Heerawati Devi is a woman on a mission. She is currently essaying a triple role.
First, she heads the Dalit majority Bhitari village panchayat on the outskirts of Varanasi. Second, she dabbles in film-making. The Bhojpuri movie ‘Manwa Base La Gaon Me’ produced by her is slated for a December release after lying in the cans for about a year.
Third, she passionately champions the cause of education, saying that it brings empowerment, the fruits of which she is enjoying now. Not surprisingly, her next film will be on the importance of education with a rural focus. She wants it to have a wide release, especially in the villages.
Flitting from the world of village politics to arc lights, Heerawati, in her mid 50s, says: “Shooting and editing (of the first film) are already complete. It couldn’t be released in 2015 since I was busy campaigning for the panchayat polls.” “The movie revolves around the culture of eastern UP,” she adds.
Besides investing her earnings, she received financial contributions from her husband Premnath, her children and a financial partner who left the project midway.
She does not, however, disclose the total amount she has invested in the film, starring Bhojpuri actors Deepak Singh and Seema Singh. It features eight songs sung by noted playback artistes Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik.
However, it was not her first foray in the world of entertainment.
In 2014, she produced a video album of devotional songs ‘Ambe Teri Aarti’ and it was well received.
Dwelling on how education has changed her life, she appeals to all villagers to educate their children.
“I passed Class 8 in 1971. The same year, I married Premnath who was considered a suitable groom by my parents,” she says.
Premnath was unemployed then. A year after marriage, she asked Premnath to take the class 10 examination but he refused initially.
Not losing hope, she kept up her request till she finally convinced him to take the exam.
“We both took the class 9 and 10 examination in 1982 and 1983 respectively while studying at Sampurnanand Sanskrit School. Both of us passed. I started teaching at a private school and became a tutor to support my husband. In the meantime, he got a government job in 1986,” she says.
She continued teaching and enrolled for a nursing course in a private hospital. The lessons learnt there helped her create awareness among rural women on health issues, particularly the do’s and don’ts during pregnancy. Using her knowledge, she helped rural women during child birth.
“My knowledge of nursing made me extremely popular among rural women. When the panchayat election was announced in 1996, a woman told me that if I contested, I would win. I gave it a thought and discussed it with my husband who willingly gave his consent . She went on to win,” she reveals.
She was re-elected village head in 2002. In 2007, she became a district panchayat member. And in 2015, she was back as the panchayat head.
Heerawati also says: “Education opened the doors of success for me. I suggest all should educate their children. Illiteracy is cause of many problems. I educated my all eight children, including two daughters. Seven of them hold government jobs. One is a doctor, another an engineer. The youngest one has recently done a course in nursing.”