JULY 21, 2022
Droupadi Murmu, 64, is a former schoolteacher who grew up in a village in eastern India, where some of her close relatives in the Adivasi community still live without electricity.
Raised by a rice farmer, she grew up studying at night by kerosene lamp — until, eventually, teaching led her into politics. She was elected the first female governor of Jharkhand state in 2015.
“A tribal woman in Raisina Hill is hugely significant,” said Nalin Mehta, a political scientist who studies India’s ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party, which elected Murmu with 64 percent of votes.
“The BJP is greatly focused on the tribal as well as women vote, which are key new support bases,” Mehta told the Washington Post. “Murmu combines both in her persona.”
Murmu, the second female to ever hold the Indian presidency, has a largely ceremonial role, as the country is run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But as head of state, Murmu’s election marks a significant shift in political visibility for the marginalized tribal communities that make up 9 percent of the country’s population.
The Adivasi, or “original inhabitants,” often live in under-served villages where they battle poverty and land grabs by developers.
“Since independence, no one from this diverse tribal community had found representation at this level,” said BJP official Samir Mohanty, The New York Times reported.
Smt. Droupadi Murmu Ji’s life, her early struggles, her rich service and her exemplary success motivates each and every Indian. She has emerged as a ray of hope for our citizens, especially the poor, marginalised and the downtrodden.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 21, 2022
In previous interviews, Murmu has said she hadn’t seen herself entering politics until a few years ago.
“At the time, politics was not looked at with a good point of view,” Murmu told on interviewer in 2016. “Especially for women — because the society I belong to, they think that women should not step into politics.”
Yet some have concerns over Murmu’s record with tribal issues while she was governor in Jharkhand state between 2015 and 2021. One activist, Dayamani Barla, pointed to reports of villagers who protested land seizures during her term and were charged with sedition.
“It is one thing to be appointed to a position, another to use it to serve the people of your community,” Barla told the Washington Post. “Tribals are dancing and singing today. Let’s see for how long this dancing and singing goes on.”