Communist Party of India (Marxist-Lenin) (CPI(ML)) is contesting a few seats in Karnataka this election. We spoke to Yeshwanthpur candidate Nirmala to understand her poll pitch and ideas. Excerpts:
People of Yeshwanthpur do not know much about you. Can you give us a brief about your background?
I have worked in many women associations and I have been part of many protests. And now, I have been working for the Pourakarmikas. I am originally from Bidar and have worked with Karnataka Raita Kula Sanghatane (Karnataka Farmers’ Association). After coming to Bangalore, I started working for Mahila Jagruti where I was fighting and protesting for a lot of women who had faced many difficulties in life such as acid attacks, rape, sexual harassment. I have constantly and actively taken part in such protests and I am presently working for the Pourakarmikas as a full-timer.
Pourakarmikas face several issues from sexual harassment to issues concerning their wages. They don’t get the required materials such as gloves, masks and broomsticks that are extremely necessary to carry out their job. They have to work with their bare hands with risk to hygiene and health. Now, we see that the roads we are walking on are maintained clean. But nobody knows who is behind this work. This should be made aware to everyone. The dirt that people throw and the animal waste that is on the roads is all cleared by these people. So I think these people should be noticed and appreciated by people. That is why I took this issue up; to help these people and to make sure that they are recognised in the society.
To know more about them, I started trying to make contacts with such people- to know their problems and their struggles. It was during this time that I found out that they were being paid extremely less for their work- only about Rs.500 or Rs.1000, that too not every month. When we were forming an association for these people, we approached them. But they were very hesitant, scared of the big officers and the corporators, about losing their jobs. But due to the several protests that we have done in the past years, there has been some change. We protested for their salary, food and also for broomsticks. Their salaries have been increased due to our protests. Now, they get approximately Rs.14,000/-.
Now, elections are going on. And these officers give innumerable excuses saying they are busy or that only if they vote for one candidate, will they receive their salaries. This is not right. No one cares about the situation of the poor. No one worries about them. These Congress and BJP people threaten the poor. ‘If you don’t vote for us, we will occupy your house”. Should the people be scared of the Government? Is this how it should work? No. But this is how it is. Now because it is the elections, these people come and speak nicely to the poor. But after the elections, once they get their votes, no one will care for these people.
They make false promises to these people saying they will give them sites and properties. But that’s not what we are asking for. First, give us food. They should fulfill the basic amenities like food and bathroom facilities. It is very difficult for them. I’ll be extremely glad if we win, but the main reason for me to contest elections was to represent the unheard voices of this section of the society and this has made all my people happy. The relationship I have with these people has grown stronger over these past days. They’re like family now. They have supported me through thick and thin. Even though they are financially unstable, they have taken money from others and given it to me for campaigning. They are going to houses to tell people to vote for me. They’ve been extremely supportive.
How did you lead and bring so many Pourakarmikas to protest during April?
We have committees in some areas and we coordinated with these committees to make the protest huge. But still there has not been any improvement regarding the salary of these people. Like I said, due to the elections this has been getting delayed. But once the elections are over, we will protest about this if the Government does not take any strict measures. These people take money from the people but do not provide any facilities to them. Congress people had promised to build a house for some people but until today, they haven’t even put the mold for it. Their houses are in such a bad shape. They can’t even place a bed inside their house. The condition is that bad.
These MLAs say they’re providing all the facilities but then these facilities are not reaching the people. So where are these facilities going? These MLAs should be ashamed to cheat poor people like this. For how long will people also wait to see some change? They lose trust on such candidates. But then Congress, JD(S) and BJP have come up with their own methods to trap the people. They take people to the temples and make them swear on the God. You know, how strongly people believe in God. Like this, they are forced to vote for the candidates.
Last week, Modi visited Bangalore and during his speech, he called Bangalore “Garbage Bangalore”. What idea will people get if the Prime Minister of the country makes such statements? When he banned Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes, the people who suffered the most were the economically unstable section. They gave their lives in front of the ATMs. Even the bus charge, it is extremely high and they find it difficult to pay it. Therefore, all that we are requesting to these huge parties is not to make false promises to us; we just want the basic necessities of life like food, water and shelter to be provided to us without any issues. They should build Government hospitals and provide toilets in every bus shelter. The bus shelters should also be equipped with enough seats and a shed so that they don’t get drenched during the rainy season. Our party is not as big as BJP and Congress, but we will make sure that we provide these basic requirements to every person who is in need for it. We will not give huge hopes or make false promises but we will make it a point to address every individual’s need. I have fought and I will continue to fight for the rights of these individuals.
What was your reason behind choosing CPI(ML)?
Our party is for the specially for the labourers- to empower the poor. People know that these huge parties like Congress and BJP are known to indulge in malpractices and cheat people.
You are a first time candidate contesting from Yeshwanthpur. How will you make your presence felt when there are other major parties competing against you?
We are canvassing throughout the constituency. Our people are going to different areas, covering different sections of the society to make my presence felt. We visited a slum, which is ahead of Kengeri. They too, are in extremely worst conditions. There are no roads there. The sewage has not been covered properly, and the water keeps leaking out of these pipes. Due to this, there are a lot of mosquitoes that start breeding here which then results in serious health issues for the people in the area. We are going door-to-door and asking people to vote for us.
What are some of the main issues that you would like to concentrate on in Yeshwanthpur constituency?
I would concentrate mainly on the situation of the poor. Firstly, they should get a fixed salary every month, all their children should receive good education, they should have a decent place to live and survive. And like I mentioned before, women in our society are going through so many issues like harassment and sexual abuse etc. So my next concern and priority would be to empower the women in our society. Other than that, I would want to improve the conditions of the people by providing them with the necessary basic amenities. Therefore, my main area of concern would be for the poor.
Do you think corruption is avoidable in public life? How will you tackle corruption?
Yes, corruption can certainly be avoided. And I think corruption can also be ended in a country like ours through protests.
Most of the candidates contesting are male candidates. As a woman did you face any kind of problems or did you struggle during the campaigns?
No, we didn’t face any problems. We are backed by people. Our party symbol is a Dao, in fact many people were amused with the fact that I was holding a Dao. The scavengers have given an answer to this Dao. There is so much corruption happening around, there is so much injustice. Women and children are being sexually harassed and raped brutally. And to kill all this corruption we decided to have a Dao as our party symbol. And our stand is exactly that. Dao is not meant for rowdyism or to murder. We want to abolish corruption completely and hence our symbol is a Dao.
Tell us more about your supporters? Apart from the Pourakarmikas, who are the others who have been working hard for your success?
I am being supported by all the big people and I am happy that they are working so hard and supporting me to help the people out there. Everyone is extremely working and the only motivation is to do good for people. Our manual scavengers, the farmers, women’s association and our people are our main strength. We haven’t received one single negative comment about our party or me. People are extremely supportive and are backing me up.
Why should the people of Yeshwanthpur vote for you?
Because unlike the big parties, ours is a comparatively small party and what we promise to deliver to the people, we certainly will. We will not make any false promises and not cheat our people.