that will come if they vote her — a “dalit ki beti” to power. 

As a token of their promise, she asks them to donate Re 1 worth of a fistful of grain.

But despite her best efforts, Arun Pandey, also a member of BKU who has worked closely with Nirmala, is not very optimistic about her win.

The voting patterns in Chitrakoot are dominated by the caste politics of the region. Between the brahmans and Yadavs, who reportedly form the majority share of the voters, are unlikely to vote for either Congress or a Dalit woman, Pandey says. 

And the Dalit votes in the region are likely to go to the Mayawati led-Bahujan Samaj Party candidate, he adds. 

According to him, Nirmala’s only chance of winning would be because of all the “noticeable good work” she has done in the past. 

As a member of the BKU and Zila panchayat, she has led several protests over the provision of electricity and compensation for farmers, who lost crops due to lightning and hail storms. She has also agitated for reasonable “fasal beema” (crop insurance) for farmers.

In 2017, she led an 18-day protest demanding the timely cleaning of canals in the area to ensure that clean water comes to the water tanks, Pandey says.

“People of Chitrakoot have seen her work relentlessly. That is what will get her votes.”  

Nirmala, however, refuses to get bogged down by the caste politics of her constituency. She says she has been visiting the houses of people from all castes and everyone has received her with equal enthusiasm.

“As a member of the Zila panchayat, I had tried to break the caste politics in Chitrakoot. I will continue to do the same in these elections as well,” she says.