General Elections 2019

'Women should be self-reliant to make a big difference in society'

Down To Earth talks to Pramila Bisoi, an SHG leader chosen to contest Aska Lok Sabha seat in Odisha

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Last Updated: Tuesday 26 March 2019

When Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik announced the list of candidates for 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state, one name that stood out was Pramila Bisoi.

Patnaik had earlier announced that 33 per cent or seven Lok Sabha candidates of the BJD would be women, but hardly anyone guessed that Bisoi — a self-help group (SHG) leader from a remote village in Ganjam district — would be fielded by him as the party candidate from Aska Lok Sabha constituency.

The chief minister himself will be contesting from Hinjili assembly seat under the parliamentary constituency.

Hailing from Chermaria village of Ganjam district, 70-year-old Bisoi looks like a typical old-fashioned ‘Berhampuria Mausi’ (aunt from Berhampur), who is loving and caring.

Her husband Banchanidi Bisoi is a retired fourth-class employee of the state irrigation department. They have two sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren.

Years back, Pramila started cultivating on their family land to support household income. Her foray into public work started when she took the lead in forming a forest protection group to save the Padiki hill near the village, which was losing forest cover. Due to their efforts, the forest regenerated and became famous as a habitat of peacocks.

Around two decades ago, she formed the Satasankha Swayam Sebika Sangha (self-help group) with a view to make women self-reliant through savings, cottage industry and protection of environment.

Later she went on to be a founder of around 100 SHGs. Lovingly known as ‘pari ma’, Bisoi now heads around 3,500 women SHGs in Aska district. Down To Earth spoke to her recently, here’s an excerpt: 

Did you expect getting a ticket to contest in the Lok Sabha polls?

No. I never expected this. When I got a call on March 17 to visit Naveen Nivas (Patnaik’s residence), I thought I was getting some award for my social work. They (the BJD) sent a vehicle for me to go there. But when Naveen babu said he wanted me to contest Lok Sabha from Aska, I was astonished. He has given me a great responsibility. I will never fail him. The emotions of 70 lakh women are with me and I cannot fail them too.

What do you think of CM Patnaik’s decision to reserve a third of the seats at legislative bodies for women?

It is a very welcome step. In fact, it’s a historic first for India. The decision will go a long way in empowering women across the country. Political leaders and parties across the country should follow this. 

What are the challenges you expect to face once you are elected to the Lok Sabha?

I have always believed that women should be engaged in economic activities to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. That’s why I have always told women in my area to make pampad, achar, etc, in their spare time after they are done with their household chores. This not only keeps them busy, but also adds to the family income.

If I become a member of parliament (MP), the first thing I will take up is to establish cottage industries where more and more women could be engaged. Planting and protecting trees has been a passion and I will continue it on a bigger scale, because I believe that the environment can be good only if there are more trees. This will ensure good rainfall, which will help farmers grow and protect their crops.

Education is another issue which I want to take up seriously. Both boys and girls should be educated and skilled. To achieve that goal, there should be more training institutes that can produce skilled people to work in coir industries, toy making and other activities that are inherent to our area.

Why are SHG members now getting involved in elections?

This is happening due to Naveen babu’s efforts. Earlier, in Odisha, SHGs were not getting enough funds. But after Naveen babu came to power, the SHGs got a lot of help through Mission Shakti. Women became self-reliant and confident. Besides their household works, they intervened in social issues for the development of society.

Many women from SHGs also participated in the gram panchayat after Naveen babu reserved 50 per cent seats in panchayati institutions. This has had a cascading effect in improving the life of SHG workers and women in general.  

After you got the BJD ticket, many people mocked your lack of education. What’s your reaction to that?

I have come from a very simple family. Yes, formally I am not educated. I have studied up to Class II and then dropped out because at that time there were no facilities for higher education. But over the years, I have developed my reading and writing skills.

I started writing poetry to highlight social issues. For the last 40 years, I have served people, mostly those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. I am like the ‘gunduchi musa’ (squirrel) from Ramayana which tries to contribute to Rama’s bridge to Lanka. For me lack of formal education has never been a problem. Life has taught me a lot.   

How would you help other women as a Lok Sabha member?

By chosing me, a simple woman with simple lifestyle and tastes, Naveen Patnaik has sent across a strong message — that anyone doing positive work will get a chance to do greater things. Women should be self-reliant in order to make a big difference in society.

How have the women in the area reacted to your nomination?

I have always received the love of the women in this area. They have always looked up to me as a mother. Not only women, people in general are elated with my nomination. I have been overwhelmed by the love and affection from people after I was chosen to represent them in Lok Sabha.

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