Woman power Society

Pramila Bisoi: 70, self-help group leader, and first-time MP from Odisha

Pramila Bisoi with party supporters after her Lok Sabha win.   | Photo Credit: Lingaraj Panda

With the pallu of her Sambalpuri saree draped over her head, a vibrant line of sindoor parting her hair, and the traditional dual nosepins gleaming on her face, 70-year-old Pramila Bisoi stands out in the line of MPs elected from Odisha.

This month, this down-to-earth self-help group activist from Cheramaria village in Ganjam district won the Aska Lok Sabha seat on a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ticket with a comfortable margin of over two lakh votes.

The commoner-turned-MP represents lakhs of rural women in Odisha who fight for emancipation while staying rooted to their tradition and cultural heritage. Residents of Cheramaria say their pari ma (fairy godmother), as she is popularly known in the village, looks “khanti odiani maa (cent percent Odia mother)”.

Bisoi was the face of BJD’s flagship Mission Shakti programme for women. Started in 2001, the scheme is reported to have benefited around 70 lakh women from six lakh women’s SHGs in the State. Declaring Bisoi’s candidature for the Lok Sabha polls in March, Odisha Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik had said, “It is a tribute to lakhs of women in our ‘Mission Shakti’ movement.” Incidentally, Aska constituency is where Patnaik began his political career in 1997 with a win in a by-election.

Her nomination had shocked many in Odisha’s political circles. She was cooking the mid-day meal for students of a primary school in her village when she received a phone call from the BJD headquarters to reach Bhubaneswar to receive her ticket for the Aska seat. During campaigning, she took a flight for the first time when she flew with Patnaik in his helicopter.

Her detractors are still to come to terms with her resounding victory. Her lack of formal education and of a political background were the subject of many jibes on social media during election campaigning and even after her win. She keeps abreast of all the news, both good and bad, by talking to her supporters, but Bisoi stays unfazed. She does not own a smartphone yet.

Pramila Bisoi with SHG members in Aska.

Pramila Bisoi with SHG members in Aska.   | Photo Credit: Lingaraj Panda

“Let them speak whatever they want. I am a mother, and cannot hold a grudge against anyone. I will only try to do my best,” she says. Even during campaigning, when it’s de rigueur to hurl abuses at your opponent and show up his inefficiencies, Bisoi refrained from talking about her rivals. “My greatest strength is that a win or loss has no meaning for me, I am just enjoying the encouragement given to me by Naveen Patnaik,” she says.

Her childhood and early life have been no different from those of scores of women in rural India. Born in a low-income family, Bisoi was married off at the age of five and studied only till Class III.

Her husband Banchhanidhi Bisoi used to have a low-end job in Odisha Lift Irrigation Corp. They have four children. The eldest, daughter Sulata, studied up to Class V, and lives with her family in Narendrapur. The sons, Dilip and Ranjan, run a tea stall and a two-wheeler workshop, respectively. The youngest daughter, Runu, has studied till Class VII, and like her mother, is involved with women’s SHGs in Cheramaria.

Bisoi lives in a dingy tin-roofed house and that is where she will continue to live even though she is now an MP. “My peasant family lives a simple life and has few aspirations. With this electoral win, I have to look after the larger family, my constituency, instead of focusing on my own family,” says Bisoi.

Even as a child bride with limited resources, Bisoi never gave up on working for the upliftment of women. “It all started with fighting for clean water, sanitation and women’s health during childbirth. Later, I became the leader of a women’s SHG and of the local Van Surakshya Samity (VSS),” she says. She was a major force behind the villagers’ peacock protection movement at Pakidi hills near Aska, for which she was honoured with the Odisha government’s Prakruti Mitra and Prakruti Bandhu awards.

From the grassroots

Since the past five decades, she has also been assisting with childbirth and postnatal care in her village — and it’s this service that earned her the moniker pari ma.

Bisoi is secretary of the women’s SHG collective in Aska block that has around 700 SHGs. It is her grassroots involvement and knowledge of ground realities that have paved the way for her political win. “Earlier, I was only working for the women in my area. But with the blessings of Naveen Patnaik, I have now taken up the responsibility of 70 lakh women from Odisha’s SHGs,” she says.

Bisoi refuses to be cowed down by the criticism that she does not know Hindi and English and so cannot be a good parliamentarian. “I will proudly speak Odia, my mother tongue, in Parliament,” she says. Her habit of reading Odia literature makes her a good public speaker. She also writes her own songs on women’s empowerment and sings too. “At worst, I will sing a ditty to draw their attention,” she quips with a smile.

So, what’s first on her agenda as an MP? She wants to highlight the need for proper rehabilitation and restoration post Cyclone Titli.

Her other dream is a railway project that will pass through Aska to connect Berhampur and Nayagarh. “I also want the government to do something to save the people of Aska from the ravages of continuous floods.”

The article has been updated with additional information on Bisoi’s daughters.

sibkumar.das@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 10:01:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/pramila-bisoi-70-self-help-group-leader-and-first-time-mp-from-odisha/article27378584.ece

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