Dr. Pooja Tripathi, is a doctor and the National Coordinator – outreach and dissemination in women's wing of a National Political Party. She has an elaborate work experience in human rights and public interest issues. She also has created an identity of a strong political woman with her participation in politics right from university's student's union to a national party and is distinctively known for raising concerns on women’s issues through her organisation and writing regularly about the issues for media houses.
She has established herself as a good opposition through her active media engagement by posing critical questions to the ruling party. In this interview, she opens up to Women for Politics about her journey in politics, women’s participation in India, and politics as a career choice for women.
Q. Could you tell us your background? Where did you grow up? How was your upbringing like?
A. I come from a middle-class background with no political links. I had a childhood where it was clear from the very beginning that education is the key to growth. Coming from a backward region of Uttar Pradesh, my Mom always aspired and motivated us to have individuality, and a career and Dad always stressed upon being an opinionated, informed woman. That way my upbringing was quite progressive.
Q. What were your initial thoughts about politics? How did your involvement in student politics play a key role in shaping your career in politics?
A. I grew up in North India where this duality of everyone having a political opinion while concluding that ‘Politics is a dirty game’, always existed. You get political preferences, knowledge and opinion in legacy but the moment someone says they want to do politics, it invites a never seen before wrath.
I was the President of the Student Union in my university and that was often met with frowns because ‘good girls from respected backgrounds don’t do politics’. It did impact my choices as an adult because the impact of resistance was addictive. Once the in and out timings for the girls' hostel changed after protests by us and that was a truly empowering experience.
Q. Tell us about your journey in politics
A. Oh, it was an arduous journey. After leaving Medicine and entering Policy work, I started working with many leaders, state heads and governments. I saw the stakeholders in policy formation and loopholes in policy implementation. I saw very few women at the leadership level. Look at Jacinda, how women bring empathy to the table, I knew I had to take the plunge because we need women in leadership positions.
Q. Did you have role models that inspired you while pursuing the path of politics? How did they inspire you?
A. I grew up admiring Indira Gandhi and her role in Indian politics; the resolve, strength, leadership, empathy and crisis management was not what we were taught as ‘women like’. Ms Indira made a generation of girls free from the feminine expectations and we knew we could reach anywhere even be a Prime Minister because Ms Indira did it.
Q. How is your political organization working towards women’s participation in politics? How do you see this for women entering politics?
A. I am a National coordinator with All India Mahila Congress, the biggest woman frontal of any political party in India. It works on the motto of ‘Your Right is our fight’ and has been a strong advocate of increasing women’s participation from being in political bodies to giving them tickets to contest. I have seen grassroots women leaders becoming MLAs and MPs after encouragement from our National President, who is one fierce feminist leader herself. It has given me more than a fair chance to bring my vision of women in leadership to life.
Q. Even in the year 2020, there are incidents around the world where women politicians are reported to have been asked more questions about their household responsibilities rather than lauding their professional engagement. What do you think about this?
A. After my marriage, I was giving an interview to a Non-Profit International firm and they asked me ‘would you be able to devote so much time to your work now that you may want to start a family’. I see this question about balancing household and office as pure nonsense. Women have been biologically programmed to give birth, to breastfeed, to be primary caregivers. And when we say we need to reclaim our spaces in politics, we mean the spaces to feed a child, care for our toddlers, carry a pregnant belly to the office and working. Such comments and questions are not just for women in politics but in other professions too.
Q. Women politicians around the world have often reported different forms of violence especially while campaigns and afterwards. Such narratives demotivate many women from joining politics. What are your thoughts on it? How safe is politics as a career choice for women?
A. It’s easy to deter a woman. Blame her character. Unleash a troll army on her who will shame her. The recently released Amnesty report speaks about women being at the receiving end of online abuse 123% more than men. It happens with all of us. I think when you chose to take up politics you should be prepared for any violence unleashed on you. The rules of the game are not fair for us. We can’t be held back. We have to fight this violence which is deeply embedded in patriarchy.
Q. What were the most difficult challenges you have faced? What gives you the strength to overcome the challenges of your political and social life?
A. Convincing my family was the biggest challenge. Why can’t you have a safe career they said. What is the need to invite mudslinging, give up your comfortable life, a permanent salary and enter a world of uncertainty, unwelcome for women? The strength to overcome this was believing in myself and my pledge to work towards India I believe in, and then there is always Gandhiji to light up our path with his ‘Be the change you wish to see’.
To the women facing challenges in politics, I just want to say that ‘No more sitting at fringes and letting men make policies that impact us. let’s take the reins in our hand’
Q. Would women entering politics get support from other women in politics?
A. Many feminist theorists have embraced coalition building as the central model for feminist political mobilization. They have done so because they believe that coalitional solidarity resolves a long-standing impasse within feminism between the political claims of diversity among women and the political need for unity. While coalitional solidarity honours the claims of diversity among women, it ignores the importance of acknowledging commonality. The tactical ties that it encompasses fail to enact the kind of mutual recognition on which feminism, as a movement for social justice.
Q. What would you like to tell men politicians about becoming allies of women in politics?
A. Accept women as your colleagues, embrace gender diversity, learn from each other and don’t halt the Women’s reservation bill.
Q. What’s the message you would like to give to aspiring young women who want to venture into political life? How would you like to support other women politicians and those who are aspiring to enter politics in India?
A. My message to the young women - Let us endure pain,if we must, if only to remind ourselves, as a country, that choices, and particularly choices on constitutional obligations, have consequences. Let us endure pain if only to remind the electorate to hold their parliamentary representatives accountable. Let us endure pain if only to remind ourselves that, as a country, being a democracy that has chosen to be governed by the rule of law, we must say no to impunity and hold everyone accountable for their actions or omissions. Let us run the nation.
I am launching an organization called DERA (Democratic Empowerment of Rural Women at Grassroots) where we will mentor women for a political career and leadership positions at the grassroots. The script of change will be written at the Panchayat level. Be the writer.
[This interview was conducted by Anusha Sooriyan for Women for Politics]
Worth Asking interview series is aimed at having conversations with women and men politicians at all levels about politics as a career choice for women.