News Find/Feedback/Site Index
February 22, 2000


Search Rediff

E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Interview/ Rabri Devi

'I am not subordinate to Lalooji'

This is Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi's toughest political battle. As she leads her party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal into electoral battle, a battle she hesitantly joined two and a half years ago when her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav was charged with involvement in the fodder scam, Rabri Devi took some time off her hectic schedule to speak to Sheela Bhatt.

Let's begin by talking about your childhood days?

I was born and brought up in Solar village, where my father was a farmer. He also owns a ration shop. We are four sisters and three brothers, all of whom are married and well-settled in life.

Do you carry any sweet memories from your early days?

Do we remember anything from our childhood? In our villages, marriages take place quite early. Even today, early marriages are common in our villages.

Were you very happy when you got married?

(Quickly) I won't be able to say anything about that. I got married when I was just 14.

When did you see your husband for the first time?

I saw him when I came to Patna -- that was a year after our marriage. We got married in 1973. In villages brides do not leave their father's house after marriage. In our case I came to my in-laws' home after a year.

Did your father give dowry?

Whatever things are given in marriages, was given to him. In a tilak ceremony he asked for Rs 5000 and my father gave him accordingly.

How did it all begin?

Our parents were quite well off. So my father got me married to a poor guy intentionally. He looked only at his character. He didn't even own a house, but my father said he would pay for my expenses. My father gave me five bighas of land. I still have that land title with me. Lalooji was studying in Patna at that time, it was important to him.

What about your own education?

I have studied till the fifth standard. Even today, our village doesn't have a secondary school. The school I went to was quite far away, two to three miles away. In villages parents don't wish to send their girls so far. None of my sisters went to school. But my brothers received their education because they could go out.

Do you nurture any regrets over that?

Yes, I feel that it was because of the absence of a school in my village that I remained illiterate.

Why did Laloo choose you for marriage?

Oh, he used to say he dislikes and distrusts town-girls.

Who was happier during the marriage ceremony?

(Laughs) More happy? Who can be happy? Unless one sees each other's face, one can't feel anything. We didn't set eyes on each other during our marriage. My face was covered when he garlanded me.

It's said Laloo dictates the terms in your relationship?

Whoever says so or thinks like this is absolutely wrong. Husbands are not in a position to act without taking the opinion of their wives. And this is true for both the educated and uneducated, rural and urban couples.

People have faith in their wives. She is Lakshmi. She is still the keeper of the house. In villages, women who are unsuccessful in keeping their marriage intact are not recognised as complete women.

It's not true that I am subordinate to him. Even my brain works. If the need arises I do consult him.

How was the beginning of your life together?

Very difficult. On the very first night when I came to his house, he went to jail. Imagine my plight! I was pained. I was feeling trapped. I asked my father, 'where have you sent me?'

My husband went to jail frequently. During our meetings in jail our relatives would remain present. We were living along with his four brothers in a small quarter in Patna's veterinary college at that time.

Outside Bihar, whenever people talk about you, they mention your large family. Does that hurt you?

(Loudly) There are families with 16 or 20 children. Why don't people mind their own children? The people who joke about the size of our family are not even able to take proper care of one or two children. Though I have nine children I am taking proper care of them and am running the state too. This doesn't suit people. They are jealous. They are not able to digest the fact that an illiterate mother is occupying the khursi. They are ridiculing me because I have power.

All types of families, from castes and classes, have produced large number of children, but I alone am blamed. One after the other, I delivered six girls. My mother in law used to advise me, ' Bahua, sons run the house and not daughters. Don't worry, carry on!'

Is it a crime to produce children? Whoever thinks I am unable to handle my children is foolish. They are mocking Dalits. Do you understand the games people play? If I had been a rich man's daughter I would have been spared. Nobody would have dared to ridicule me.

Laloo must have been busy with his political activity, so how did you manage the family all alone?

Our family stayed with us. My mother-in-law Mrchyadevi helped me. Except one, all the children were born before he became CM. Misa, my eldest daughter, was born in 1975 and the youngest in 1990. I admitted all of them to Mount Carmel school.

Since I could not get proper education in my village I was determined to ensure their education. Only when a woman becomes a mother can she be called a true woman. I used to give ample amount of cow's milk to my children. I used to massage all of them, everyday. Even now I cook their food.

Do you ever get angry?

Since I neither lie nor do wrong, I get angry. I get angry when people wrongly accuse my husband. They do not have any proof. I challenge them to show the world any proof against my husband.

Have you ever wished that your husband should possess political power?

I never went out of the house. I handled my home and my children. I hated going out of the house. I never had the desire to go out. My husband wanted to take me out to the bazaar and to marriages. But I always refused to go along. It's a mindset. It's in my nature. I don't have any close friends. I prefer to live alone.

But why this aloofness? Are you trying to hide any pain?

Pain? No. I worry for nothing. I have parents, a husband, food, chaupai (bed).... I have no worries. I don't have to even buy the powder. All I need is one tikiya, a pinch of vermilion and bangles.

How did your name crop up for the chief ministership when your husband was accused of involvement in the fodder scam?

I felt very bad because he was wrongly accused. Where could we conceal our wealth? Who are our own in Patna? All are our enemies. Even our party men are our enemies! They raided our house, our in-laws' and even my brother-in-law's homes. They didn't spare anyone. They insulted us. But the people understand this game. The people want proof, we want proof. Ma ka dudh piya hai to saboot dikhao (if you have guts show us proof).

TOMORROW:'The partymen dragged me to Raj Bhavan'

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview