Op-Ed: We Need More Like Pramila Mausi, Not less

By Sandeep Sahu

When Naveen Patnaik announced Pramila Bisoyi’s name as the BJD candidate from the Aska Lok Sabha constituency, I remember having wondered, like many others, “Pramila Who?” But after a few quick enquiries with those who knew her, I was convinced that this was an inspired – and inspiring – choice by the BJD supremo, who has this knack of springing a surprise on us every now and then. I also remember having immediately complimented the Chief Minister for his selection on his Twitter handle.

That is why I find it very disturbing to see all kinds of uninformed hogwash about her being thrown all over the social media. The lovable, adorable ‘Mausi’ has unfortunately been at the receiving end of a lot of scorn, derision and worse. All because she has studied ‘only’ up to Class III and can’t speak any language other than Odia. ‘Proud’ Odias have unanimously decided that she would make a fool of herself – and of all Odisha – in Parliament. Her earthy rendition of ‘Dhana Bila Khasa Khasa..’, which should have endeared her to the listener/viewer, has instead been made fun of in the most cringe-worthy fashion imaginable.

I don’t think any of those at the forefront of the tirade against Pramila Mausi would have heard of a person called Dasarathi Patnaik – ‘Dasia Aja’ to his legions of admirers. The humble man from Nuagaon in Dasapalla had studied ‘only’ up to Class IV and, like Pramila Mausi , spoke ‘only’ Odia’. But that did not stop him from building up what perhaps was the most formidable library in the state: one that could be the envy of any top university, with some of the rarest books and manuscripts written in Odia. Many of them would not have heard of another stalwart named Binod Kanungo for whom the lack of formal education did not come in the way of compiling ‘Gyana Mandal’, the most comprehensive Odia encyclopedia available. Koshali poet Padmashri Haldhar Nag is a more recent repudiation of the false notion that one needs a formal degree to excel in life. What these people have achieved and the contribution they have made to the state is more than what all the degree holders crying for Pramila Mausi’s head have done. [“Give her a Padmashri, if you must, but don’t make her an MP,” one member of the anti-Pramila brigade argued! As if an MP is of some superior breed than a Padmashri!!] Those who are ridiculing her for her lack of education forget that there is no better university than the University of Life. And Pramila Mausi has a doctorate from it, not merely a degree!

The concern over her inability to speak anything other than Odia, I dare say, is entirely misplaced. These worthies perhaps don’t know (or choose to ignore) that Parliament does not enjoin upon a member to speak in English or Hindi. One can speak in any of the scheduled languages and arrangements are in place for members to listen to the translated version. So what exactly is the fuss all about? I can’t really see any logic: an Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaking in Hindi at the UN is hailed as an act of national assertion, but an elderly woman member speaking in her mother tongue in the Indian Parliament is dubbed an act of disgrace! Karunanidhi’s elder son Alzhagiri, a minister in the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh, spoke only Tamil. I don’t remember any Tamilians breast-beating that their MP had ‘disgraced’ them before the nation. If anything, they were proud that he spoke in Tamil.

I am appalled at the sheer ignorance of these ‘educated’ people and can’t really make out who is the real ‘illiterate’: the elderly lady they dismiss as such or they themselves? The latter may have degrees from the best of universities – maybe even doctorates. But I am afraid they are ‘illiterates’ twice over. First, it is obvious that they have received the wrong kind of education because it has narrowed down their vision instead of broadening it. Second, they are certainly ignorant of the essence of the spirit of democracy. For me, Pramila Bisoyi is a more authentic ‘people’s representative’ than any of the other 20 MPs elected from the state. In condemning her, her detractors are also denigrating the voters of Aska, who have given her a resounding mandate.

I am amused by the fact that none of those aiming barbs at Pramila Mausi have demanded that those who haven’t completed a certain level of formal education be barred from casting votes. If an ‘illiterate’ lady can’t be trusted to be a member of the Parliament, how can another ‘illiterate’ be allowed to vote? After all, the vote decides the fate of the nation, doesn’t it?

Come to think of it. Three out of every four Indians were illiterates at the time of Independence. Had adult franchise had been restricted only to the ‘literates’, we would have had a sham democracy in which only the voice of the elite – and not the ‘people’ – would have been heard. Thank God our founding fathers had the vision to foresee that. But what a pity it is that seven decades later, when only one in every four Indians remains illiterate, some ‘educated’ people are calling for weeding out the likes of Pramila Mausi in their mistaken notion of Odia pride.

We need more like her, not less!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)