Sravanthi: Jaya Bhaghyam garu, what is your background? What inspired you to join politics?
Jaya Bhagyam: I am a commoner. I do not have a political background. So why did I join politics?
Men living in our area earn between 150 to 500 rupees a day from various jobs. As soon as they get down from the bus after work, they go straight to the liquor shop that is conveniently located next to the bus stop and spend most of their wages on liquor. They can hardly feed their families with what is left out of their earnings and most of the time, there is no money left after their drinking session. There are no words to explain the plight of the women and children of these families. They are forced to take up hard jobs just to make ends meet. We have children as young as 11 years old doing hard labor. 90 percent of the low income families in the state are facing this situation. Even worse, women face physical abuse and beatings from their husbands resulting in them committing suicide in a few cases. I could not stand this. So I gathered 400 women and started a campaign. This is the genesis of my entrance into politics.
Sravanthi: Tell us more about your liquor free campaign.
Jaya Bhagyam: 400 of us women rallied to the Collector’s office. We did not receive any response. So, we went to the MRO’s office and did a dharna while 19 of us started fasting indefinitely. By the end of the third day, police came and arrested us. They took us to a hospital for treatment, but we did not receive any and as the police left, the hospital staff kicked us out. It was 2:00 AM in the morning. Where could we go? What should we do? We did not know. At this juncture, leaders from the Loksatta Party came to our rescue and took us to the party office and offered us water and bananas. Despite their offering us food, 19 of us continued to fast. The next morning, they took us to the Collector’s office. We asked him, “What’s the use of two-rupee-kilo-rice or pensions if people are suffering from misery and dying at an early age?” and requested him to abolish the brandy shops. Though he did not initially agree, he eventually succumbed to our collective pressure and sealed the liquor shops. But on the third following the sealing, the shops re-opened and started serving liquor as usual. So, we teamed up with Loksatta leaders Padma Rani garu, Durga Devi garu, Ram Murthy garu and Katari Srinivas Rao garu. We went to Hyderabad to meet the Chief Minsiter Late Mr. Rajashekar Reddy garu. The CM said the government cannot do anything about this and left us. Then we went to Excise Officer Samarayya garu. He asked us to wait for 2 months and then removed the shops from the auction.
Sravanthi: How many liquor shops were closed because of this effort?
Jaya Bhagyam: A few. Our village Pedagottipadu and the neighboring villages of Agniguntapalem, Rayapadu became liquor free. We also got a few belt shop owners arrested and destroyed the shops that were put up illegally after the liquor licenses were cancelled. In 2007, we marched 63 kilometers with JP to the Collector’s office. This ignited a state wide moment and Loksatta closed a few hundred belt shops across the state.
Sravanthi: Did you try any personal approach with the addicted men? Does counseling help them?
Jaya Bhagyam: Yes we did try counseling and no, it does not really help. Only a handful gave up liquor after counseling and it had no effect at all on more than 75% of them. If you throw some rice outside the house, you are tempting the dogs to come and eat. I told the same thing to the Excise Officer Samarayya garu. If government approves licenses to open liquor shops in every nook and corner, how can we prevent our men from turning into alcoholics?
Sravanthi: Let us talk about your candidacy for the upcoming by-elections from Prathipadu constituency. What is the reason you decided to run for office?
Jaya Bhagyam: No matter which traditional party comes into power, nothing changes. We need a government that does not encourage people to drink. Our country can move forward only when we are able to create liquor free communities and villages. Traditional political parties like Congress and TDP are giving away money and liquor during elections. People are falling for those freebies and voting for the wrong people. This is the reason why we got associated with Lok Satta – a party that doesn’t give any freebies. We want to see Lok Satta in power.
Sravanthi: What are your main areas of focus?
Jaya Bhagyam: Liquor Free communities and socio-economic upliftment of women.
Sravanthi: Do you have any experience in leadership? Are you associated with any women empowerment groups?
Jaya Bhagyam: Yes. Until 2009, I was in-charge of around 100 DWACRA groups. I am also a member of General Committee at the mandal level. I had been serving as the Gramsamakya President since 2004.
Sravanthi: What are the kinds of activities you take up in these positions?
Jaya Bhagyam: Women empowerment, counseling, standing up for women who are facing physical abuse, charity work and helping children of widows and poor families to get education.
Sravanthi: As a person with no political background, what gave you the strength to compete against those powerful party candidates?
Jaya Bhagyam: As a commoner, I was able to stand against all odds for 1 year and 4 months even risking my life to launch a campaign against the liquor shops. Though it was tough, we still stood strong and were successful. For elections too, we got in with great determination and commitment. I am not here to earn money or for self-gain. I am here to create a better society. I hope the people see this.
Sravanthi: What about funds for campaigning?
Jaya Bhagyam: I have no money of my own to fund the campaign. The Loksatta Party is helping us with publicity and campaign expenses.
Sravanthi: What are your future plans?
Jaya Bhagyam: Regardless of the results in the elections, I am not going to give up the cause of liquor-free communities.
Sravanthi: Is there a message you would like to share with our readers?
Jaya Bhagyam: We want your complete support, especially from women and young educated students. I urge you to step forward to join hands and fight along with me to take this campaign forward.
Sravanthi: Jaya Bhagyam garu, we, from PFL would like to wish you GOOD LUCK. Thank you for your time.
Jaya Bhagyam: Thank you.