The 47-year-old Dalit leader Chinta Anuradha may have gotten the opportunity to enter politics after her father’s demise but it was her immense knowledge of her constituency, and welfare work of her family coupled with her party name that won her the seat on YSR Congress party ticket from Amalapuram in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While she was working closely with her father, Anuradha never imagined that she would enter politics so early in her life. But with family’s support, she took on the enormous task of running for the position of Member of Parliament.
As she speaks for this interview in the COVID-19: Women MPs On The frontline series, she focuses on the issues faced by people in her constituency—largely belonging to the Dalit community, her Dalit identity and how caste system continues to break the backbone of unity in our country. During the course of this interview, she offers her ‘Salaam’ to Dr. BR Ambedkar and says that she is proud of being born in the same lineage as his.
Excerpts of the interview below.
How did your foray in politics happen since you joined the party recently and won the election too?
Chinta Anuradha: I am very new to politics still. I only entered politics to fulfil my father’s dream. It happened because my father (Chinta Krishnamurthy) was into politics and he was working with YS Jaganmohan Reddy for the last nine years. In 2015, Jaganmohan sir had promised him this parliamentary seat but unfortunately, my father died in 2016 so he offered the ticket to me. He suggested that if a woman from my family comes forward and serves the constituency, it would be more beneficial and that’s when I entered politics.
Before this, I have always been extremely dedicated towards my parents, husband and children, so it was very difficult for me to enter politics. I took a lot of time to think it through before I made the decision and had many discussions with my mother-in-law, husband etc., as politics would require a lot of my time away from my children. But my family was very supportive and said that they would share the responsibilities of raising the children and that’s when I could think of becoming a politician. I even took my 12-year-old son’s permission before contesting the election, initially he was apprehensive about the idea but I told him that it was my father’s dream which I need to fulfil, so he agreed too.
Before that, I used to work with my father and have interactions with people but not in a political capacity. We were involved in the welfare of the people as in my constituency, there aren’t many buildings and many times, kaccha houses would catch fire so we helped in rehabilitating people and provided them with relief material. That’s why when I entered politics, people knew me in my own capacity and as my father’s daughter too, so they welcomed me with open hearts.
How are you managing the spread of COVID-19 in your constituency?
Chinta Anuradha: Earlier we didn’t have much of a problem but it started when migrant workers started pouring in from different parts of the country. So now we are actively taking up relief work and informing concerned officials about active cases.
In East Godavari district there are currently between 900-1000 cases.
We saw that implementing a lockdown hasn’t worked well; in fact, it did worse to people by cutting down their sources of income and this has been especially true for daily wage workers. In this situation, the responsibility lies on the public to self-isolate rather than depending on government announcements. Imposing a lockdown has actually made people rebel without any cause. We need self-discipline from people.
In my state, the CM is taking an interest in each and every village, and he has been continuously conducting meetings with officials on a daily basis. We have started free ration distribution for people. We have also been supplying masks and PPE kits to the needy. We have started Sanjeevani bus service which is equipped with COVID testing material, doctors and nurses, and it goes to every village for public health checkups.
These are helping us widen our reach in testing as many people as we can. We have a slightly higher number of COVID-19 patients because we are conducting a lot of tests so that the spread is contained. I know that many states don’t show such a number and that’s only because an adequate number of tests aren’t happening. We are doing 300-500 tests per village.
(We conducted this interview on July 27, 2020 so the number is accurate to that date)
What do you think are some of the challenges your constituency is facing?
Chinta Anuradha: Infrastructure is a huge issue in my constituency in several villages where the Dalit communities reside and otherwise as well, we lack pucca buildings. Then, water is another issue as Amalapuram is a drought-prone area with a poor drainage system. Even though we got independence over seventy years ago, people’s lives in Amalapuram have not improved much.
What changes have you brought to your constituency and what are some of the new initiatives launched by you?
Chinta Anuradha: Now our CM Mr. Reddy has promised “Navratanalu” for people, which means that there are a total of nine promises he made to the people and he has brought them into action immediately after coming to power. The schemes are based on three pillars which are farmer welfare, education and health. One of our initiatives is called Amma Vodi which is again a state government initiative that we are implementing here. Under this scheme, we are depositing Rs 15000 every year, if the woman has two children for the education of the children because in my district a large population of people is into alcohol. Men generally don’t like to share much of their income with their family so it becomes difficult for children to study in such houses.
We also provide an Arogyasri card to people below the poverty line. They can use the card in hospitals and if their bill goes beyond Rs 1000, it will be borne by the state. We cover every kind of disease in this scheme including coronavirus.
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?
Chinta Anuradha: No, we haven’t seen such a rise in domestic violence as after lockdown everything was shut including the wine shops. So people didn’t have the chance to consume alcohol, and now that we are progressing towards an unlock, what we feel is that even when these things happen in larger numbers, not everyone files a domestic violence case against their husbands.
To my knowledge, everything is settled in the villages when the elders and the panchayat are called for such cases. We may come across a few cases, but not many.
Do you think this is because women aren’t able to report cases as they are locked up in houses too?
Chinta Anuradha: I don’t think that’s the case as women today are very clever too. But yes, our culture and traditions are such that women tend to think of the family, their children etc. before taking such a step as to file a police complaint.
What is your opinion on politics being a level-playing field for the Dalit community as there is reservation in seats as compared to other professions?
Chinta Anuradha: Politics is definitely an area where if a Dalit person makes space for themselves. They can do a lot of welfare for their own community. We have a larger scope of bringing a change in society through politics. Even people from my community look up to their leaders to get things done but awareness in villages or in the community is very less.
Through reservation or in any way, when a leader from the Dalit community comes to power, the community asks them of their progress too. Now we have to move ahead of just thinking for the community. We need to put the initiatives in motion too.
The Dalit community continues to be subjugated by the Upper Caste community in India. Do you see any growth in the upliftment of the Dalit community in the last few decades?
Chinta Anuradha: No I don’t see much of difference or growth in the lives of the Dalit community. The discrimination and atrocities against the Dalit community are happening at the same pace because not many voices have been raised against such caste-based oppression. Earlier people in higher positions would also make comments like ‘nobody would accept being born as a Dalit’ and such things even after seven decades of independence shows how BR Ambedkar’s constitution has worked on the people. He brought in so many changes for the betterment of Dalit lives in India but even today the condition hasn’t changed much.
In police stations, major FIRs are against Dalit people and in prisons, you can witness a high percentage of Dalit people lodged for minuscule crimes. The Dalit community can’t progress until they have sustainable financial aid as the community is extremely down-trodden and they don’t have any upliftment. Only a very small number of Dalit people make it out of the outcast and join the mainstream with the help of reservation.
You will be surprised to know that people aren’t even aware of all the reservation they have a right over; very few take that chance and get the benefits. But Dalit people who find a way out of poverty and a state of unawareness, must help others from the community in finding their feet too. Obviously, a person who is serving in a government office cannot help others in many ways but they must help others financially or provide loans for survival which would bolster the growth of other financially unfit Dalits as well.
Despite having proximity to the close quarters of the state politics, do you remember any instance of facing discrimination due to your Dalit identity?
Chinta Anuradha: While I haven’t faced any discrimination in the parliament or at work, but there is one thing that I would like to bring up—when we travel in a train and meet passengers on our journey, people are very interested in knowing about the caste and that’s what irks me the most. Now if I belonged to a forward-caste, I would not have felt anything but being from a Dalit community, I feel a pinch and that should be completely eradicated from a Dalit person’s mindset.
I don’t feel insulted for my caste; in fact, I feel very proud that I belong to the same community as Dr B R Ambedkar and he is the one who ruled the country once. I must have realised my identity as a Dalit when I was in 10th standard because that’s when we are required to state our caste to give the exam. But do we really need to share our caste to give the exam? I think of this often. I haven’t used any reservation for my children as I am working and my husband also earns well, and this is how I am helping my community so that others who need it more, get a chance to uplift themselves.
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.
Chinta Anuradha: Times are changing as even men are thinking broadly now. In the last 10-15 years, men have changed their approach towards women too. Society doesn’t change in a day or two. It takes a lot of time. While I haven’t faced any discrimination for being a woman in politics, I would say that I have received a lot of encouragement from my male peers. Even if you see my own party, YSR Congress has seven women working in the state assembly which is a higher number in comparison to other states’ assemblies.
But you did mention how you had to consult your entire family including your 12-year-old son for their permission before joining politics, a man wouldn’t have to ask for such permission, so do you think there are unconscious bias that women face?
Chinta Anuradha: Yes, that’s true because women are more attached to the family than a man. Men usually aren’t there in the house for long. They leave in the morning and come back at night. Their interaction and attachment with the house itself are very minimal because they know there is someone in the house to take care of everything when they are away. But women have a lot of responsibilities with the children, in-laws, the house etc., so naturally when we have to think of going out of the house to work, we have to think more than a man would.
Women do find it more difficult to step out for work. However in my case, when I was giving all these reasons like taking care of the family, children etc., my husband told me not to worry and that he will help me in taking care of the children. So we need to have a support system to ensure that more women can venture out to work too.
All pictures have been provided by Chinta Anuradha.