In what is their first step towards mainstream politics in Bangalore, a group of city-based activists have come together for the BBMP council elections by floating two independent candidates. These activists have formed a group called the Praja Rajakiya Vedike, which will support the candidates in these elections.
Says Elavarthi Manohar, one of the members of this group, "We have all fought with regard to human rights, women's rights, sexuality minority rights. We wanted to bring about a change. So we all got together". Manohar is also the founder of Sangama, a sexuality minorities human rights organisation for individuals oppressed due to their sexual preference.
Over the last two years, these activists held meetings and consultations to understand the work and agendas of various political parties in the state. "Big parties are not transparent. Small parties work only during elections", says Manohar. This was when they decided to form their own political party to create a conducive environment wherein every stakeholder would be equally respected irrespective of their caste, colour or creed. That's how Praja Rajakiya Vedike came to be formed with about 20 to 30 core members and about 200 supporters. It is however not yet a political party.
For the upcoming elections, two candidates - Veena S, the first transsexual in south India to contest in an election and A Derick Anil, a former teacher and activist - will contest from Okalipuram (Ward 96) and Hebbal (Ward 21) respectively. The duo filed their nomination papers today.
South India's first hijra contesting from Bangalore's Okalipuram
Thirty-four year old Veena who works for Dalit rights, sexual minorities, sex workers, domestic workers and garment factory workers, says she decided to contest in the polls as she had always wanted to get into politics.
Veena, a transsexual, will contest from Ward 196. If elected, she says she will ensure that the voice of the people will be heard. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal
Incidentally, Veena is also the first transsexual in South India who will be contesting in an election.
Hailing from a poor Dalit family, Veena was born and brought up in Okalipuram. She has studied upto 10th standard. From a young age, when she was a boy, she always knew she was different. "I didn't like being a male", she says. Tortured and teased by both friends and family, she eventualy got herself castrated and underwent a sex change operation. Initially her parents and four siblings treated her as an outcaste. Today, however, she is the sole bread-winner of the family.
"I'm proud to be a woman today", she says proudly. Veena doesn't speak English fluently but understands the language. She speaks Kannada, Tamil and Telugu.
Veena has previously worked with Sangama in the area of HIV-AIDS. She has also worked as Treasurer at Samara, a community organisation of sexual minorities and sexworkers. She recently resigned from this job as she now works full time for Praja Rajakiya Vedike. She is also the Vice President of the Karnataka Sex Workers Union, member of Dalit Mahila Horata Koota and is the President of an Anekal-based group called Sanchaya Nele that works with Dalit women.
For the BBMP elections, Veena says there are several problems in her ward that she is looking to start working on. She says the Corporation school in the area is being closed because of the Metro Rail construction. "Where will the children go to study? I want to fight this," she says, adding that she also wants to build toilets, a playground, library and proper anganwadis.
Her anger and frustration towards the ruling government is clear when she says, "They want to make green city, silicon city and spend crores on painting the walls. Couldn't they give this money to the poor?"
Having lived in a low income neighbourhood (commonly known as a slum) herself, Veena says she wants to empower the people of the ward so that their voices are heard.
Even as this is her first election, Veena is confident of winning this time. "Everyone has been supporting me - lawyers, media and others. This has given me the courage to fight. I won't stop".
Though Veena belongs to the sexuality minority community and is the first transsexual to contest in an election in Bangalore, her contesting in the election has more to do with her work as an activist than her sexuality. "I don't think me being a hijra is going to affect votes or the elections". But she also hopes that more people like her come out and contest in elections next time round. "Things are not like before. Today, when you tell people something, they listen. It gets them thinking."
Former teacher and PT instructor contesting from Hebbal ward
Taking the plunge along with Veena, is her friend and colleague A Derick Anil, who is contesting from Hebbal.
This former English teacher and physical education instructor, has been actively involved in activism from a young age. Anil has been involved with issues related to consumers, environment, women, agriculture, tribals, Nethravati river diversion and beedi workers. He has previously worked with the Nagarika Seva trust, Society for People and Action for Development, and Centre for Research on Environment, Development Innovations, Technology & Trade (CREDITTe), mostly in the area of research. Anil has a masters degree in sociology.
Anil, who is contesting from Hebbal, wants to make it a model ward. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal
He now works independently and is working with regard to Right to Information (RTI), water and sanitation issues.
Ask him why he decided to contest in the elections now and the 37-year-old says, "In my entire activism life, I realised that the decision making body is the government. Many things are promised. Very little is done. Out of what little is done, few lobbies come and hijack that also. That made us think of alternatives". Politics was one of them, for Anil and his activist friends.
As a child, Anil says he harboured the dream to become the Chief Minister one day! "But that was emotional. I was later averse to politics". It was in 2007 when he started giving it a serious thought and eventually decided to dive in.
About his ward Hebbal, he says he would like concentrate on the issues of water, waste, sanitation and roads. After elections are over he plans to get information through RTI on all the developmental work that has been carried out in Hebbal in the last three years.
Anil wants to make Hebbal a model ward and envisages that a time should arrive when should not have to knock on the door of an elected representative. "Everything should be available to everyone. There should be equitable distribution".
He feels that his experience as an activist and involvement in various issues makes him an ideal candidate to win.
"We will ask people for Re 1 and one vote"
Even as both Veena and Anil are using these elections to gain experience in electoral politics, they are working strategically to win. "Opponents are working with money, muscle and liquor. When we go on our door-to-door campaign, we will ask people for one rupee and one vote", says Veena. They are using this strategy to also mobilise funds for their campaign. Veena and Anil together are looking to spend not more than Rs 4 lakhs on the elections. They are looking for funds from friends, relatives and supporters.
Praja Rajakiya Vedike will use banners and pamphlets to promote their candidates and go around in autos with loudspeakers.
Mainstream parties versus independent candidates
As Manohar explains, the Vedike's main aim is to bring about a clean, efficient and transparent governance process. They are clear when they say that they are not just a social movement.
Siddharth Narrain, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum or ALF, feels that this is an indication of the current scenario of politics. “It brings in a different perspective. Both these candidates are raising broader issues. No mainstream politician will focus on the harassment that is meted out to hijras”, he says. ALF is a Bangalore-based lawyers' collective and has worked with regard to sexual minorities' rights.
Narrain feels that independent candidates like Veena and Anil have better chances of winning in these local elections. “If they win, it's a sign that people are fed up with mainstream political parties”.
But those in mainstream politics themselves do not think much of these independent candidates contesting in the elections. BJP MLA (Yeshwanthpur) Shobha Karandlaje feels that these candidates should instead support mainsteam parties like the BJP. “Will they win as independents? It's not possible when we are working in full force”, she says.
Shobha adds that she herself has worked on issues concerning sexual minorities and will continue to do so.
Congress MLA (Mahalakshmi Layout) Narendra Babu feels that as long as you are committed to serving the public, you can contest. “It doesn't matter who you are. You need to be service-minded”, he says, adding as an after-thought, “It'll be better if they contest as a party candidate.”
Meanwhile, for Praja Rajakiya Vedike the BBMP election is the first step in their entry into politics. They are looking to eventually form a political party that respects diversity, equality, non-violence and individual freedom. For now, their eyes are set on winning the city council elections. ⊕