By C Vanaja
A 25-year-old Dalit girl from a poor family, Karne Sirisha, famously known as Barrelakka (buffalo girl), has been making waves in the run-up to the Telangana Assembly elections. Contesting as an independent from a constituency named Kollapur, around 150 kms from Hyderabad, she has become a social media sensation. She has got the highest buzz on social media during this election, outdoing other candidates and attracting supporters not only from different parts of Telangana but also other states.
What makes her special? She has come to represent the most crucial problem facing people in Telangana: unemployment. She is like lakhs of youth in the state who aspire to get a government job. They undergo coaching and write a number of competitive exams but get disillusioned with the recruitment process, with notifications delayed, papers leaked and exams repeatedly cancelled.
In this context, Sirisha posted a video of herself taking three buffaloes for grazing and saying: “Hi friends, as we study we only get more certificates but no jobs. So I bought buffaloes for my livelihood.” That video went viral and the government felt embarrassed. The police have a filed a case against her under Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). She is fighting the court case with money raised by selling the buffaloes.
Just before the election was notified, an unemployed girl, Pravallika, died by suicide after the competitive exams conducted by the Telangana State Public Service Commission were cancelled due to paper leakage. This fuelled anger among unemployed youth. It is common practice for unemployed young people from all over the state to come to Hyderabad to undergo coaching for competitive exams. Most of them belong to socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. There are 30 lakh such youngsters registered as unemployed in the state. After Pravallika killed herself thousands of them took to the streets in protest.
This brought the unemployment issue back into the public arena and the government’s failure to conduct exams became one of the main election issues. Many unemployed young people contemplated contesting elections as a form of protest. But only very few eventually did. Sirisha is one of them and she now faces a court case.
When she filed the nomination and posted about it on her social media handles the news went viral on social media. Since she does not have any money to spend on her campaign she urged everyone to send her two rupees each. But that message was widely shared and people not only started sending money but began going to the constituency to extend support to her.
Not only unemployed youngsters but people from all sections of society began to support her. When I visited her one day while she was campaigning I witnessed people who had come not only from various parts of Telangana but also from neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to support her. Supporters follow her election campaign in dozens of vehicles.
Will she win? That is a million dollar question. She is facing two strong candidates from the ruling party, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) – formerly known as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), and the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC). Both have equal chances of winning the election. Sirisha’s entry into the fray was almost last minute and she did not have enough time to campaign throughout the entire constituency. However, she has been received very well wherever she managed to go. Not all the supporters who have joined her campaign are voters in the constituency. So it may be difficult for her to win this time.
However, as many people say, she has already won the election by putting and keeping the most important issue on the agenda. She has also given hope to others by demonstrating that it is possible to contest elections without money and muscle power. This may lead to more young people and independent candidates contesting elections, perhaps even during the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. At the very least Sirisha has shown a way forward for many.
C Vanaja is an independent journalist and filmmaker.