Nepali Times
Nepali Society
Still speaking for women

Then Taranath Ranabhat resigned as speaker of the House of Representatives, word got around that his replacement would be none other than acting speaker Chitralekha Yadab. But to many people's surprise and the dismay of many, the new government decided otherwise. However, Chitralekha was smiling as she shook hands with incoming speaker Subash Nembang. "Politics is not just about winning seats. These opportunities just come and go," the soft-spoken Chitralekha told Nepali Times. "If I lost the confidence of the people, that would upset me the most," she adds.

It was the support of the people in her tarai community that led Chitralekha to emerge as one of the top leaders of the Nepali Congress, and to date as the only female politician in the party to make it big without being a Koirala relative. Many still say that the one big mistake she made was to back Sher Bahadur Deuba during the NC's break-up but Chitralekha believes it was as wise a decision as the one she made to enter politics in the footsteps of her role model and father Yamuna Prasad, who had by compulsion become an MP during the late King Mahendra's rule. (Time will tell if her decision this week to reject the post of Minister of Water Resources was also a good one.)

Although Kathmandu may know Chitralekha as the deputy speaker or a member of Deuba's party, she is a role model for most of the tarai populace, especially its girls, women and even young men. And they're not surprised at her success.

As a young girl, Chitralekha took on responsibilities beyond her age. She was barely 16 when she married Sri Krishna but only on the condition that he and his family would let her pursue higher studies. Their daughter was born when Chitralekha was only 18 and is now studying in college. But she was so adamant to complete her studies that neither married life nor the conservative society surrounding her could stop her.

Chitralekha's classmates at Mahendra Adarsa Vidyasram in Kathmandu still remember her as an intelligent girl. "No one could beat her in her studies and she just excelled in everything, from songs to acting to speaking," says one of her friends, who hopes that Chitralekha has not forgotten her.

While she was studying education in Siraha during the Panchayat era, her reputation as a superb speaker got her noticed by student union leaders. They convinced her to join them in the Jana Andolan and by the time Chitralekha reached Kathmandu to study at Tribubhan University, she had already been elected treasurer of the Nepal Student's Union, which played a major role in steering the country's youth against the absolute monarchy.

Even though Chitralekha has proved herself as a woman in the male-dominated political world, she feels that male leaders should do more to ensure women's participation. "As long as these male politicians are narrow minded and not pluralistic in their thinking, women's participation will be a far dream," she says, adding that only female politicians will change the male hegemony in Nepal's politics.

Naresh Newar

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)