Pankhuri Pathak, 25, is making her mettlesome presence felt on national television debates regularly; and these days even more so because of the ongoing Uttar Pradesh elections. The youngest media face of Samajwadi Party, Pankhuri, is a strongly opinionated young woman who has risen up the rungs of politics with her own hard work, without any political background.
Born to parents who are practicing doctors, she got immersed in student politics during her graduation days as a student of History at Hansraj College, University of Delhi. Consequently, she was elected as the joint secretary of the college’s students’ union. Soon, this led to an association with the Samajwadi Chatra Sabha (SCS). Upon asked what made her join politics, Pankhuri sweetly responds that she was curious to find out what politics entails. More than her inquisitive nature, the fact that she wanted to do something about the college was the driving force behind her decision.
Pankhuri says that her joining the SP despite having choices after she won the elections in Hansraj College was rather a coincidence. Talking about her ideological differences with the parties which she could have chosen from back then when elected as the joint secretary, she said,
“It was purely a coincidence that I joined Samajwadi Party. I came in touch with Dharmendra Yadav ji and Akhilesh ji. And I really liked their means to encourage youngsters to come into politics. Both of them were very nice, soft spoken and very down to earth which I really liked about them.”
Pathak’s entry into the Samajwadi Party (SP) as a member of SCS in 2011 was marked by a paradigm shift in the party as SP was pondering to hand over the party baton to its next generation leader – Akhilesh Yadav.
Influenced by Akhilesh Yadav’s grooming, whom she refers to as ‘bhaiya’, Pankhuri escalated quickly from being a mere party worker to being its face on national media. Appointed as the spokesperson of the Party in 2016, she has been a regular on primetime debates presenting the stance of her party on core issues while subsuming hostile and patriarchal attacks from opponents on national media.
When asked if it is taxing to be a woman in politics, Pankhuri says,
“Its quite challenging, but I think once you make up your mind, anything is possible. And the best part about my party is that we have very young leaders. So Akhilesh ji and Dimple ji felt the need to get new and educated people into the Party; and as the Party was going through a transformation phase, I think I was at the right place at the right time! Otherwise it is certainly very difficult being a woman in politics because people usually tend to look down, neither it is considered a suitable thing for a woman. There is this whole idea that politics is not favourable to women, and it has always been like that. And men tend to dislike strong women and it exists in every profession, be it in corporate job or politics. People just cannot digest women competing with them on the same level. Initially a lot of people underestimated me, in my own party as well but I think with hardwork nothing is unachievable”
Pathak not only broke the glass ceiling of the existing ageism in Indian politics, she also gave a push to all those young women who want to be a part of politics but are hesitant. Admitting that ageism did bother her initially as she took her first step in mainstream politics she says,
“You know people start questioning you about how come you achieved so much at such a young age? So initially it was a challenge because wherever I would go, I used to be the youngest everywhere in the Party. And I think being a female makes it even more difficult but with time and support of Akhilesh ji and Dimple ji, as they made me the spokesperson of the Party, things got easier. So now I don’t see it as a challenge anymore.”
Since mainstream politics started consuming most of her time, she had to drop out of law school and also give up on her aspirations of joining the elite IAS. Pankhuri finds less time to pursue her love for reading or Kathak, a dance form she has been practicing since she was four.
As several Indian women are taking a lead in restoring gender equality in India, working to fix one of India’s biggest problem, here is Pankhuri’s message to our readers on the eve of Women’s day: