India has the privilege of having one of the highest numbers of women representatives in the world with more than a million members from the ward level to the highest positions of public office. Yet, this has not translated into real change on the ground as family connections and wealth continue to dictate politics. This is why there are only a handful of leaders like Hyma Sagi in the rare category of self-made women leaders. “Politics is about people and solving their problems. Any person, be it a middle class woman or an educated professional, can survive here provided she/he has a strong will to change the society.” she says. A well-educated, successful entrepreneur, Hyma joined the Lok Satta Party in 2009. Since then she has created a mark for herself by conducting ‘Bahiranga Sabhas’ (Public Meetings), several meetings in slum areas and by taking the Lok Satta movement into the people like no one has done before. Hyma has recently won the internal elections for the post of Lok Satta President of Sanath Nagar Constituency and is getting ready to contest in the 2014 elections. Her activities can be followed on Facebook and on this website.
Here is an interview of Hyma Sagi by Sravanthi Yalamanchili.
Sravanthi: It has been more than a year since you started working in Sanath Nagar Constituency. How is politics treating you so far?
Hyma: I am enjoying it! Ground realities may seem different from outside but once you start working, the opportunity to learn and contribute while trying to bring a change to the society feels good. There is also a strong misconception that middle class or educated people cannot survive in politics. My experience shows that this is simply untrue. There is no reason to be scared of anything and anyone with social consciousness and a strong will to change the society can join and move ahead in politics.
Sravanthi: How did your political journey start?
Hyma: Social consciousness and awareness have always played a part in our family discussions. Like most middle class families, we too aspired for a better society. It is only after I went to the US that I realized the importance of politics and how it can create a better society.
I was introduced to Lok Satta by a common friend Raghava Solipuram in Houston, Texas during a casual discussion. The connection between solutions and politics became even more visible after this discussion. I was particularly impressed by the 50 guarantees of the party. After this, I joined People For Lok Satta, the overseas group of Lok Satta supporters and started working as a volunteer.
One of the first activities I led was to organize ‘Call MLA Campaign’ in support of the Anti-Corruption Amendment Bill that was introduced by Dr. JP. It was my first encounter with our politicians and it made me realize how horrible our politics are. It was a simple process. A bill was being introduced and they had to vote either a yes or no based on what they think is good for the people. Most MLAs didn’t know about the bill and when we tried to explain, they weren’t even interested! Some openly stated that they will only vote if the chief asks them to. Even for a cause that will eliminate corruption at the top level, no MLA was interested. What we understood was that they are all dummies who act based on what CBN or YSR say. We talked to the independents and they weren’t interested either as they too were indirectly supporting one major party or the other.
If we turn on news in USA, we see politicians discussing every bill for hours. By the time it gets implemented, an average citizen becomes familiar with the pros and cons of the bill. Unfortunately in India, that’s not the case. Though we finished the campaign, it was not successful as the major parties rejected the bill. Except CPI and CPM, no one supported us.
Months later, when JP visited the US as a part of the Rejuvenate India programme, my decision to go back to India became stronger. I submitted my profile to the Lok Satta Party and moved back to India with my family. Since then, I started working in Sanath Nagar.
Sravanthi: When you came to Sanath Nagar you are an unknown face. Today, you have created a mark for yourself and a big wave of supporters are already cheering for your victory. How is this possible?
Hyma: I was born and brought up in Sanath Nagar. This is my home and so it is a major advantage for me.
Politics was new to me. So, JP garu schooled us in the initial days and gave us the opportunity to learn and the room to grow. I am very thankful to him. And of course, there was always support from People For Lok Satta and I always knew that I am not alone in this. Had I come alone and tried to fight alone, it would have been really tough but the feeling of having a team behind me helped greatly.
I never think that we are building teams here. Instead we are building families. As soon as I came to the ground, I went and met all the prominent leaders of Sanath Nagar including those of other parties like TDP, BJP, TRS and MIM. I told them that I am new to politics and need their help. I invited them for Surajyam and built a good rapport. Though we are political rivals, in India people value social values greatly. If there are any events in the neighborhood, they invite ‘Lok Satta Hyma’. Because of this rapport, we never had any clashes on the ground like the tearing down of our flexies or posters.
Media too helped me greatly. Initially, they were a bit reluctant but after seeing my work and recognizing my sincerity, they themselves come to inform about issues or events and are spreading a good word of mouth.
Another thing I concentrated on was building the local cadre. Initially, I wanted to work on small and local issues. But Anand Reddy garu suggested bahiranga sabhas (public meetings) in order to connect with people in a big way. To organize such an event, we had to go door to door, put up banners, talk to local leaders which helped me in building a good cadre.
The biggest strength I have is my team. We all work together like a family while going on padayatras and meeting people. Usually I wake up in the morning and cook food if we have to spend the entire day outside because it will cost us Rs.1000 per meal if 10 of us have to eat outside. We think and act like a family. We are able to do this because we have a goal and a clear vision.
Sravanthi: How was it like knocking every door and doing padayatras?
Hyma: Middle class people know JP, Lok Satta and our ideology. They come to our meetings too. The biggest challenge is in the bastis (slums). The people there don’t know JP and Lok Satta is unfamiliar to them. Recently, one of our supporters Suresh got attacked by Congress leaders and we went in support. Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya too was present there. In the basti, people recognized Bandaru Dattatreya garu and flooded to see him but we don’t have that wow factor yet. To a basti, we go with drums first to attract people’s attention and then go to door to door. We learn their problems and try to get help within the possible scope. Yesterday, we had a public meeting in Chacha Nehru Basti. Narsing Rao garu, a reporter, who is a well-respected man in the basti, came up to the stage and endorsed me. He said “See this woman. She is coming to our basti and caring about us. Have you ever seen the MLA or concerned leader visit us after elections?“
Chacha Nehru Basti area has only 3 public toilets that too without proper water facilities or maintenance. We explained “Why should we wait for someone from outside to come and maintain our toilets ? If we give Rs.1000 to Radha Bhai, (a local leader there) won’t she keep them clean? This is what Lok Satta is about.” Like this, we were able to explain to them the concept of decentralization of power. If we explain in simplified terms in terms they can related to, anyone can understand and follow our ideology.
Sravanthi: What are the issues you are planning to work on?
Hyma: The biggest issue in colonies is overflowing trash bins. The municipality doesn’t have enough funds to clean them regularly. Locally people are not aware that there is a sanitary officer or how to contact him/her. We are working on creating this awareness.
In bastis, there are no pucca houses. Previously so many leaders from different parties have promised but they didn’t fulfill them. In one basti, they constructed pillars with slabs and left it there. People built temporary structures around the pillars and are living there for almost 10 years! The leaders do not want to complete them because if they do, they will lose the vote bank. Hence the people there have a dependency on the local leaders and have to vote for them during the elections.
Toilets are another big problem in bastis. They have few public toilets. But the queue is too big. So people are forced to go to Hussain Sagar. We need to increase the number of public toilets and supply water.
Last is the infrastructure related issues like mending roads and community halls.
Sravanthi: You were a part of the Lok Satta Nirbhaya Committee to send recommendations to Justice Verma. What recommendations did you send?
Hyma: We prepared a 30-page recommendation. We had to read the IPC and CRC code books to understand the sexual harassment laws of our country. I personally shared an incident with JP that happened to me in my school. After the discussion, he closed his eyes for a minute and said “On behalf of all men, I apologize to you today.” By then we were only concentrating on Section 376 – for rape and section 354 – for attempted rape. He came back with a 4 page document for section 509 which is for eve teasing and related acts of sexual harassment. Dr. JP contacted Justice Verma personally and requested him to make sure they are a part of the act. Most of the recommendations we sent were included. We may not understand their power today but some day when a woman gets justice through these laws, it will be a rewarding experience.
Sravanthi: Hyma, tell us about your team.
Hyma: We have some very passionate people in our team like 22-year old Rajeev who works full time in Sanath Nagar. Vijaya garu and her husband Murthy garu donate Rs.500 from their pension every month. Vijaya garu is also the in-charge of Sanath Nagar division. Vimala garu too works full time and a regular donor. We have a software engineer Kiran garu. He is our campaign strategist. Shashi garu is another active volunteer. He designed our Surajyam website as well. Kasturi garu and Anand Reddy garu are our chief strategists. Bhavani garu is our GHMC in-charge. She has an excellent knowledge of how the government offices work. Similarly we have strongholds in every division of Sanath Nagar constituency.
Sravanthi: How anyone can join your team ?
Hyma: They can either call us at 9010506789 or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact via Facebook: www.facebook.com/hyma.praveen
Sravanthi: Thank you, Hyma, for your time and we wish you good luck for the 2014 elections.
Hyma: Thank you