TIRUPATI: Nagari YSR Congress MLA and APIIC chairperson R. K. Roja Selvamani has come a long way since being an actress. Often referred to as “Real Firebrand” of AP politics, who always has the perfect answer for her rivals, the actor-turned-politician has become an inspiration for several women striving to make a space for themselves in politics.
On International Women’s Day this year, she speaks to Deccan Chronicle about her journey from films to politics. She shares what needs to be done if more women are to enter the political sphere. Here are some excerpts from her interview.
What does ‘feminism’ mean to you?
To me, feminism is women taking control of their own life and future, doing what they love unlimitedly. Most importantly, it means changing the way women and their roles are assessed by society. We should remember that the current feminism is a gift from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who fought for the right to vote. Their fight opened many doors for women in history. We now call that feminism.
What was the driving force behind your decision to enter politics?
I was deeply inspired by three persons – Mother Teresa, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Selvi Jayalalitha and my husband R. K. Selvamani. Mother Teresa reached everyone, whether poor or rich, sick or hungry and treated them alike. Her blessings got me into the sphere of social services.
Secondly, I did not have any political aspirations. My husband is a follower of Periyar’s ideology. Like him, I started believing that oppressed must be helped and empowered. He was the one who convinced me to enter politics. Significantly, Jayalalitha – the enigmatic woman leader in Indian politics, made me realise that a woman can brush aside all turbulences and challenges that life throws.
What do you think about the role of women in politics?
Over the last two or three decades, representation of women in parliaments has been increasing globally. But it is not so in India. Political parties not fielding them in sufficient numbers is a critical barrier. Higher numbers of women in parliament or assemblies will bring stronger attention on women's issues. Seeing women politicians helps young girls imagine themselves in leadership roles. This encourages them to enter into politics too.
What is the most important advice you would give to a woman seeking to start a career in politics?
There are many misconceptions that you have to come from a certain background, political family or movies to succeed in politics. Any woman, who is brave and committed to serve the society, can join politics. I agree that though being a woman politician gives you an edge, but there is also lots of criticism. You have to be tough, sometimes autocratic; yet compassionate to succeed in today’s politics.
Are there any assumptions about women that you would like to change?
Everyone thinks we are too sweet to be a boss, too pretty to be smart, and too emotional to be good leaders. We are weak because we are emotional, though that also what makes us strong. Yes, I cry when I am frustrated. But I never buckle under pressure. Women are stronger than people think. Our intellectual and emotional abilities will take us far beyond a man can go.
What is your message on International Women’s Day to women of the world?
Every woman should keep in mind that there will be blockades and crossroads in their path. Don’t let them stop you. Be yourself and not what others want you to be. Cultivate relationships, learn from others. Above all, help others; because if you fall in your journey, they will likely help you get up.