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From her childhood days to becoming President: Droupadi Murmu shares her fascinating journey in an interview with Union Minister Smriti Irani

The programme was aired under the radio series 'Nayi Soch Nayi Kahani- A Radio Journey with Smriti Irani'. The show was hosted by Union Minister Smriti Irani. This series showcased amazing stories of women's empowerment with the help of government initiatives.

President Droupadi Murmu gave an interview to Union Minister Smriti on Monday (12th February). She shared her journey to the highest constitutional post in the country during this interview. In the interview, Murmu shed light on stories from her childhood memories to public life. The special episode was recorded at Rashtrapati Bhavan on the occasion of ‘World Radio Day’ – 13th February. The hour-long programme was broadcast by All India Radio on Tuesday (13th February).

The programme was aired under the radio series ‘Nayi Soch Nayi Kahani- A Radio Journey with Smriti Irani’. The show was hosted by Union Minister Smriti Irani. This series showcased amazing stories of women’s empowerment with the help of government initiatives. Union Minister’s show for All India Radio concluded with the President’s interview. In this report, we delve into the views shared by President Droupadi Murmu.

President Droupadi Murmu started with her recent Delhi metro journey

At the beginning of the interview, Murmu spoke about her recent journey in the Delhi Metro. She said that she wanted to experience how people feel while commuting through this public transport. She said that there are many modern-day difficulties in urban life today; so she wanted to explore the comforts and discomforts prevalent in the current metro system. She also said that after getting such experiences, she shares with the government all the good experiences as well as gives suggestions wherever necessary. She also said that interaction with students in the metro was pleasant as it was a long time since she met students. She recalled her days as a teacher in the 1990s as she talked about her interaction with students in the Delhi metro.

Humble beginnings

President Droupadi Murmu was the first female student in her village to study post-the fifth standard of the school. She said, “I was an ordinary girl. Becoming the president of India was never my dream. I was just like any other student in the village. I used to play with the other kids in the village in my childhood. We would go to school. Sometimes we would steal mangoes and guavas from somebody’s garden or farm. As a child, everything was just like most of the ordinary kids. We would swim in lakes for hours. As a young girl, I never dreamt of becoming the President of India or some big officer. It was beyond our scope of imagination. All we would think of was that ‘We should get a good education and secure some good job’.”

She added, “I developed the ambition of getting educated and securing some job because of my grandmother who lived in Jamshedpur situated at 60 to 70 kilometres from my village. She was not very educated. But she knew what difference education may bring about in the lives of people. She had closely watched it in Jamshedpur. She would thus tell me to get educated. She told me that being a girl I would be facing more struggle and therefore I needed to get an education. She told me that I should learn household chores alongside my education.”

How did President Droupadi Murmu get her name?

President Droupadi Murmu also shared an anecdote about how she got her name from a teacher. She said, “It is true that one of our teachers gave me this name. In our society, if people get a girl as their first child, they name her after her grandmother. If they get a son as their first child, they name him after his grandfather. It is because people think that the body may die but the name should be immortal. People want that the name should never die. This is why I initially got the name of my grandmother. I was named Durgi by my family.”

She further said, “One of our teachers used to travel to the school from the adjoining district. He did not like that name. Then he kept the ‘D’ from Durgi and renamed me Droupadi.”

President Droupadi Murmu has a motherly approach towards her team in the Rashtrapati Bhavan

Union Minister asked the President about her special approach towards her team in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. President Droupadi Murmu answered to this in detail during this interview. She said, “Coming to the Rashtrapati Bhavan is relatively a recent thing. But, before this, I had the same approach wherever I served. Sometimes, I was an MLA or a minister. Wherever I lived, I believed in living as a family and taking responsibility for the family. I considered everyone in my team as a family member. And it should be like that only because we work with them for a complete five years, which is not a short period. So this family includes everyone from a grade 3 or grade 4 worker to a class one officer. Sometimes we scold an erring family member strictly. At other times we impart love to them. We celebrate festivals together.”

Along with this, President Droupadi Murmu also mentioned her favourite song ‘Vande Utkal Janani’. She underlined that the cultural heritage of Odisha played an important role in her career. She recalled many inspiring Odia poems. She also said that Sengol in the new parliament building symbolises Truth, Justice, and Non-violence. She shared that it was an amazing experience to reach to the parliament for the first time as the President of India.

Early days of service

Remembering the early days of her service in the irrigation department of Odisha, President Droupadi Murmu said, “Had I been in the service, today it would have been five years post my retirement. Very few colleagues from that era are now in contact. But I came to know that when I took the oath as the President of India, sweets were distributed in the department where I used to work.”

Recalling her next job as a teacher, she said, “Life does bring many different things to you. I had to leave my job as a junior assistant in the irrigation department. We moved to a place where my husband was posted by his bank. As our kids grew, I thought about what could be an occupation I could engage myself into and help the family in multiple ways. At that time, I decided to take up the job of a teacher.”

About the teaching job, she further said, “I was ready to educate kids in the school as well as my children at home. Teaching is a very different job than my earlier job. Imparting education is seen as a great donation. It is a very important function in society. But if your mind is stable, you can mould yourself into various roles you are supposed to play. Be it a junior assistant or a teacher. I used to teach various subjects like Hindi, Odia, Mathematics, and Geography.”

President Droupadi Murmu added, “I still meet or interact with my students. My students reached new heights in their lives. Some of them are in the USA. Some others are in London. Many of them are doing high-ranked jobs. I meet them sometimes. When I see them doing these great jobs, I feel happy. My students also became very happy when I was sworn in as the President of India. They sometimes visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet me. The students live in distant places. They also meet me whenever I go to their cities.”

The surprise candidature for the post of the President

President Droupadi Murmu also shared her experience about the moment she knew that she would be nominated for the top constitutional post in the country. Murmu said PM Narendra Modi could not contact her over the phone due to a poor mobile network at her home. For this reason, the PM then called Murmu’s private secretary. It was the PS who immediately told Murmu that the Prime Minister wanted to talk to her. Murmu was surprised to know this. When she was told about her idea for the presidency, for a moment she could not believe it. Then she said, “Thanks for showing this trust in me. If you are believing in this, be it so.”

She added, “As the news spread in the night, people from my village and other nearby villages started gathering near my house. It was a huge crowd. My village is very near to Jharkhand. Many people came from Jharkhand. People said that we came here to see you. Once you become President, you will become busy and we will not be able to see you this close.”

Managing the political career and family life simultaneously

President Droupadi Murmu also shed light on her experience of simultaneously managing her political career as well as her family responsibilities right from 1997 when she was contesting a councillor election as an independent candidate for the first time. She said, “I was not ready at first because my children were young. But I had some political inclination. The family was worried for sure. Because in those days, there were fewer women in politics. My husband had some weakness. Still, he supported me and I fought the election. I became a councillor and became vice-chairman of the council.”

Pondering more about the balance she achieved between her duties as a mother and as a people’s representative, she said, “Politics is not a 10 to 6 office job. It is a public service 24 hours by 365 days. One has to manage household responsibilities with that only. Especially, when your kids are young, they are not independently standing on their own, you need to pay attention to them as well. This is indeed a big responsibility. But you have a higher responsibility towards the society as well. If your family supports you at such time, you can take the responsibility. My husband gave me great support when I became the vice-chairman. I did not know how to ride a cycle, how to drive a motorcycle or a scooty. He took a bank loan and bought a four-wheeler. It was a Maruti 800 – the smallest one of that time. I learned how to drive it. I practised it. When I became a minister, even then I was willing to drive the vehicle myself. But my husband told me that I should not drive it now as I have a yet higher responsibility. You should not drive with so many thoughts in your mind, he said. This is why I stopped driving then.”

Facing the challenges as a woman minister

President Droupadi Murmu also shared her experience of working as a minister. She said, “Becoming a minister was a new thing altogether. I had faced a new situation at every milestone in my life. I was minister of transport and commerce. These subjects were alien to me. At every step, people would speculate what would I as a woman do in these portfolios. The sounds of those questions echoed into my ears. I resolved that no one should be able to raise a doubt and say that this lady could not do anything here. I decided to work in that manner. I would take a review every month. I would see for latest developments and income generation and revenue collection in our department. I worked on the steps to increase the income of my department.”

She added, “In those days, we had 18 RTO offices for 30 districts. I made it 30 RTO offices for 30 districts. There was a collection from check gates as well. I made it from 18 check gates to 23 check gates. There were many leakages in the chain. I raided collectors at midnight to address this issue. I received appreciation for my work. I gained confidence to work alongside the chief minister of the state.

President Droupadi Murmu also talked about various facets of women’s empowerment

“Seeing males and females with discriminating points of view is not fair. God has created both man and woman and he has bestowed equal mental capacities on them. Physical forms are different but their self-realisation is the same. They are equally powerful. Earlier, the society would not agree upon it. Women have mental power, they have self-realisation. If they get even a small support like in the form of a Mudra Loan, or even a word of appreciation, they feel yet more empowered. They put more energy into their work as a result. This scheme is a very good attempt to empower women in India.”

She added, “I go to universities and colleges. I see, there was a time when two or three female students would secure a first class. Now, we can see more than 70 per cent of gold medalists and scholars on the campuses are female students. Whenever I see such scenes on campuses, I feel very happy. Women also got an opportunity in the Republic Day parade and I was very happy to receive the salute as a woman supreme commander of the armed forces.”

About facing bigger challenges at every step, she said, “The first issue is to give opportunities and trust to the woman. I am thankful for the trust shown in my capacities at every time. If she can manage and handle the household responsibilities, so can she handle the responsibility of the country. And after all, time is God. You need to have a good time as well. I was very happy to sign the women’s reservation bill as the President. In current times, there is a need to give more opportunities to women. But I wish there comes a time when there is no need to make such a bill. People understand the importance of themselves and women are given equal opportunities. I have come here after a long struggle. I was feeling very proud to sign the bill. I have seen the works of very talented women in the country. When women will get an opportunity to enter the legislative assemblies and parliament in higher numbers after this reservation, at that time we can see their contribution and talk about that. But one cannot sideline them saying that ‘She is a woman, she cannot do anything’. They can work at that level. They should be given opportunities.” She also shared her experience of flying in Sukhoi of the Indian Air Force, and visit to Pokharan.

‘Yoga helped me overcome depression’: President Droupadi Murmu

President Droupadi Murmu said that there was a tough phase in her life when she lost her husband and two children. She noted that it was at this juncture that she turned towards Yoga and meditation. She underlined that practising Yoga played a great role and helped her overcome the depression. When asked about preferring national duties over grieving personal losses, she said that one should always keep his mind engaged in activities. She said, “And the activities should be positive. Thoughts should be positive. Getting trapped in overthinking and grieving is not the proper way to address it. An empty mind brings more problems to you. Negativity hollows you from inside.”

When asked about the role of a motherly attitude in the political career of a woman politician, she said, “It differs from person to person how much someone is compassionate and caring. Motherly care is important in life. Someone may give this care to her family. But someone may take herself up and see a larger family. You can do it either way. It depends on you. After all, you become what you think.”

G20, global image of India and more

President Droupadi Murmu also remarked that India’s stature in the international arena is continuously growing for the last few years. She noted that India during its presidency of the G20 summit gave the mantra of ‘One World One Family One Future’. She mentioned how India helped many other countries by providing COVID-19 vaccines. She emphasised India’s role in rescuing Indians as well as citizens from other countries from crisis-hit zones.

She also detailed her spiritual journey and told how it helped her during tough times. She also underlined that revamping the sites of civilisational and dharmik importance plays an important role in imbibing spirituality and faith in the minds of the people. She said, “Development means a wholesome development of a person and society. It has various dimensions like economic, social, cultural, civilisational, and technological too. One has to move ahead with the advancements of his time. But one cannot forget the importance of having a strong spiritual base.”

Telling about her ways to deal with criticism, she said, “Accept good things and ignore bad things. That is the way to deal with it.” The President of India concluded the interview with an appeal to the countrymen to participate in the 2024 general elections with zeal and enthusiasm as it is the largest event of democracy.

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