While taking a stroll around my neighbourhood park, I overheard a few old men discussing presidential candidates.
“She doesn’t look like a presidential candidate,” remarked one man. Another added, “No one has heard about her before. Droupadi Murmu, I’m not sure if she’d make a very good president.” “BJP has nominated her just because she is an ideal candidate who fits in their agenda. There’s nothing special about her. I bet people won’t be able to even pronounce her name properly,” said someone jokingly.
I would not have paid much attention to the news around the nomination and election of presidential candidates had it not been for the above unkind comments that I heard in the park.
The incident was put me off but it also compelled me to research about Droupadi Murmu, the 15th president of India. I would like to confess that the more I read about her the more overwhelmed I felt. She may have risen to the prestigious post of President of India today but her personal and political journey has not been a bed of roses.
Droupadi Murmu is a woman who has always defied the odds, the ideal living example of ‘never give up’ spirit. She is also one of the most humble women I have ever read about. Just as the scores of TV channels beamed the news about her nomination as NDA’s (National Democratic Alliance) Presidential candidate, her modest and kind demeanour remained unchanged, and she continued to sweep the floors of a Shiv Temple, just as she did everyday.
The woman who has now created history as India’s first tribal female president, was born on 20th June 1958, in Baidaposi village of Mayurbhanj district in Odisha, to the chief of the village, Biranchi Narayan Tudu. She was born into a Santhal tribe, primarily an agricultural community.
Droupadi’s dreams as a child and later her aspirations as a politician were always humble but were opposed by her rigid community, who did not think it was appropriate for a woman to step out of the house. While giving an interview to a TV show ‘Ek Mulakat’, she said that she only planned to study, get a regular job and support her family financially. I believe many women from rural India wish to be educated and earn for their families, but are always stopped by baseless stereotypes and prejudices. However, Droupadi Murmu was not one of them.
After marrying Shyam Charan Murmu and giving birth to her three children, she defied the odds, and began her career as a teacher at a public school in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
I truly admire her courage to defy the prejudices and her desire to get educated. The only way to overcome poverty and wretchedness is to educate yourself and gain knowledge, and Droupadi knew that very well.
After working as a teacher and an assistant professor for a few years, she started working for social organisations that focused on uplifting people from the backwards classes. Coming from a low socio-economic background, Droupadi knew the struggles of her community and resolved to serve the impoverished and deprived people of her country.
Her commitment to her people is so strong that even when they were not supportive of her life-decisions, she still wished to help and empower them.
Later Droupadi took up social work as a full-time profession which set her on the path of politics. However, people from her society who generally perceived politics as a dirty-business looked down upon her for joining the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in 1997.
Murmu was elected as BJP MLA in 2000 from Rairangpur and in 2009 from Mayurbhanj.
Defying the naysayers she continued in politics and was appointed the Minister of State with Independent Charge for Commerce and Transport and then the Minister of Fisheries and Animal Resources Development. For a woman coming from such a modest background, these were truly great achievements.
But unfortunately, fate and luck soon left her side and she entered the darkest phase in her life.
In 2009, the death of her 25-year-old son left her devastated. In an interview to The Economic Times: Panache, she admitted how she went into depression and spent many sleepless nights weeping and mourning her loss.
But she knew she had to move on with her life and live for her other two children, a son and daughter.
This was also the beginning of her spiritual journey and she approached the Brahma Kumaris.
Her darkest times were far from over, and light seemed like a distant hope, even as she walked on spirituality’s sacred path. In 2013, her second son died and it was yet another devastating jolt to her as a mother. It really pains me to write this, but three more deaths followed thereafter – her brother, mother and her husband.
She sought peace and consolation in meditation, yoga, and spiritual counselling. Despite the traumatic experiences that Droupadi had experienced, she continued her work with the same enthusiasm and refused to succumb to grief.
I am deeply moved and inspired at the same time by her courage and faith in spirituality. It teaches me that even in the darkest of times, spirituality can be your guiding light.
My words cannot express my admiration for her resilient spirit and I hope she becomes a role model for every girl of her community and India. Most of us will never be able to understand her pain or grasp the severity of her losses. Nor will we be able to understand the strength of her character which was time-by-time put under fire. But the least we can do is give her the respect she deserves.
Droupadi had already made her first mark in the history of India when she became the 1st female governor of Jharkhand on 18 May 2015.
Her life experiences, her kindness, her humble nature, her consistency, her strong character, resilience and above all her belongingness to her roots makes her a persona of difference and more than eligible for the post of 15th President of India.
As a young girl who aspires to become a politician myself, Droupadi Murmu gives me the hope that women of all castes and class can break away from the confines of prejudices and emerge as powerful leaders and politicians. It does not matter where you are born, what colour your skin is, what your name or cast is. It does not matter if society thinks you are incapable or undeserving, because people who are born to leave their mark on the golden pages of history, will always find a way to do it.