Not a rubber stamp – In Draupadi Murmu’s backyard, the thirst for development has just skyrocketed

DRupadi Murmu’s house had been frequently stalked by Yama devta, the Hindu god of death, causing unbearable sadness. But her nomination as a presidential candidate by the Bharatiya Janata Party brought soul back into her life.

Not only her life, but the Santhal tribal community, residing in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha (where she is from) and Jharkhand, is also turned upside down. The tribal families are aware that this is only a symbolic but important gesture.

The villagers of Santhal are overjoyed | Special arrangement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s selection of Murmu for the post of president – dubbed on the pitch as ‘Pratham Nagrik’ – has been so well received among the Indian tribes that it has, overnight, opened the window of a rare opportunity for a civilizational push aimed at bringing them closer to traditional India. It’s a tough call, but an opportunity for sure.

In recent decades, the spread of education and improved road networks have brought about fundamental differences in tribal life in India. This needs a stronger push now as most of the substantial promises made to the tribals remain unfulfilled.

This is not an exaggerated expectation.

The thirst for development

A single visit to Uperbeda, Murmu’s birthplace, Pahadpur, her husband’s family village, and Rairangpur, the seat of Mayurbhanj district — where Murmu, a two-time MP, has lived for many years — can give a idea of ​​how the oldest inhabitants of India residing in the forests is restless.

Murmu will be the first tribal leader and Odisha to become president if elected.

Tribals are solidly uniting behind Murmu, just as the African-American community had lent its support to the rise of Barack Obama.

The local BJP unit put up signs showing Draupadi Murmu and PM Modi in towns and villages wishing for his victory.

Many residents of local villages have neither heard of Raisina Hill, New Delhi – Murmu’s new residential address after his likely victory – nor the limitation of the Indian President’s constitutional powers. But praying for her’nirvachan‘ (election), they demand more development in their forests.

The Santhals have revived their demand for the construction of a bypass road at Rairangpur on the Ranchi-Vijayawada highway. Uperbeda residents want the railway lines to be extended further from Badampahar and Gorumahisani – two legendary hills where iron ores are mined and which have been symbols of tribal exploitation for decades in the region.

Residents around these iron ore deposits complain about questionable management of the District Mineral Foundation, set up after the 2015 amendment to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 to help affected communities by mining. Their thirst for development is there to see.

Read also : Why Dhankhar and Murmu are perfect for Modi’s 2024 mission

Uperbeda Putti

Sarswati Tudu, a close relative and confidant of Murmu, told me: “All the villages of Mayurbhanj held rituals in our place of worship called Jhakhira. Our gods are Sal trees, animals, insects and plants. Anytime ‘may’ (Murmu) comes to Uperbeda, she invariably prays to Jhakhira and the Vad tree. We were told many years ago that someone from Uperbeda would become a very big person in India.

Then she tells me a story.

“Our family is Tudu. We cannot get married in the Tudus. Draupadi married into the Murmu family in the nearby village. The Tudu family is called the Sardar family because Draupadi’s father, Biranchi Narayan, and his grandfather were the heads of the village panchayat. Our village is blessed by the Budha Rana pahad (pointing his finger to the nearby hill). Hamare liye pahad hi bhagwan hai (For us, the hill is our god). Budha Rana had seven daughters. Kamla and Bimla, two of the girls, came down to our village. We built temples for these goddesses in 1967. Since then, they have protected us. Draupadi is a blessed daughter of Uperbeda. Already four families of Uperbeda have succeeded each other in politics. Kartik Tudu, our uncle, was a pastor in Bhubaneshwar. He helped Draupadi complete his matriculation and study in a college in Bhubaneshwar,” she said.

Draupadi was named after her paternal grandmother Draupadi Tudu, but her nickname is Putti. Her political career began in 1997 as a local councilor for the BJP.

Samay Tudu, her uncle and retired bank manager, says: “She is an emotional person but a firm woman. She is a jiddi woman (stubborn). His determination is strong. Don’t underestimate his ability. She is cultured, can give speeches and understands what is good for the tribal community. She has a strong sense of pride in herself. Don’t call it a “rubber stamp”.

Rabindra Patnaik, a family friend of Murmu for 40 years and a journalist based in Rairangpur, says: “She is a simple woman with few needs. His favorite dish is Pakhala, a watery local dish made from rice and curd. She is a strict vegetarian, follows the Hindu religion and steers clear of superstitions while keeping faith in tribal culture. When she was governor of Jharkhand, she questioned the law, saying it was not in the interest of the tribes. She refused to sign it. In her elementary school class, she was the best in studies and sports. There were 40 boys and 8 girls in her class. As a rule, the topper becomes a monitor, but more than 55 years ago, in a patriarchal society, she was not allowed to do so. She fought hard and became the overseer.

Draupadi Murmu is not a charismatic mass leader like Shibu Soren, but her credibility as a social worker in her constituency of Mayurbhanj is quite high.

His social circle consists of modest friends. Patnaik claims, “She never dabbled in iron ore money spinning business.” In most of his speeches to tribal audiences, Murmu says, “Remember we are equal. Apne ko chota nahin samaIhn / A (Do not consider yourself inferior).

Read also : Rise of Draupadi Murmu brings back fight between Santali academics and Ol Chiki government lobby

Coming out of a “tsunami”

Murmu’s personal life is a story of resilience and “self-pride”. There was an unforgettable moment for her in 2009 when her 25-year-old son Lakshman died suddenly after attending a rally in Bhubaneshwar. His death broke her. Supriya Kumari, director of the Brahma Kumari ashram in Rairangpaur, told me: “She was completely devastated. She didn’t even have life in her to speak of.

In one of the lectures on Brahma Kumari’s TV show, Murmu herself recounted this event: “Tsunami came into my life in 2009. It was a huge jolt for me. I didn’t hear anything for a few days. I sank into depression. k logehte you for mar jaegi (People thought I wouldn’t survive). But no, I wanted to live.

After two months, she called Kumari at the ashram, took a course and learned Sahaj Rajyog. She got over it by changing her life. Since then, she gets up every day around 3:30 a.m. and goes to bed around 9:30 p.m. She does yoga and meditation tirelessly and is also punctual. The spiritual inclination of life not only survived her, but also stabilized her.

But tragedy struck Murmu again when his youngest son Shipun died in a road accident. When her body was brought home, she was completely broken, once again.

Rajesh Sharma, a local journalist who was present at her home, said: “She was crying uncontrollably. She collapsed in front of her son’s body. She raised her hands to the sky asking, ‘My God, what more do you want from me? What’s left now?’ The disaster came en masse.

In an indescribable series of events, her mother and a younger brother died within a month. And a year later, due to deep depression, her husband, Shyam Charan Murmu, also passed away.

At that time, Draupadi Murmu told a TV presenter with pain in her voice, “When my second son died, the shaking was a little less than before because I was doing meditation. My husband wasn’t as strong as me, so he couldn’t survive. She insisted that her only daughter, Itishree, get married and lead a normal life. After the death of five members of her family, she turned to spirituality and vegetarianism. When she was governor of Jharkhand (2015-2021), she made the cuisine completely vegetarian. She is likely to bring about many fundamental changes in the management of the Rashtrapati Bhavan government if she becomes president.

Murmu donated his family’s land in Pahadpur for public causes. She runs the SLS boarding school in memory of her husband and two sons. At the exact spot she made samadhis in their memory. It is a heartbreaking sight.

Murmu's family home in Pahadpur has been converted into a school |  Special arrangement
Murmu’s family home in Pahadpur has been converted into a school | Special arrangement

At the same time, when you see tribal girls and boys enjoying free education and a decent environment around samadhis, you can visualize a bright future from a deadly past.

Bow Draupadi Murmu, to be the President of India!

Sheela Bhatt is a senior journalist based in Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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