Video Producer: Aparna Singh
Video Editor: Prajjwal Kumar
In Odisha's Uparbeda, people still cook meals on firewood and draw water from community hand pumps. Electricity, too, is only a recent luxury.
Meanwhile, Droupadi Murmu, India’s 64-year-old president-elect, who hails from this village in Mayurbhanj district, has scripted history by becoming the first tribal woman elected to the top constitutional post.
She secured 2,824 first preference votes, valued at 6,76,803, defeating Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, who secured 1,877 first preference votes, valued at 3,80,177.
While some celebrate her win and others express apprehension over her becoming a symbolic tool in the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there’s no denying that she has had an illustrious journey.
From being a teacher to becoming a two-time MLA from Rairangpur and serving as the first woman governor of a state, here’s all you need to know about India's 15th President:
Before entering politics, Murmu taught at the Sri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre in Mayurbanj’s Rairangpur. She later went on to work as a junior assistant in the irrigation and power department of the Odisha government.
Born into a Santhal family in 1958, she was the first girl in her village to go to college – the Ramadevi Women’s College, now the Ramadevi Women’s University in Bhubaneswar. She served as a councillor after winning the election to the Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat in 1997.
Following this, she served as a minister from 2000 to 2004 in the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD-BJP coalition government and was elected for two terms in the Odisha Assembly in 2000 and 2004 from the Rairangpur constituency.
First, she took charge of the commerce and transport portfolio and then held the fisheries and animal husbandry portfolio in the state government. During her stint as the transport minister, she was credited with setting up transport offices in all 58 subdivisions of the state.
Additionally, she was awarded the Nilkanth Award for the Best MLA for the year 2007 by the Odisha Legislative assembly. She was also appointed vice-president of the BJP’s Scheduled Tribes Morcha.
She was appointed the district president of Mayurbhanj (West) unit of the BJP in 2010 and re-appointed in 2013. She was also named member of the BJP National Executive (ST Morcha) the same year. She held the post of district president till April 2015 when she was appointed the Governor of Jharkhand.
Persevered Despite Losses
Her journey, however, has not been without setbacks. Although she contested the Lok Sabha election in 2009 from Mayurbhanj constituency, she lost as the BJD and BJP severed ties.
Over the next six years, her personal life too was fraught with difficulties.
She lost three of her closest family members – her eldest son Laxman Murmu in 2009, her younger son Sippun Murmu in 2013, and then her husband Shyam Charan Murmu in 2014.
Despite her tumultous losses, she has always been affable.
"She is deeply spiritual and soft-spoken person," said BJP leader and Lok Sabha member from Kalahandi, Basant Kumar Panda.
Admired for Having Her Community’s Back
Murmu, on multiple occassions, has not shied away from standing up for her community. She turned around her deep personal loss and built a boarding school for Adivasi children in Rairangpur in memory of her husband and children. The children there are educated for free.
Even while serving as the first woman governor of Jharkhand in 2015, she garnered massive admiration when she refused to give assent to two controversial land use bills passed by the BJP government in 2016 and 2017.
In November 2016, the Raghubar Das-led BJP government in the state passed amendments to two centuries-old land laws – the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act – that would have ensured easy transfer of land for industrial use.
Following widespread demonstrations by Adivasis, who contested that the move would limit their land rights, Murmu returned the bills in June 2017 and asked the government to explain how these would help tribals.
Interestingly, she had denied assent to bills passed by the party to which she herself once belonged to. Highlighting the importance of cultural integration, she has persistently called for the translation of literature on Adivasi languages and culture.
On 24 November 2018, at an international conference on financial inclusion, she said that although the Jharkhand government was working hard to aid tribals with banking schemes and services, their condition continued to remain “extremely poor.”