It takes a lot to be a good leader: courage, ability to earn trust, ability to lead from the front, to break an impasse, take a decision and seeing beyond the obvious.
But if you ask Veerudada, she will tell you that a leader has just one challenge: understanding the problem of the people he/she leads.
Veerudada should know. She has been doing it for years. In several states across India, the government has taken an urbanization drive, which is putting thousands of rickshaw drivers out of business. Veerudada is fighting to see that each rickshaw driver is given his due compensation and a rehabilitation package – a promise that governments have made, but aren’t honoring.
If you visit Allahabad city in northern India, you can sometimes see a rally of rickshaw drivers which is led by a slogan shouting, fists-in–the air Veerudada.
If you ask a rickshaw driver, he will tell you what a fine leader Veerudada has been; over 3 thousand cycle rickshaw drivers, who had been struggling to get a driving license, are now about to get it. They will tell you how city’s policemen were harassing them every now and then, asking for bribes to drive a rickshaw and how Veerudada took it to the street protesting against the extortion and demanding action against corrupt police.
Some will also tell you how Veerudada got their rickshaws back after the police confiscated them because they didn’t pay bribes.
Yes, the entire rickshaw driver’s community – which till yesterday didn’t have anyone speaking for them - has a leader now. It’s a leader who once drove a rickshaw like they did, and thus understood their pain.
And then you meet Veerudada. Dressed in a woman’s garb, Veerudada is a Eunuch, who, even in an India of space stations, nuclear energy plants and world’s second fastest economic growth, is seen as a lesser human, an object of public ridicule.
How did Veerudada change the psyche? How did the all male rickshaw drivers’ group, which will otherwise kill you if you compared any of them with a Eunuch, agreed to be led by one?
‘Because, I am one of them. I suffered what they suffer,’’ says Veerudada.
Leadership isn’t dependent on the shape of your private parts. If you ever want a proof, come to Allahabad.
Come and see how a Eunuch, who is hardly ever treated with dignity, is fighting to get a life of dignity for thousands.