Maheekshita Mishra is emerging as one of the young social crusaders in the BJD fold, articulating her views on an array of topics from feminism to politics. Hailing from a humble, middle-class family, Mishra has been a rebel and contrarian, challenging rules and fighting doggedly to find a place for her in the sun.
Her feisty spirit is emblematic of the change sweeping politics. She opens up in an exclusive chat with Special Correspondent Sobhan Garnaik from ‘The Interview Times’ as the country observes the 74th Independence Day.
Has COVID-19 affected you?
Not only me, but COVID-19 has affected all of us. As I am a social worker, I am going to different areas for relief distributions like Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, and orphanages for the distribution of sanitizers, masks, and groceries.
As we all know this pandemic has affected us badly not only in health but also financially because everything is blocked. Nobody has that much of financial capacity that we’re having in the past. I am also taking care of my family and taking all the precautions.
Tell us a bit about your family and childhood ?
We belong to a middle-class Brahmin family, and my father was a state government employee, my elder brother is a physiotherapist in Surat. Unfortunately, my mother passed away in 2007. I did my schooling from Sri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre, Jharapad.
I was born in Puri but was brought up in Bhubaneswar because my father was posted in Bhubaneswar. I completed my intermediate from Maharshi College of Natural Law and graduation in Eng Hons. from Rajdhani College, then masters in social work from IGNOU.
What motivated you to join politics?
From the beginning, I was very much gender-sensitive. We have a festival named Prathamastami, where the eldest child (my elder brother) offered a lighted lamp ovation by the senior female relatives followed by elaborate rituals during which the Mantras are recited.
So, I used to protest, why my brother will only get to wear new clothes, so I was gender-sensitive from the very start. “My first rule is to break all the rules, and the second rule is to follow the first rule.”
I have always been the rebellious child of my parents. I started my NGO & social media work career at the age of 17 when I went to Nepal alone to represent my state to on the topic of ‘sexual harassment of women at workplace’ in the forum of the United Nations habitat at Kathmandu along with all other countries in 2010 and then I started my political career from Rajdhani degree college in 2012.
I was an active part of Biju Janata Dal, leading the student union of my college, and I was the only girl to lead my college at that time even though it was a co-ed college.
Who influenced you the most in your life? Did you get support from your family?
When I was 14 , I lost my world and little friend, which is my mother but am very grateful to my father, whatever I am today, it’s only because of him. There is a quotation on FB “I am a successful daughter because my father trusts me more than the society.” He supports me not only in politics but in every walk of life.
How rewarding has been your political journey?
When I entered politics, people started saying if you come from a well-to-do family with ethical values, you will never join politics. I reiterate, I am rebellious and always wanted to break the rules.
Still, after joining politics, my full focus was on my social work as I went to different cities, states and countries throughout the world for my presentation of work, so my focus is on women and child development and disaster management.
As a matter of fact, my aim was to do politics because politics is not about power; politics is all about social responsibility and improving people’s lives.
Many people say gender equality, but I never believed in gender equality because all we need is gender justice. I realized from my experience when you are not into a system; you will be limited to 500 families relief to 5000.
During Fani cyclone, I was Head of the partnership for RAPID RESPONSE; it is India’s first and premier disaster relief agency. And it is Tamil Nadu based, and I am the Indian Head of partnerships for them.
If you want to do something for the people, then you have no boundaries, no limits. For me, it’s women and politics. We have so many males in our politics in India and Odisha, but we have few females, so I need that parity in Politics.
What’s your opinion on Feminism?
It is challenging to define in a single sentence, but for me, ‘Give us all the freedom, don’t set boundaries, and don’t interfere in our work. I don’t like people who like to interfere in other’s life.
If someone wants to wear jeans let her wear jeans if someone wants to wear Saree let her wear. Feminism is not about what you wear, how you speak, in which language you speak, it’s about what you feel about yourself.
During COVID-19, how has BJD helped the weaker sections of the society?
BJD has sanctioned three months of ration to every household for the deprived section. The people who are coming from outside those in quarantine centers are provided with food, and then we give them Rs 2000 per person.
Then, the most crucial thing while no state is accepting its own people from outside, we are the first ones who started accepting them with open arms. Those people have elected us, so it is our responsibility to take care of them. And that’s why our CM is known as ‘People’s CM’.
Apart from that, our honourable CM Shri Naveen Patnaik Ji appealed to the youth wing that nobody should die in hunger. So, all our youth members work in different districts & constituencies, with the leadership of our president Mr. Amresh Patri.
I distributed a lot of things, drinking water and food to Prabasi Odia, in railway stations, in orphanages, our party organized Jeevan Bindhu, blood donation camps. Besides, the govt. sanctioned Rs 54 lakh rupees for feeding stray animals.
Who are the people in the party you look up to?
I don’t have to look anywhere else when I have our Honourable CM Mr. Naveen Patnaik as my pillar of strength. Namrata Chadha is my lady inspiration and idol.
Besides, Mr. Amar Patnaik, Amaresh Patri, Atanu Sabyasachi, Sanjay Das Verma, Pranav Prakash ji have supported me right from the word go. Our CM is so positive on youth that he always believed in us.
He never wanted to witness anyone die in hunger during the pandemic; this is an appeal to youth because he trusted so much in his youth power. So, I have surrounded myself with positive people.
How do you keep yourself motivated at times?
I am a big believer in Karma, whatever is happening with me is right, if something happens the other way, then God never wanted that to happen. If you learn every day, then things will fall into its place, and the force of positivity will take you forward, and it will bring a positive outcome for you.
When my time comes, then things will happen, so staying patient and present are equally important. There is a Hindi proverb ‘Umeed se Duniya Kayam hai.’ The three ethics, I have always kept above everything in both personal and professional life are honesty, dedication, and truthfulness. I would never sacrifice for anything.
How do you handle social media trolls?
If something is worthy, go to that comment or troll and address it or else ignore it. I have always believed in positive things. I don’t allow negativity to haunt me via trolls.
One thing, when you are not responding to anything, that doesn’t mean you don’t know anything, or you are somewhere else. Wait for your time, and your time will come don’t hurry or jump the gun straightway. If somebody comments negatively or trolls you in a post, then don’t give a befitting reply at that exact time because, in a hurry, you will burn your hand.
What advice would you like to give to the budding political enthusiasts who wish to join the party?
I encourage all the young girls to join politics and develop the nation and the state and society. It is encouraging if you join right now. I am not saying in politics but at least be a part of decision making.
Men need to do an MBA to get a job, but women are already born ready to manage everything from childhood. Women have seen society very carefully, so it won’t be an uphill task for them to manage society.
Take an active part in politics that time only you can do something for other women; they say women are “Empowered women empower women”.
Article Written by Sobhan Garnaik, Special Correspondent