When we first met her in 2015, she’d told us she hadn’t really decided what party she was “going” with, if at all. “This we’ll get to know only in 2017,” she’d said, the very picture of confidence, her take-no-prisoners body language exuding it as well.
Well, it’s 2017 and Sheelu Nishaad of Bundelkhand, now seems to have made up her mind. The district Congress leaders have been in touch, she tells us, and she’s simply waiting for that call from Delhi. She tells us that the Congress is likely to appoint her the State President (Women). She has heard about it from members at the district level. “I’ll accept it when Raj Babbar comes and appoints me,” she says, and you don’t have any reason to believe she’s joking.
Sheelu’s public life started with an ugly brush with power in its most brute form: In 2011, she was raped by an ex-MLA of the BSP Purshottam Naresh Dwivedi, and was asked by Mayawati to drop the charges. “She told me to take some money, a car, a post and let it go. I asked her if that’s what she would have suggested if I was a chamar ladki. She threw me into jail.” Sheelu pursued the case and eventually Dwivedi went to jail – Sheelu found herself on the radar, in international media too, and she went on to file her nomination in the pradhan elections, from her village Shahbajpur, in December 2015.
When Khabar Lahariya spent a day with her on the 2015 campaign trail, Sheelu was in the thick of the action amidst an all-male caravan. She joked that in the Bundelkhandi political lingo, she was head of the Naagin Gang: she had mobilized 20,000 angry women across Bundelkhand, as a parallel outfit to Sampat Pal’s Gulabi Gang. But Sheelu has an identity that speaks louder than a gang could, “My name is Sheelu Nishad. I’m contesting from Gram Sabha Barkola. I’m from Shahbajpur. Police post Naraini. District Banda.”
This time around, prepping sharp and smart for one of the biggest elections in the country, Sheelu distances herself from BSP politics and its honcho, “Her politics only serve her caste”, she says, “Nobody else”, implying that her style and values would be apart. Sheelu promises to work for everyone and especially women – just the kind of rhetoric that’s ensuring her popularity with the Congress.
During her panchayat campaign, she’d emphasized on the injustices against women, including sexual assaults and domestic violence, “There are many cases in this area – cases of sisters of mine, which are just filed away, and neither the officials nor the public pay heed to them. Now you tell me why they don’t pay any heed.”
Her stance, equal parts provocation and fierce ambition, coupled with her own personal history of standing up against violence and demanding justice, vigilante-style, casts Sheelu in a superheroine anarchist light. She’d told us in 2015, “The bottom line is, I’m not going to let those who have done wrong go unpunished. These issues need to be taken to the level at which they will be heard. If I find out about a case concerning a woman, then I go myself. What I’ve seen, and you can say if it’s true of your experience – people think that women are weak. Many people think women are weak. True? But I say women are not weak.”
It’s a stance we didn’t see weaken this time around either when Sheelu is closer, that much closer to an official role. “Achche acchon ko hila ke rakh denge…”, she says.
“The wind is blowing didi’s way,” everyone was telling us then, back in 2015. It bodes fair weather for Sheelu this Chunavi Dangal too, though we’ll all be watching this space.
This story is part of Khabar Lahariya’s exclusive coverage of the UP Elections 2017, Chunavi Dangal
Watch Sheelu’s interview along with other women gangs of Bundelkhand
and during her panchayati raj campaign