Like every first-generation immigrant to Canada, Dipika Damerla’s story is unique. But unlike any other success story, hers is particularly inspiring as the trailblazing politician is a native of Telangana. Daughter of an Army man, corporate executive and most recently appointed as the Minister of Seniors Affairs, Mississauga East-Cooksville MPP Dipika Damerla is the first Telangana woman to hold a ministerial position in North America and is the first Indian-origin minister in Canada’s largest province, Ontario.
Where it all began
“I was born in Secunderabad, and my ammamma and her family still reside at the Gunrock Enclave. Since my father was in the Army, I stayed in Secunderabad for four years and went to study in Raja Jitendra Public School, Begumpet, and Kendriya Vidyalaya, Trimugherry,” says Dipika. It was during her frequent trips to the elite Secunderabad Club and the commonplace Monda market that she grew up asking a question that would later be answered through her entry in politics in 2011: Why is a career in politics out of bounds for the middle class, more so if you are a woman? “Things are starting to change now. But then — I am talking about 1991, the year I moved to Canada — politicians were three things: rich, famous and influential; but never from a middle-class family,” says Dipika for whom a political career was never an articulated ambition because of this very limitation. “But the seed was planted. As a family, we would always talk, debate and discuss politics.”
Journey into politics
Dipika’s move to Canada came right after she got married. “Like every young, immigrant bride, I was excited.” After studying and working for a few years, she became a stay-at-home mother. “Later, I joined my then-husband’s business.” And it didn’t take long for Dipika to realise it was time to put her political aspirations to test. “Canada has an open nomination system, so anybody can run for the ministerial post. But that doesn’t mean it was easy,” she says.
Dipika contested for the first time in 2007, but failed, and then failed two more times consecutively. “I remember my daughter calling up people and asking whether they would support me. When some of them said no, she cried out: ‘But you supported my mummy last year?’ It broke my heart. When I look back, I realise it was my persistence that helped me through. 2017 is a watershed year, where there will be more people over the age of 65 than any other in younger age groups. The focus will be on implementing policies to advocating adequate health care and friendlier communities for the seniors.”