|Tiliya Devi campaigns from a truck and (right) hops out to meet people in Jhanjharpur. Pictures by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Tiliya Devi’s life has been one of struggle. She sees the elections as another struggle.
Tiliya is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Jhanjharpur, around 200km from Patna, where the elderly woman tills the fields with her husband, Nepal Sadai. The couple own four cottahs of land, not much to carry out extensive agriculture on.
That is not her claim to fame though.
In 2005, India recommended her for the Nobel Peace Prize for her four-year fight to reclaim nine acres of land at her village in Khairi which had been taken away by the landlords.
“It has been a struggle to remember,” says Tiliya, 66, the years not showing as she effortlessly hops in and out of her campaign vehicle in the gruelling heat. “I think the people here, who are mostly poor and come from a rural background, will identify themselves with me as I too am a poor woman.”
Dressed in a sky blue cotton saree and sporting the trademark AAP cap, Tiliya campaigns in a mini-truck touring through Jhanjharpur town, a contrast from the cavalcade of SUVs and other vehicles being used by the big daddies.
“I know I am contesting against some very tough candidates belonging to big parties. But those moving around in swanky cars should know that a poor man or family gets even more insulted when they see all that. It is the poor only who can understand the pain of the poor. We are using whatever donations we got for campaigning. In total, the donations which have come to us from across the country stand at Rs 3.5 lakh,” Tiliya told The Telegraph.
The contest isn’t easy. The main players in Jhanjharpur constituency, dominated by Yadavs, are Mangani Lal Mandal of the RJD, the BJP’s Birender Choudhary and the JD(U)’s Devendra Prasad Yadav. In 2009, Mandal, who had then fought the elections on a JD(U) ticket, had defeated Devendra Yadav, then of the RJD, by a margin of 72,709 votes.
Tiliya and her campaign managers point out that all three candidates are drifters.
Mandal joined the RJD after severing ties with the JD(U) earlier this year. Birender Choudhary, who was with the RJD, switched over to the BJP just before the elections were announced. Devendra Yadav, who was with the RJD earlier, exited the party and formed the Samajwadi Janata Dal Democratic in 2011. Then, before the elections were announced, he merged his party with the JD(U).
“All of them have continuously hopped parties and hence we believe they have lost the trust of the people,” said Tiliya. “The people understand that.”
For the AAP candidate, her struggles began early in life and this, she feels, is what gives her an edge over her rivals. “I was married off at an early age of 14, I have been a bonded labourer and also an activist. So I think I have got more experience than them,” she said.
Tiliya recounted how she became an activist. “During the Bhoodan movement, Acharya Vinoba Bhave had distributed the lands belonging to the zamindars or landlords among the landless farmers. The movement had been started in the early 1950s. As part of the same movement, nine acres of land was taken away from the landlord of my village and given to the Mushars, who come under the Dalit community. But by the late 90s, things had gone bad and the landlords of the village had forcibly taken back the land from the community. My village comes under the Balia panchayat and in 2001, I was selected as a member of the panchayat samiti. I went to the landlords and requested them to hand over the land to the Mushars. They refused and threatened me with dire consequences. Even my husband asked me to stop the protests and rallies as he feared a violent backlash of the upper caste landlords. At one time, he even threw me out of the house. But once you start something, it must be finished. I got support from my community and my husband too later. At last in 2004, the nine acres of land was handed back and we had won the fight,” Tiliya recalled.
The mother of five children — three boys and two girls — isn’t daunted by the thought of defeat. “I will return to the fields and work alongside my husband,” she smiles.
l Jhanjharpur votes on April 30