Prajwal Busta became the youngest Chairperson of the Jubbal Kotkhai Panchayat Samiti in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh at the age of 21 in 2016. Prajwal is now a former Chairperson and a practising lawyer. She is the National Executive Member of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She is also a member of the Himachal Pradesh State Planning Board.
How was growing up as a girl in Shimla and becoming a first-generation politician?
Prajwal Busta: In my college days, I was a student activist and was working at a student organisation. At work or in college, I felt that I could efficiently resolve any problems my friends or colleagues had. I thought I should go further in politics to solve problems. After completing my undergraduate study, I am enrolled in a law school. In the first semester, the panchayat elections were held and I decided to contest the polls. I was elected, and that’s how my journey in politics began.
Nobody from my family had ever contested an election before, so they were sceptical about me getting support in this endeavour, just like any parents in a middle-class family. I had to make my father understand that this was more than winning or losing for me. It was about my passion and interest in the field, and until I contested, how would anyone know if people were willing to support them or not. Though it did take time initially to get an agreement, eventually, he entirely had my back. With time, friends, relatives, my colleagues from the media space and even my college professors encouraged me. When I went for canvassing in my locality, people blessed me like their own daughter. In my constituency everyone, from across the party lines has supported me. All of this has kept me motivated.
What are the main challenges faced by women politicians in your state?
Prajwal Busta: There are issues like gender discrimination, oppression in a political space dominated by men, and women's patriarchal mindset that deter women in politics across states in India. The work and achievements of women in politics can change such attitudes. Also, our men counterparts should give us free space to exhibit our work and performance in politics.
Having a political background and backing does help in creating a solid foothold in the space. At the minimum, those with political background have guidance and mentorship to tackle the difficulties in politics, which provides them with some edge over the first generation entrants.
Did you face such challenges in your career so far and how did you overcome them?
Prajwal Busta: My challenges were the same as that of any newcomer in politics. I wanted to prove that despite coming from a non-political, middle-class background, I could carry on with the duties and responsibilities the same way other politicians did. Some with a narrow mindset labelled me as a ‘village girl’ or a ‘middle-class person’ and said things such as, 'you are a girl, how dare you rise in politics?’
Another struggle was that most of the political leaders, who were now my colleagues, were of my parents’ age. There were differences in our opinion and the working styles. Balancing my work in between these generational differences proved to be the biggest struggles.
Have you come across the practices of sarpanch pati, sarpanch putra or sarpanch pita? Would you like to share any efforts that are being made to stop this practice?
Prajwal Busta: Yes, villages in Himachal Pradesh still have such practices. Since the public gets to choose a sarpanch as their elected representatives, it should be on them to raise their voices collectively and powerfully against this injustice. To curb this, in Himachal, there is a state order stating that the husband of the panchayat pradhan and her other family members are prohibited from even entering the Panchayat office building.
There is also a need for spontaneous complaints and raising of voice against such unfair practices. I have seen that husbands of some of my own women colleagues always accompany them and keep trying to sit in Gram Sabhas and other meetings with their wives, which was strictly not permitted.
Such an issue is an accurate representation of the parochial thinking of Indian society. And somewhere down the line for the survival of our political career, we limit ourselves in doing things differently? We fear that we will lose the support of people, or the masses might turn against us. So this is a failure of our political system.
What are your thoughts on expressing an opinion online and the different forms of harassment and violence against women politicians online?
Prajwal Busta: Women are fiercely putting forth the views of their political parties on various media platforms. Women are much more politically active and engaged than ever, especially compared to men. Their opinions and voices are not only heard but also acknowledged and appreciated too.
Unfortunately, online abuse is widespread at the local level, and I have been subjected to such trolling online. I believe the people involved in such trolling are usually ignorant and illogical political workers who want to pull down the succeeding women. They do not have any logical grounds, so they troll using their baseless arguments. Men politicians also need to raise their voices against the online trolling of their women colleagues. A legal check is also required to stop such people. There should be a complete ban on abusive expressions to ensure women’s safety on social media platforms. This kind of behaviour against women politicians must be unacceptable.
What is the scope for women politician's collective action or solidarity against women's challenges in the political space?
Prajwal Busta: Whenever a woman helps the other woman, their powers double up and both of them get stronger. There is undoubtedly scope for such solidarity to bring down the patriarchal and male-dominated structures in politics. And through this mutual support, the political spaces can be truly transformed. But in our system, some women do not support other women the way they should ideally. Women's collective efforts can address the general misconceptions and biases of people against women politicians.
Is your work well recognised as compared to your men colleagues?
Prajwal Busta: I am lucky enough to have been recognised for my work across the country as the youngest Chairperson of a Panchayat Samiti in India. Whatever work that I have undertaken has been well-appreciated. Some people appreciate and criticise, which can sometimes be taken as positive feedback. In my years of experience, I have felt that both men and women get equal recognition for their work, as that’s how it should ideally be.
How would you support other women politicians or those aspiring to join politics?
Prajwal Busta: I want the young women to have guidance and mentorship on overcoming the difficulties in politics. If they are aware of the specific issues they are bound to face as women in politics, it will help them overcome them better. I do not want them to face the same challenges that the older generation of women in politics have faced. So whenever I get an opportunity, I try my best to provide a platform to raise voices and engage with young girls keen on entering politics.
My message is to be persistent in whatever they want to achieve in the political field and not let the initial struggles demotivate them.
Will you write a book about your personal experiences to guide young girls into entering politics?
Prajwal Busta: It is the first time I have been asked this question, so I am happy to answer, yes, I even thought of a title for it 'मैं, मेरी जिंदगी और राजनीति' (Me, My Life and Politics). To guide the young girls who want to join politics and discuss the challenges that politicians at the grassroots level face and overcome. I certainly will write a book about it.
Now that you have completed your tenure as a Chairperson for the Panchayat Samiti, what are your future plans?
Prajwal Busta: I have always aspired to reach higher and have better platforms. I want to learn from my mistakes and improve the quality and ways of my work. I will keep moving forward and create my own path, but when will I get that opportunity? It’s something that I can’t confirm right now, and it is also dependent on the people’s choice. As I have mentioned before, I want to be in electoral politics and continue to serve people.
What message would you like to give to the men in politics to become better allies for women?
Prajwal Busta: Treat your fellow women colleagues with the same respect and dignity that is generally expected from them. Also, provide an open space for women to express and articulate themselves through their political craft. They should encourage increased participation and representation and help access political platforms to women in the same way they do for their men colleagues.
This interview is a part of the Worth Asking Series 2021. The series aims to bring conversations with women in politics about politics as a career choice and with men politicians about their role as allies.
Read previous interviews in the Worth Asking Series here.