RAIRANGPUR (MAYURBHANJ): What a feat to have been achieved by the country, when it is celebrating Azadi Ki Amrit Mahotsav (75th years of Independence)! India has elected a tribal, and that too a woman, as the First Citizen of the country.
As the counting of votes showed a clear victory of Droupadi Murmu in the Presidential elections, the tribal lands of Odisha, which had been waiting with bated breath for the declaration of her elevation to the topmost post of the country, dived headlong into celebrations.
At her residence in Rairangpur town of Mayurbhanj district, family members of Murmu, though, are still to come to terms with what they term as a "miracle". "It is yet to sink in. Even after being informed by the Prime Minister's Office twice on the evening of June 21 about her nomination for President's post, we could not believe our ears," Taranisen Tudu, the 52-year-old younger brother of Murmu told this paper at her Rairangpur residence.
"Today, as she is set to become the President, we cannot but look back at the journey of struggles, hardships and personal tragedies she has gone through to reach here. She is a symbol of courage and will discharge her duties with dignity and uphold the values and honour of the post," he said.
Twelve years junior to Murmu, Taranisen and his wife have been living with her after she lost her husband and two sons.For everyone, who has known or been associated with Murmu, she is nothing short of inspiring.
The way she has endured the harshest knocks of fate and conducted herself in public life is no short of an inspiration for all. Her election marks a new chapter in India's story of women’s as well as the under-privileged sections' empowerment, said Basudev Behera, her school teacher.
Fondly remembering her school days at Uparbeda Middle English School, Behera said she was always keen on studies and nothing could stop her from coming to school.
Reaching the school during rainy days was a herculean task because of narrow and slippery road obstructed by numerous streams. One major stream (Uperbeda nullah) on the way to school was difficult to cross because of strong water currents.
"One day, it was raining cats and dogs. Only six persons could make it to the school that day - four students and two teachers including me - daring the narrow treacherous hilly roads and flooding rivulets," recounted Behera.
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"To my utter surprise I saw a completely drenched Droupadi in the school. I wondered how could she navigate the dangerously overflowing stream which is impossible for even an able-bodied person to cross. She said, Sir I swam across without any fear," he said.
Droupadi not only struggled her way to become a graduate but the first girl of the area to be a matriculate. Only four boys of her village had passed High Schools Certificate examination by that time.
Recalling her honesty and uprightness, Behera said headmaster of the school Bishweswar Mahanta had given her a geometry box as she could not afford one. On the last day of her school, she returned the box to the headmaster.
When the Headmaster said that the school had gifted it to her, she replied that she could not take it as she did not earn it as a prize or for any outstanding performance. Since the geometry box belongs to the school, she had no right over it.
"There are many facets to Droupadi’s life and the list is long. A good athlete, Murmu was a very compassionate person from her childhood. As she always cornered first prize in athletic events and her best friend Jamuna (who is no more) always came second, Murmu once deliberately underplayed her potential to see that her friend became winner," said Behera.
Murmu’s childhood endurance brought enough strength in her to pay back when opportunity came her way. As MLA of Rairangpur she did not waste time in ensuring pucca roads at almost all villages and used her local area development fund generously for fulfilling basic needs of the people.
She has also formed a Trust, named SLS after her husband and two sons, which is running a residential high school at Pahadpur providing free education to about 100 students. Trust vice president Muna Pratihari said Murmu spent considerable time in the school after her Governorship ended.