It is a privilege to pen down the story of Ingalagi’s first Young Dalit candidate myself. The story of a victory that is inconsequential to many but significant to a few young individuals who worked day-in and day-out and burned the midnight oil to make a candidate’s political dream come true.
When we found out about Sachin Rathod on a fundraiser website, we were thrilled to have found someone to support. This was an important moment for us- the Gram Panchayat elections in Karnataka; a defining moment, perhaps for both the regional and the national chapter of the Young India Foundation. We have long been waiting to find the right candidate who may need our support in contesting elections. The biggest challenge was supporting Sachin during a pandemic. A remote political campaign is unheard of, and the inadequate resources and measures of the state government to control the spread of COVID, all presented a tough scenario for us to navigate through. But we were determined to make this work: to set our ethos in place no matter how tough it may be. Our regional chapter is still in its nascent stages, and we were worried about being short-staffed, but thanks to the Local Representative Program of YIF, we had a motley group of talented volunteers ready to aid us.
I remember the first time I spoke with Sachin, and how he was engaged in a meeting with the people of his community. We spoke at length about the work that he has done in the past year. Sachin is an impressive young candidate of just 29 years who believes strongly in questioning the norms around him. He has high goals set for the people of Ingalagi village in the district of Bijapur. For over a year he has been filing RTIs, writing letters to Parliamentarians, provided help in remarkable ways to the people in his village. The passion this young individual possessed was astonishing. It was clear that Sachin was unhappy with the status quo, discontented at the sight of many people being unable to reap the benefits of the Central and State government schemes. He travelled and met scholars, experts, politicians, and people from different ministries and departments to bring about a change in his village.
Sachin is a Dalit rights activist and a scholar who firmly believes that he needs to work for his people and his village, and he is driven by the desire to give back to his community.
Even before contesting, Sachin was able to bring funds to his village and set many developmental programs in place. He educated the masses about their rights and the importance of education in their lives. With such high ideals, it was clear why Sachin made the tough decision to contest the Gram Panchayat elections. He was indeed a worthy candidate.
All of us started in full swing to work towards the campaign as soon as we got a confirmation from Sudhanshu (YIF’s founder and electoral lead). Over the next few days, we wrote a song with the help of my friend Chethan who along with Tiara composed a wonderful campaign song in Kannada. They both reside in different countries, but they didn’t let time zones be a bother and did a fabulous job in composing Sachin’s campaign track. Anagha, Zoya, Chandana, Arfa, Shayoni, and George came together to develop content for the campaign; some of them visualized the content while some translated the content into Kannada. Pranav (Lead, Electoral Strategy), was a constant pillar of support. He guided us in developing strategies for the campaign while Sudhanshu, along with the Legal Aid team helped Sachin in filing the nomination paperwork and completing all the formalities that were needed for his candidature. He along with many other team members reached out to people and organizations so that funds could be raised for his campaign.
Sachin’s election symbol was an auto, and the Communications Team flooded social media with his election symbol, along with songs tailor-made in native folk-songs form, and slogans promoting him and his campaign. While the social media team spread the word on the airwaves, Sachin mobilized the ground team to help him spread the word about his candidature.
The team ran into trouble on the day of the elections. Violent messages threatening Sachin’s life started making rounds. We were worried about his safety. All of us were perturbed, questioning why was he being treated like an outsider by the people of his own village. I clearly remember how every time Sachin spoke about the people of his village, he uses the word ‘our’ people. He fails to differentiate and discriminate but even then he is seen as an outsider; as a threat by the people who have been in power before him. One would think that our work as an organization would stop at ensuring that he contests for the election but to us, a candidate becomes a friend. His safety mattered to us as much as his victory did. Phone calls were made to the police and bureaucrats so that Sachin remains out of danger.
On 30th December 2020, the results of the election were going to be announced. We anxiously waited to hear any news regarding Sachin. At around 4:20 in the evening, we came to know that he has won the election- the youngest Dalit candidate of Ingalgai village. All of us were overjoyed. Congratulatory messages were pouring in from all over. It is at that point that I realized what we had truly achieved. A team of young people from different walks of life, with no political background, came together to make the dream of a candidate, not different from any of us, come true. What did we have in it? Nothing, except to truly believe that Sachin is capable and deserving. To support him was worthwhile and important to us in order to see a difference in the political fabric of this country.
There is a saying - No good deed goes unpunished. It is the truth for this situation. Sachin won, but our work hasn’t stopped because his life is still under threat. Sachin is no longer an ordinary citizen of this country but a representative of his people. He is the choice of his people. They believed in him, voted for him, and yet he can’t go back to his village to work for them. The status quo is threatened by the collective power of young people and candidates like Sachin, and they’re responding with violence. This is the reality we are faced with today. I can only imagine how hard it must be for people out there who aspire to become politicians but are stopped due to many such similar incidents.
We can’t stop, not now. This country needs young people to lead the way and YIF will always try its best to make the dreams of such young people come true.
This victory is not inconsequential but a start to a bigger journey ahead.