India’s only tribal President, Droupadi Murmu boasts of many firsts

Droupadi Murmu is no stranger to having firsts to her name — she was the first woman governor of India and will also become the first President to be born after Independence

The votes are in and tallied and Droupadi Murmu has been declared the 15th President of India.

After a day of counting, Murmu, the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) candidate, emerged the winner against the Opposition’s pick of Yashwant Sinha.

With this, Droupadi Murmu becomes India’s first tribal President. She will now take the oath of office on 25 July and replace Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

At 64, Murmu will be the youngest occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan. She is younger by a month to the sixth President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who was 64 years and two months when he took office.

Murmu will also become only the second woman to hold the First Citizen’s office after Pratibha Patil.

However, Murmu is no stranger to being the first at something.

First to attend college

Murmu, 64, comes from a small village called Uperbeda, located some 20 kilometres away from Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha.

With her ascension, she becomes the first President to be born after independence; she was born on 20 June 1958.

She belongs to the Santhal tribe — the third largest scheduled tribe community in India after the Gonds and Bhils.

She spent her childhood in Uperbeda, which today boasts of a population of 6,623 people. She still has her ancestral home here. The house belonged to Draupadi’s father and is now inhabited by her nephew, Dularam Tudu.

It was from Uperbeda that she went to state capital Bhubaneshwar to college, making her the first from the village to attain higher education.

At the time, her parents could afford to give her only Rs 10 as a monthly allowance, reports NDTV.

Life of tragedy

What is very appealing about Droupadi Murmu is how she rose above the many challenges that were thrown at her and achieved success.

One can say her life is a story of resilience.

In 2009, her 25-year-old son Lakshman died unexpectedly after attending a gathering in Bhubaneshwar. His death broke her and many believed that she would not be able to cope with the loss. Supriya Kumari, head of the Brahma Kumari ashram in Rairangpaur told The Print, “She was completely shattered. She wasn’t having any life within her to even talk.”

However, she picked up the pieces of her life and started making changes, which included doing yoga and meditation.

But, it was not meant to be and months later, she lost her younger son, Shipun, in a road accident. A year later, due to deep depression, her husband, Shyam Charan Murmu, died as well.

Today, Murmu has only her daughter, Itishree, with her.

She turned her personal tragedy into a positive by building a school in memory of her husband and sons — SLS Memorial School, named after her husband Shyam Charan and sons Lakshman and Shipun, in Pahadpur.

Droupadi Murmu is described by most as being simple and down to earth. Shortly after her candidature was announced for President, she visited a temple in Odisha and swept the floors. PTI

First woman governor

Murmu rose through the political ranks and in 2000, she was the minister of state (independent charge) for Odisha’s department of transport and commerce.

She also assumed charge of the state’s animal husbandry department from 2002 to 2004, and the fisheries department in 2002.

In 2015, she was given the position of Governor of Jharkhand and made history by becoming the first female governor of a state. She remained in the post until 2021.

Officials and politicians recounting her tenure, describe her as a “compassionate and balanced” administrator who remained “accessible and down to earth”.

Officials add that she was “never a rubber-stamp governor”, and an ardent advocate of tribal welfare.

In fact, in 2017 she refused to give assent to a bill approved by the Assembly seeking amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949.

Some political insiders maintain that Murmu’s decision to not sign the bill was the reason why she wasn’t picked as the NDA’s Presidential candidate in 2017 and Ram Nath Kovind was finally nominated by them.

Many believe that she will bring many fundamental changes in the running of the government in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

For now, all we have to say is ‘Take a bow, Ms Murmu, take a bow!’

With inputs from agencies

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