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Dhaka Tribune

First Santal woman contests polls

Update : 28 Dec 2015, 08:14 PM

The first Santal woman to stand for a reserved women’s councillor seat is contesting the municipal polls in Rajshahi.

Babita Mardi, whose electoral symbol is a pair of scissors, is standing against four other contenders for seat 2 of Kakonhat municipality in Rajshahi district’s Godagari upazila.

Local residents are excited by her candidacy and said they hope she can do something positive for the indigenous community.

Biplob Ali, a farmer of Tilahari vilage, told the Dhaka Tribune that the seat’s 3,250 voters are eager to see the outcome of the two front runners’ campaigns. The favourites for the seat are Jesmin Ara, whose symbol is a bee, and Babita Mardi.

Finding Babita was not easy, as the Dhaka Tribune found out. She was out campaigning and difficult to track down.

Nobody that was asked about her at Kakonhat bus could say where she might be found. Finally, somebody told the Dhaka Tribune that an NGO named KABIUS, where she worked earlier, would know where to find her.

KABIUS’ Ripon Azad found her number, she was soon contacted and the candidate agreed to a meeting on Mission Road.

On Mission Road, Babita was found talking to a tea seller. Her campaign appeared to be going well, because the tea seller was heard saying: “Didi, your Scissors are shining.”

Babita’s campaign centres on public service for all, but especially for the disadvantaged Santal community.

She said: “The Santal people are deprived in many ways. Their main problem is a lack of education. And they are falling further behind with the passage of time.”

She said she had worked in an educational programme and experienced first-hand how children could easily be trained and educated. She wanted to do this type of work for her community.

Babita added: “It is not just for Santal people … I want to do this work for all deprived people in society.”

The 3,250 voters for the seat include 550 Santals.

Babita says she wants to win with the support of the entire electorate not just her own community.

Her husband Sylvester Tudu is a staff at a chicken farm in Sursunipara, where Babita lives with him and their two children.

Asked about how she funded her campaign, she said the Jatiya Adibashi Parishad provided her with 4,000 posters for the campaign. Her staff is composed of volunteers.

Referring to her opponents, she said they have more money to spend but she had the blessings of the people. She said she was confident of winning the elections.  

Babita recently earned a BA degree from Saranjai Degree College in Tanore but in her electoral statement to the election Commission, she listed her educational attainment as HSC because she has not yet physically received her certificate.

Local resident Reneka Tudo told the Dhaka Tribune that she felt proud that Babita had stood for public office.

She said having a member of the Santal community in the council would make it easier for the council to understand the community’s concerns. 

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