Pramila Bisoyi: Mission Shakti's poster girl from Odisha
There is bright red alta (dye) on her feet. Her wrists jangle with glass bangles. Two nose pins dot the tip of her nostrils. Diminutive but upright, Pramila Bisoyi, 70, looks at ease in New Delhi, getting her identity card issued, submitting her bank details and figuring out the process for getting the MP’s accommodation. Nothing about her belies the fact that this is the first time she has travelled out of Odisha; she is accompanied by her son Dilip, grandson Gobind and a village party worker. “It is a beautiful place. I am impressed with Dilli Durbar [Parliament House],”
Pramila is the poster girl of Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik’s women empowerment initiative, Mission Shakti. He reserved 33 per cent of the parliamentary seats for women, and entrusted Aska, a constituency earlier represented by his father and from where Patnaik started his political career, to Pramila. Her nomination was a shocker for many. A class three dropout and wife of a subsistence farmer had been preferred to educated candidates, some even from erstwhile royalty. If the nomination made people sneer, the result hit many in the solar plexus—Pramila won with a margin of more than two lakh votes, among the highest victory margins in the state.
Interacting with this mother of two sons and two daughters, one soon understands why she was the chosen one. There is steel in her resolve, confidence in her approach and calmness even in an alien environment. Pramila holds her own, as she has for years. She was in her 40s when she mobilised women to demand water security and toilets. That was her first interaction with the Gram Vikas Yojana. When she learnt that greening the landscape would help in better water management, she mobilised women of her maternal and marital villages for tree plantation. Soon, she was general secretary of all self help groups (SHG) in her block. Each block has around 25 panchayats; there are 30 SHGs in every panchayat. She was involved in projects that encompassed a range of rural issues—sanitation, nutrition, environment and even peacock protection.