Editor’s Note: FII is excited to announce its collaboration with independent journalist Poorvi Gupta who will, through multiple interviews, give us an insight into the lives of Indian women MPs and their journey in politics, particularly during the #pandemic.
MP with a vision and a progressive outlook towards issues — Supriya Sule is a veteran at her job. The two-time top performing member of the parliament, Sule may belong to a family crowded with political leaders but she is far from being understated. She has created a distinct name for herself through her push towards the betterment of her constituency from which she has been an MP since 2009.
In this interview, Sule opens up about her views on women’s safety, migrant crisis, queer community being vulnerable, her work as an MP and how she has tremendously managed COVID-19 in her constituency, even though Maharashta is struggling as a state..
You have been the MP of Baramati for the last three terms, how do you distinguish this term going different from the others?
Supriya Sule: Clearly COVID-19 is a challenge in itself but it has nothing to do with my term. It is a global issue and it doesn’t matter which profession one is in.
How is Baramati tackling COVID-19?
Supriya Sule: Baramati Lok Sabha Constituency is handling the situation very well. People along with the administration are helping each other amidst the coronavirus crisis. We implemented stringent lockdown even after the national lockdown was reopened. The local administration did effective crowd prevention and management and contact tracing efforts, earning the district the tag of corona-virus free.
(Since the interview, few positive cases have come up in the district. In the last 15 days, Baramati record six cases of coronavirus and one death.)
As a parliamentarian, how challenging is it to contain it in your constituency when entire Maharashtra is struggling?
Supriya Sule: I don’t think Maharashtra is struggling in isolation, the world is struggling. It isn’t about being a member of parliament, it is about being a human. Human misery is far more painful. Your profession doesn’t matter when the whole world is going through such a miserable time. I can’t be so selfish and insensitive to just view Maharashtra as battling the infection.
You have been the best performer in the parliament consecutively, this time for tackling the pandemic effectively. What are your thoughts on it and how have you made it possible?
Supriya Sule: It is a job that I love to do and I try to the best of my abilities. It is not about where I stand in politics but about how I work with the other MPs as a good team player and that’s all that matters to me.
What are some of the other challenges that Baramati is facing?
Supriya Sule: The biggest challenge is to tackle the economic depression that will arise due to the coronavirus crisis. But everybody has challenges in the world and the beauty of it is that you have to rise above them. That’s why, as representatives, we have to find solutions to them and make people’s lives better with the legislation we make in parliament.
But what are some challenges specific to your constituency that you want to do better in?
Supriya Sule: I want to completely eliminate malnutrition in the top-performing constituency that Baramati is. Secondly, I also want to tackle anaemia in my constituency and I want all these illnesses like TB, malaria, dengue, COVID-19 free constituency.
There has been a rise in domestic violence against women across the world, have you seen a spurt of such cases in your constituency and how are you dealing with the rise?
Supriya Sule: We have taken this proactive step to prevent similar cases from occurring in the Pune rural region. Vigilance committees consisting of women from three agencies — the Women and Child Department, Anganwadi workers from Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and panchayat samitis — are visiting houses in each ward of a gram panchayat. The tormentors would be transferred to an institutional quarantine facility, which could mean a town hall or a village lodge or any other public facility in villages.
How do you think this pandemic is impacting the queer community as you have always shown your support to them and have always pushed for gender-neutral laws in the Lok Sabha?
Supriya Sule: One doesn’t have to wait for a pandemic to realize that the LGBTQ+ community is vulnerable; they have always been marginalized. We have to take care of our queer community round the year whether there is a pandemic or not.
With the current situation and the migrant crisis, how is your leadership ensuring to deal with it?
Supriya Sule: We have done a lot of work in sending people from our constituency to other parts of the country by ensuring them train tickets, water, food and other such relief material. In our district, it happened flawlessly and I am very grateful to the local administration who made sure that relief work happens smoothly.
We have set up camps across the Pune District on highways for people traveling to their homes to provide them with a safe place to rest and stay, with nutritious food, necessary medical care, toilet and registration for transport being arranged. Moreover, till May 21st, 50 shramik special trains have departed from Pune district. Around 62,000 people have traveled in these trains.
2,689 buses have departed to various places outside Maharashtra. Around 41,000 people have left for their homes in these buses. 3,238 buses and minibuses have left for different districts of Maharashtra with students and labor heading to their homes. We are helping migrant workers by providing them kits with essential commodities and hot meals.
(We conducted this interview on 28 May so the number may vary now.)
Do you think this pandemic has shown a very classist side of the society with the migrant workers being pushed to walk their way home?
Supriya Sule: It has always existed but the brutal truth is that we all have to face classism again and again because of some decisions that we have radically taken in the past. I don’t want to blame anyone in these challenging times as it would be unfortunate.
How does a typical day look like in the times of coronavirus in the life of an MP?
Supriya Sule: We get up and we are on the phone the whole time to cater to distress calls. To help people deal with the crisis, we have to be connected with the administration at the state level and local level. It begins with having a review of the issues not only in the constituency but across the state. Some of the tasks include coordinating with the administration, conducting meetings on digital platforms with policy makers, legislatures and representatives from each sector. Apart from this, we have to take feedback from the constituents and streamline things accordingly and we believe in interacting with people across the state on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram too. My Team and I are available 24*7 to help people who need help.
Like everybody’s mental health is impacted by the intense fear around coronavirus similarly, MP’s must be affected too mentally. How is it like in your case?
Supriya Sule: Giving up is so easy and this is not the first challenge all of us are going through. We have seen so many challenges, but we learn from each other and evolve accordingly.
Do you think the ongoing political discourse of communalism is having an impact in your constituency? Tell us more about it.
Supriya Sule: We are all working extremely hard in helping every individual who needs help to be distracted by these things.
Finally, how has the experience of being a female MP been for you? We’re asking this in the context of women being a minority in the parliament and politics being a highly misogynistic workplace.
Supriya Sule: I come from a very liberal Maharashtrian society which is not gender-biased at all. Maharashtra is very gender-equal. I don’t see gender in parliament. An MP is an MP no matter what gender they belong to.
All pictures have been taken from Supriya Sule’s Facebook profile.