Suman was born in Khilari in southern Maharashtra, into the Takare community, a Denotified/Nomadic Tribe.
Suman, 41, recalls how as a child the Takare community was considered so polluted, that to touch them brought shame upon other villages. From a young age Suman resisted this: “I always tried to fight against this inhuman system.”
Even as a school girl Suman remembers speaking out when one teacher physically abused her, resulting in the teacher being suspended for three months. This incident marked Suman's first successful campaign to change the lives of those around her.
She hoped to train as a teacher, but was married and moved to Pune to live with her husband and his family on a patch of unfertile settlement land.
In the settlement area Suman witnessed many crimes between different communities living side by side, and she also saw the police ransacking their homes and beating the inhabitants. Suman spoke out for her neighbours, asserting that, although poor, they weren’t criminals.
Suman spearheaded the establishment of local education services, such as a kindergarten and also mobilized the community against when a rogue building developer started taking advantage of illiterate community members and buying settlement land cheaply.
She is emphatic about the importance of land rights: “Our people have so few rights but the land is our right. The government has given this land to us. We need it to survive.”
Although not drawn to local politics, her community encouraged her to stand for election to the council.
“I want to take the initiative. If I am elected I will work for my community. My dream is proper housing for everyone.” Suman has a firm and steady gaze: “We need to change the system. Government policies are not meeting people’s needs. They need food, clothing, running water.”
Although she didn’t win a seat it is clear that she has become a respected leader of her community. Her home and campaign office has become the hub of the village.
Suman is a woman who dares to dream, not just for herself but for her community.
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