Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nepali Mahila : Renu Kumari Yadav

Renu Kumari Yadav
Member of the Constituent Assembly
Central Committee Member of the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum
Former Minister for Education

Born in 1963 in Bihar, India

Renu Kumari Yadav was born to a political family in Garurah village of Farbishgunj in Bihar on June 20, 1963. Time and consequences led her to a top position in Nepal's political sphere. Her commitment to the people helped her become one of very few successful Madhesi women politicians.

Yadav's was a joint family, consisting of her father's family and two younger uncles. All had an inherent interest in politics and wanted to see new developments in society. Her father, Rameshwar Prasad Yadav, had double MA degrees, while her mother, Chintamani Devi, also matriculated. It was an educated family and although society was conservative her family encouraged its girl members to attend school, never showing any kind of discrimination in that respect.

Yadav studied in Kanya High School and Bhagwati Devi Girls High School in her village.  Seeing girls in colleges was rare and her family was one among the first to give their daughters permission to undertake higher education. She completed her bachelor's degree in history from Farbishgunj Collage of Mithila University, however her education was discontinued after her marriage as no importance was given to study in her groom's house.

Yadav married Ashok Kumar Yadav by arrangement in Nepal's Saptari district in 1981. The proposal came from the groom's side and fortunately her groom's family was also political. Her grandfather-in-law, Bindeshwari Prasad Yadav, was a politician and a social worker, while her father-in-law, Indradev Prasad, was a parliamentarian during the Panchayat period. Yadav's family life was very successful and she soon gave birth to a son. She was a good housewife and found happiness in helping the family and the family business.

However, her happy conjugal life did not last long. After her father-in-law's death, her husband continued his political life and was active in district-level politics. He wanted to contest the election of District Panchayat. In 1986, two months before the election, a dispute took place within the family over her husband's nomination for election which culminated in her husband's uncle shooting him dead.

For four years or so, Yadav kept herself busy with household chores, staying home in silence and solitude. After her husband's death, she lived as part of a small family consisting of her mother-in-law, her son and herself. Contrary to what usually happens in Tarai villages, her mother-in-law fully supported her entrance into politics. The political scene had changed after the People's Movement in 1990. "I thought I should come out of my home and contribute to my region and my country as much as possible. I decided to follow the way of my husband," she said.

Yadav first joined the Nepali Congress (NC) in 1991. Because of her sincerity and popularity in the local area, she quickly became district chairperson of the Nepal Women's Association, becoming heavily involved in gathering local women together to discuss political issues. It helped her understand exactly what people wanted in terms of the changing political context.

Yadav's coming into politics and swift popularity was almost shocking for locals. Indeed, several of her father-in-law's competitors became her rivals and could not accept that a daughter-in-law, one whose independent identity was taboo in the society, was more popular than the gray-haired male politicians.

The first parliamentary election after the political change took place in 1991. Yadav was quite active in the district and wanted to contest in the election but her party denied her a ticket to stand the election. Some NC workers in the district were not happy with her growing influence and provoked her to contest as a rebel candidate against the formal NC candidate, so her defeat would terminate her political career. "I really did not want to contest as a rebel candidate, but out of local pressure I gave my candidature as an independent candidate. Unfortunately, I could not win," she said.

At the time very few Madeshi woman were involved in politics. Although she was defeated, Yadav proved she had political potential and drew attention from various political parties. Former Panchayat leaders Surya Bahadur Thapa and Hem Bahadur Malla had good relations with her father-in-law and persuaded her to join the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) in 1993. It was even dangerous to be identified as a RPP member. "Still, I was confident that if I worked sincerely for the people I could be successful, no matter which party I was affiliated with," she said in explanation of her subsequent joining of the RPP.

Yadav failed to progress within the NC and had instead earned enemies in the party. She felt the environment in the RPP was friendlier and she was soon elected a central committee member, a huge responsibility. She contested in the parliamentary election in 1994. She was again defeated but kept working hard for the party. Because of her endless efforts, she won the election in 1999 from the Saptari-3 constituency and became a member of the House of Representatives.

Yadav was enthusiastic and felt a huge sense of responsibility to bring the voice of the needy to the House. She regularly raised issues of relevance in the House, brought forward a budget for the constituency and contributed largely towards local development. However, the House was dissolved in May 2002.

Yadav possessed a great image of Parliament before she entered Singha Durbar. She had promised villagers days would soon be brighter only to find all was not as she had envisioned there. The Nepali Congress had a monopoly on everything and the voices of other parties were just ritual. The people in government were more concerned about their seats and the opposition did all they could to topple the government. "I had gone through a short period of frustration. Systems worked nowhere in the state. But I strongly believed that democracy and Parliament were the only means to change the country."

In June 2003 Yadav took the portfolio of Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare under Surya Bahadur Thapa's premiership for around 11 months. She said the period was full of challenges. Most parties, including the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), took to the streets to protest King Gyanendra's move to take power and the Maoists were in the jungle fighting the armed struggle. Even a faction in her party, led by Pashupati Shamsher Rana, went to the streets to join the movement. "But the six-member cabinet ran the whole country smoothly. The overall results were quite encouraging and we were always above controversies," she explained.

When the RPP divided into two parties and Thapa formed the Rastriya Janshakti Party (RJP), Yadav also chose to join. When the RJP was supporting the king's government, she was one among a few leaders who spoke out against the unconstitutional move of the king and personally took part in the movement against the king's direct rule in Saptari. Before the party could take action against her, the king gave up and Parliament was restored in April 2006.

"I had a chance to meet former King Gyanendra when I was a parliamentarian soon after the royal massacre in 2001. He asked me if his time (to hold executive power) had come. I told him clearly that the army was with him but not the people," she remembered.

The monarchy was abolished and Maoist conflict ended, but the situation was not favorable for all. She saw a change in the whole parliamentary system after the Maoists joined the House. Many important things were overlooked in the name of compromise and those politicians with a Panchayat background were obviously sidelined.

The interim constitution was drafted but it failed to take into account the rights of ethnic people, women, Dalits and Madhesis, so Yadav participated in a protest to burn copies of the constitution. "It is not only the king, I raised my voice whenever someone tried to show up as an autocrat," she said.

The Madhesis have been undermined for a long time. They felt their voices were unheard and they needed one of their own to be given a strong and significant role in the political arena. "I was invited to join the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF). I felt only a unified and forceful party could make the centralized government do justice to the Madhes," she said. She was then included in the MJF Central Committee.

Representing the MJF she contested in the election of the Constituent Assembly from Saptari-4 in April 2008 and was elected.

According to Yadav, the root of today's problems lies in the necessity of making a coalition government. Leaders of political parties may all sit together to enjoy the power but they keep opposing one another. "Some leaders go to the extent of splitting others' parties. The whole country is suffering because of the vested interests of a handful of people," she said.

In the House, although members from different parties showed their disapproval of the interim constitution, they still surrendered to their parties on decision-making day. "It was a kind of disillusion for me that they all have issues but they admitted to party-slavery. I realized this is the reason some genuine issues are not passed in the House. If all the big parties are in the grips of high-caste Hindu Pahadis, how can justice for all be possible?" she asked.

Yadav was appointed Minister for Education in the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in August, 2008. She faced challenges from the outset as her opinions clashed with those of Maoist Finance Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai, mainly on issues such as taxing private schools. "For some days it was quite tough. The offices were padlocked for no good reason and I could not find out which factor came to protest. But later I managed to bring all the forces to a compromising point and things began to run smoothly," she said.

Recruitment of teachers, the Reservation Bill, and the process of opening a Martyr's Academy in five development regions were some of Yadav's major contributions during her tenure. But she had bitter experiences with donors and came to realize they were influencing Nepal's national program. They were not ready to help the country and were instead pushing the government to do things for themselves.

Yadav has faced a series of problems in her political life, but insists these problems were not related to her being a woman. "Being a woman was naturally different but I had a determination and I knew I could accomplish any task. So, I never tried to do politics saying I'm a feminist. I took every tough situation normally, thinking that such problems may come in front of a man as well as a woman," she said.

She added that achievement naturally follows when one works sincerely. "I feel that I should work harder. Changes can be brought if we all work hard, with sincerity. And I feel happy thinking that at least I've never deviated from the path of sincerity," she added.

Written by Razen Manandhar

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