Sri Krishna Devarayalu Lavu is a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha from the Narasaraopet constituency in Andhra Pradesh. He represents the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party. He is a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. He studied media and politics and gets spotted supporting women’s movements and women leaders in his state.
What inspired you to join politics? What were your initial thoughts about it?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Most of my electives were related to politics during my media studies, so I was introduced to political science abroad. Back at home, politics was an integral part of all discussions, which is very common in Telugu households. We usually know what goes into politics and all that happens from a young age. I always had the opportunity to discuss and have different perspectives about politics through my family members. So I grew up around people who were in politics indirectly and had a good understanding of it, so it was a natural transition into politics after studies.
Are challenges in politics different for women and men in politics?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Yes, it's entirely different for men to do politics in this age. But, even though many women are joining in, it is still a big challenge for women to enter and prove themselves and reach the leadership level.
For instance, if you have to grow in politics, you have to involve all your prime time in this, but during this time, you have your family, your kids growing up. So keeping all these things in perspective, many things need balancing for women. And unless they don’t have much support from their family, it becomes very challenging for them.
How do you see the work of other women politicians? Any examples of the women leaders whose works inspire you?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: They do fantastic work! In the past year, during the pandemic, we have seen that women led countries have done exceptionally well tackling the problem. New Zealand is one prime example of this and so is Kerala’s former health minister KK Shailaja. I feel that the women leaders have more empathy and more patience to sit through, listen, understand and execute it all. Both the examples that I gave were of crisis times, they were good at crisis management. With such instances, I can confidently say that their work is amazing and is inspiring.
You know, I try to listen very carefully when some woman politician stands up in the parliament and raises an issue because I believe they come up there after doing in-depth research and understanding the subject. When I listen to good orators like Smriti Irani, I am amazed. How she firmly and clearly communicates is noteworthy. You can also listen to Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi or Mahua Moitra. They communicate extremely well and they come well prepared. And you know, I actually listen to them whenever they rise to speak, actually try to listen more carefully.
What recommendations would you give to political parties to increase women's political representation across all levels?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Even if most political parties have women sarpanches, including my party, the Sarpanch’s husbands would always be running the political business from one side. The women are just there for the namesake and are proxies. To change this system, some training programs can be a start. If there is a mechanism in place wherein both public and the political parties can identify the women leaders. If not at the sarpanch level, then at least a district level, through workshops and talks. Identify women leaders and train them, then maybe through all this, we can actually increase women’s participation and representation.
For example, the Hindupur MP was given a ticket after doing something good in his area, so the party identified him and gave him the ticket. We can do something similar here if we come down at the district level, identify women leaders and encourage them. I think through that, one can amplify that effect where more women would come and participate.
Do you remember an instance where you or other men in politics stood up for women colleagues?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Mr Sasmit Patra is one of those highly vocal parliamentarians on women’s issues and having women in Parliament. And I think that women in politics are doing exceptionally well. So I don't understand why the men leaders have to stand up for their women counterparts after she has become a parliamentarian. As a parliamentarian, she is already a leader who has the power to make decisions and in my opinion, she doesn’t need someone else to stand up for her!
How does the media portray the work done by women politicians? Do you sense any bias in the reporting as compared to that of men?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Men politicians definitely get more space; however, women politicians have more space for topics like gender issues or women’s and children’s welfare. For example, Meneka Gandhi notably leads the talks on animal welfare. Women are way more empathetic, and that is why they maybe pick up these issues that affect them the most. Women politicians do get faced with questions about their marriage, children, managing work and personal life. Of course, there is a bias that exists.
Have you come across online trolling and harassment of women leaders? What do you think can be done to prevent this?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Hema Malini was massively trolled during the election time. But the public taught an excellent lesson to these trollers by giving her a huge mandate, making her a second-time parliamentarian. Another way of doing this is to have more women leaders in all the political parties. If the number of women leaders increases, then the miscreants will understand that if they did something against a woman leader of the opposition, the opposition could also do the same and if they don’t do it, it won’t happen for women leaders in their parties.
These slurs are not made by someone who has been involved in politics for a long time or by someone who has a political stature. It is actually done by people who are in desperate need of attention. The general public sees all this and understands this issue. For example, in the West Bengal elections recently, Mamta Banerjee was given a huge public mandate even after the amount of trolling and taunting she got from the people across parties. She was successful in the elections and got a huge mandate; that is one way you can teach the trollers a lesson.
Can political parties, political leaders and public figures on social media do something at their levels to help combat this?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: They definitely need to do that. If this kind of behaviour is observed anywhere, regardless of gender, be it a man or a woman, the political parties and their leaders must stand up and say this is unacceptable. If you have a difference of opinion, have it on policy-making, the implementation of the policy, on political ideologies, and governance, but do not abuse a party leader. Even if someone is not from my party but gets abused or trolled, I will definitely stand up and call it unacceptable. Even if one of my followers engages in this kind of activity, I certainly will warn them and ask them to stop doing it.
Your speech in the parliament on the surrogacy bill demonstrated your strong commitment to women's rights. Could you take us through your thoughts on this topic and also on the women’s representation bill?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: I strongly support the passage of the women’s bill and that women should be given 33% of the reservation. The Bill should become an Act, but we need a large number of women entering politics even without all this. The women’s representation bill is not just about adding the numbers and it’s not about passing the bill. I believe that a systematic change has to happen, where women should be entering into politics organically. For this to happen, we have to ask ourselves if we really want to increase the number of women participating in politics, what can we do? We ought to identify the women who can come into politics and lead people.
In West Bengal, the number of women MLAs contesting by TMC was about 20 per cent. It happened because we had a woman CM there who encouraged more women into politics. If you give more seats to the women, your vote percentage also actually gets increased by one-fourth. So we should have this mechanism to replicate it if one or two political parties start this. It will be beneficial in both ways.
For the Surrogacy Regulation Bill of 2019, I wanted the Bill to be framed in such a way that considers the nuances of our social fabric and structure of a conservative society where a woman is placed and for them to have such a right without being discriminated based on their psychological space, personal life, social life, and sexual orientation. Also, the social and economic needs of the surrogate mother in this century alongside the situation of the mother who cannot conceive.
In your constituency, the number of women voters is more than men, so if some of the women within your constituency want to join politics, what is the support and encouragement they expect from you and the party?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: In my district Guntur, we have three women members of legislative assembly (MLAs) and woman minister. She is Mekathoti Sucharita, also our Home Minister of the state. She went through many grinds, where she was a ZPTC (Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency) member, she was in opposition for five years and was an MLA twice. She knows the in and out of how the political structures work and even how certain leaders and officers work. She is one example of how a Dalit woman leader was encouraged by our Chief Minister from the ground to becoming the Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh. This is one such example of how women can lead and be made into leaders by parties.
What would you like to tell other men in politics to become better allies of women in politics?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Women are equally competent as their men counterparts and we shouldn't have the presumption about the capabilities of a woman leader. If the men in politics entrusted their women colleagues with some work, they would make sure they got it done. It is for the men to have complete confidence in the women. Men must give the details of what they expect, communicate well and handhold the women since they are less in number and some are new to the political space.
What message would you like to give to young aspiring women who want to enter politics and make a career in the political space?
Lavu Sri krishna Devarayalu: Don’t parachute yourself and go through the grind. It is usually after you truly understand the ins and outs and the good and evil in politics. It is essential to understand the whole process, where one must try to be more on the listening side. In politics, don’t try to jump to conclusions without listening to both sides of the story. I think these are things I tell my men colleagues as well since this is common to both men and women in politics.
[All the photographs are taken from his Facebook page]
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.