Mayawati draws spotlight in US

Updated on Oct 15, 2007 08:11 PM IST

Newsweek profiles Maya among eight women leaders worldwide who have reached the top despite all odds.

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PTI | ByDharam Shourie, New York

Uttar Pradesh's firebrand Chief Minister Mayawati has been profiled by the US magazine Newsweek among eight women leaders worldwide who have reached the top despite all odds, with the dalit leader narrating her struggle to rally the oppressed community.

Writing in the magazine, the 51-year-old Bahujan Samaj Party chief, who swept the Assembly elections early this year with a rainbow coalition of dalits, upper castes and Muslims, says her aim is to replicate the victory in the other states and prepare for the bigger struggle to capture power in New Delhi.

Mayawati says her party initially needed an aggressive approach to rally the poor Dalits. "Political parties dominated by upper castes got alarmed by the rising masses.

"Their opposition cut short each of my first four stints as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and it became clear we needed to broaden the base to include the poor irrespective of caste or religion," she said.

So, Mayawati says, she organised village-level amity meetings for the poor irrespective of caste or religion. "Our efforts were met with calumny, attacks and lawsuits, but we struggled on, and prevailed in elections this May. For the first time in 17 years, a majority government led by a Dalit is in place in Uttar Pradesh," she adds.

Apart from Mayawati, others who write their success story include CEO of the French Energy Conglomerate "Areva" Anne Lauvergeon and Director General of World Health Organization Margaret Chan.

The article, which traces the history since Elizabeth I ruled Britain, says in their pursuit of power, women have been as ruthless as any man.

In 18th-century Russia, Catherine the Great vastly extended the borders of the Russian Empire. More recently, it says elected leaders like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher proved that women can be just as tough as men, and often tougher.

"And just like a man, they can pay the ultimate price in their pursuit of power, as Gandhi did" when she was assassinated in 1984 by Sikh militants, the magazine said.

Writing about what inspired to take a path unusual for Dalit, Mayawati says she was born into a Dalit family in Delhi and grew up with eight siblings in a modest home in a crowded neighborhood.

But family often spent holidays in their grand parents' village in Uttar Pradesh.

"During these trips I became acutely aware of the oppression that the Dalits in India faced. When I was in eighth grade, I began noticing that our relatives' huts were always in the most neglected and impoverished part of the village.
Invariably, the Brahmins and upper castes would occupy the best houses and plots of land," she adds.

Mayawati says in the city she did not face such violent discrimination as these poor, illiterate villagers. "My heart ached, and I asked my father if I could do something to help. My father told me that without a proper education, I would not be able to do anything to help our people," she adds.

"So my own education became a priority," she says, adding that education for the weaker sections remains her priority today.

Mayawati graduated from Delhi University, took a job as a teacher, acquired a law degree and started preparing for civil services.

But in 1984, Mayawati plunged into full time politics after the then BSP chief Kanshi Ram took her under his tutelage.
"My parents were apprehensive, because there were clear dangers to my safety; we were shaking up an old, entrenched social and political order that fattened some and impoverished large masses," she adds.

What steeled her those trying days, she says, was the ill-treatment of Dalits. Mayawati knew that for this condition to change, her party had to launch a social revolution--to organise those on the bottom rungs of society to stand up for their rights.

"As a single woman and a Dalit I faced slurs, neglect, insults, even physical threats. Unlike many Indian leaders, I was not handed down political privileges. I had to struggle very hard for every inch of political space I occupy today."

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