A lot has already been told, written, and broadcasted on radio and television about the new President of India ever since she was put forward as a Presidential candidate by the government and its allied partners NDA.

But here I am going to write about her as a person, as I found her during my meetings with her on my regular annual visits to India when she was the Governor of the state of Jharkhand. I also met her during her visits to Dumka, the sub-capital of the state.

My first meeting with Her Excellency was at RAJ BHAWAN, Ranchi when she was the Governor of the state of Jharkhand. After greeting her with folded hands and saying ADI MANOT JOHAR in my mother tongue Santhali, she asked me to sit down.

I then started to introduce myself to Her Excellency, saying that I was born during the British Raj in a village called BOARIJOR in the subdivision of Godda in the greater Santhal Pargana district in the then united Bihar. Now it falls under the Godda district in the state of Jharkhand. I studied at different village schools before reaching the premier school of the district at that time called Dumka Zila school in the 10th class, where my eyes and mind opened up and I decided to become a doctor.

I went on to tell her that, there was not a single college in the whole of the greater district of Santhal Pargana at that time. I decided to go to the best available in the state which was in the capital city of Patna. I joined the Science College and then studied medicine at the then Prince of Wales Medical College. While doing my medicine course I competed and won a Govt. of India scholarship to learn flying and I qualified as a pilot before becoming a doctor. I was always looking out for opportunities and seizing them. While working as a Civil assistant surgeon at Jamtara, a subdivisional town of Bihar I came to know that there was a scholarship for Adivasi doctors for higher training in the UK and managed to secure this and went to the United Kingdom in 1965 and have been here since. But I never forgot India and its people and in particular tribal people of (then Bihar and now) Jharkhand and kept on coming back to do some social, cultural, educational, medical & charity work amongst our adivasi communities.

I also told her how I have traveled widely in tribal areas of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. I also informed her about my visit to the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha and spending a night in a hotel in Rairangpur which is very close to her home.

This brief interaction helped me to have access to her each time I visited India and I made sure that I called on her.

My impression of her is very positive. We always talked about educating our people so that our eyes and mind open up and we are able to resist exploitation by others. As a Chancellor of the universities of Jharkhand, she visited them regularly and implored them to make education accessible to all.

 

Adivasis should speak their own languages

She was also very particular about our languages, culture, and traditions and she suggested that all Adivasis should speak their own languages not only within the four walls of their houses but also outside their houses when they come in contact with fellow Adivasis. We should learn regional languages like Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, or wherever we are domiciled or depending upon where we reside. We should also learn English when we go to schools and colleges. We are naturally trilingual from birth which is a great advantage rather than a handicap. We should all try to take advantage of this and be proud of it. By following such simple advice from her, we can preserve and promote our languages, customs, and traditions and be proud of telling others who we are, and hold our heads high.

As regards tribal land rights and livelihood, she was fully aware of them and was not just an official rubber stamp as suggested by some of our people. In November 2016, the then Jharkhand government forwarded the proposed amendments to the two acts, namely the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act – to the Governor for her approval.

“How the amendments will benefit the tribal people?”

The Jharkhand government at that time had managed to pass the amendments by voice vote amid stiff protests from the opposition parties in the assembly. Draupadi Murmu, Governor of Jharkhand on June 2017 returned the amendment bills with a query. “How the amendments will benefit the tribal people?” was the query posed to the Chief Minister Raghubar Das-led government.

She had returned the amendment bill to the state government for reconsideration rather than just signing it. That shows she would not do anything against her conscience and within her constitutional position.

As regards her personal qualities, I found her to be polite and very welcoming. She makes her visitors feel relaxed and encourages them to talk freely about their problems and concerns.

My personal impression of the President is that she will protect the human rights of all Indians within the confine of her constitutional powers. She will also try to protect the livelihood and land rights of all Adivasi/forest dwellers within her constitutional position and rights. At least she will try and ensure that they are adequately compensated and rehabilitated when they are displaced for the greater good of the country.

In the meantime, all Adivasis should rejoice in the fact that one of us is occupying the highest office of the country, The Presidency of India at Raisina Hills, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi.

JOHAR & JAI HIND