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Bhawani Valmiki, popularly known as Bhawani ma, is a transgender candidate contesting the 2019 elections from Allahabad. Here are some of her thoughts as the AAP candidate.
It was the year 2000. Shabnam “mausi” (aunt) made history when she stepped into the Madhya Pradesh assembly as the first transgender MLA in India. The year now is 2019, and there hasn’t been any representation from the community in the Lok Sabha yet.
Amongst the very few candidates from LGBTQIA+ candidates making a foray into these elections (there are a total of 5), is Bhawani Valmiki popularly known as Bhawani Ma. She is the Kinnar Samajh Akhada Mahamandaleshwar, and its North India in-charge. Bhawani Ma is the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) candidate from Allahabad, which goes for elections on May 12th. She faces BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Rajendra Pratap Singh of Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in opposition.
As part of the Shakti campaign called #BallotShakti aimed at highlighting and promoting women candidates for Lok Sabha 2019, volunteers are having a series of candid conversations with women contesting elections. As part of the campaign, recently I spoke with Bhawani Ma, a transgender candidate contesting from the prestigious Allahabad (Prayagraj) constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Here I share with you a peek into the conversation –
Politics is tough for women and marginalised communities. I ask Bhawani Ma what made her take a plunge.
“I am here to serve the people. I represent issues of the common man, irrespective of caste, religion and community. India is one of the youngest nations of the world but has a high percentage of educated unemployed. I and my community have prayed for this youth since they were born and now seeing them in this state, pains me.”
“How can the future of a nation be bright if its youth is educated unemployed? In bachchon ko humne hee goud (lap) mein khilaya hai, dua kee hai. Aisa lagta hai dua chchoti hoti jaa rahee hai, kyonki yuva pareshan hai’(We have raised these children in our laps, now as youth they are in pain, it seems our prayers are falling short because the youth is anxious and dissatisfied).”
“The main issues I am standing for are unemployment, water, women’s safety, and education. There are villages where as many as 200 families are dependent upon one single tap. Imagine, this is the state of a constituency like Allahabad…”
Funds for campaigning constitute a significant deterrent for many to enter politics. While a few use their personal money, others have used innovative methods like crowdsourcing, while the national parties may have their funders for the elections. I am curious to know if that has been a challenge for Bhawani Ma in her election campaign.
“Money se zyada chunao himmat se lada jaata hai, paiso se jang ladee jaati hai aur mein jung ladne nahin aayee yahan par…(More than money, elections are won with courage and will power, money helps you win wars, and I am not here for any war).”
“I don’t have funds to hold big rallies or mass campaigns. I go door to door, and to places where the problems are grave. I sit and speak with people, use nukkad nataksand meetings. I don’t have any financial help from party. People give small donations like Rs. 500 or 1000. I have some personal money which I am using. However, I am a firm believer that people win elections with will power, courage and determination.”
I try probing Bhawani Ma to find out if there is something which she perceives as a challenge as a candidate in the elections. She begins with optimism.
“I have a lot of will power. Also, I have support from the public. Only these two things help someone win. I am blessed to have both. I do sometimes think about funds. But then I look at the positive side. That because I have a lack of funds, I am meeting people in person. Kyonki mere paas zyada funds nahin, mujhe un gandi bastiyoon mein jaane ka mauka mil raha hai. Agar mein rally karti to kahan mil paati logon se, kahan baat kar paati unse…(Because I don’t have much funds, I am forced to go those dirty streets and filthy places where actually there is a problem. If I had funds and I held big rallies, this wouldn’t have been possible)”.
“When I meet people, I hear them, listen to their problems and issues. And tell my stories to them. In today’s world, we need more people to listen and act rather than indulge in big rallies.“
Even though women form 50% of population, there are just 12% women in the Parliament and this figure hasn’t seen any significant change since independence. I want to know what Bhawani Ma’s thoughts are regarding the Women Reservation Bill which hasn’t been able to see the light of the day yet.
“Dekhiye aap teen kapde pahenti hain, mein bhi teen kapde pahenti hoon. Jo nigayein aapko buri tarah se dekhti hain, mujhe bhi dekhti hain. Aapki pareshaniyaan mein samjhtee hoon…(I completely understand the issues that women face, I face the same).”
“I am in complete support of the Women Reservation Bill, and I have been speaking about supporting it since 2004. 33% is every woman’s right and they must get it. When women are 50% of the population, then why shouldn’t parliament have that representation for a correct perspective on women issues? Moreover, there is no other way to take care of them without having more women in the parliament. That is why I am in full support of the bill.“
Patriarchy and dynastical politics have had a major role in ensuring that politics becomes the business of men and remains within the families.
Says Bhawani Ma, “Politics is a business in our country. Politics ko dharohar samjha jaata hai, mein mantri hoon to mera beta bhi mantri bane (Politics is considered the treasure of dynasties in our country. If I am a member of Parliament, my son will also be). Blood relations shouldn’t have a place in politics. I am totally against it.“
She adds, “Aap jan seva ke liye aayein, ghar seva ke liye nahin. Aur kinnar samaaj ka to parivaar aap ho… mera to koi nahin hai, maine to koi paida hee nahin kiya…(Enter politics for the service of nation not service of your family. We kinnars have no family, we haven’t given birth to anyone, for us everyone is our family). Whatever I will do would be for the society.“
“Neeti aur Niyat ek hogi to achcha rajneta banega (For a good politician, it is mandatory to have a combination of policy and intention). I only believe and work with this principle.”
“Our constitution has given equal rights to everyone. Everyone has a right to live and contribute for their country. Just because there is some ‘abnormality’, don’t think we are small. I am grateful to AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) which has entrusted me with this responsibility looking at my calibre. I request all the parties to give opportunity to kinnar samaaj also to serve people. History is proof that we have contributed in all eras and ages. We have served as senapatis (commander), we have a mention in Ramayana and Mahabharata.“
“Humein nazarandaaz na keejeye, humein use keejeye taki hum bhi desh ke liye kaam aayein..,(Do not neglect us, use our services and calibre for the development of the country). Only if we include everyone who is a citizen of this country, we can solve the problems in entirety.”
I wish Bhawani Ma the best for her endeavour and hope that our Parliament will have inclusive and balanced representation post-2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Author’s note– Shakti – “Political Power to Women” is a non-partisan inclusive platform of women who have joined hands to change the imbalance in the equation of women representation in Indian politics. It is a citizens’ movement striving to bring more women to power by working at multiple levels. Author is a volunteer of this movement. Do read in about it and join the movement.
Images source: Bhawani ma
Present - India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social Activist. Past - DU, Harvard, Telecoms-India and abroad read more...
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