In Focus

A Woman's Flight From A Slum To Success

The Draft Colaba, in continuance of the International Women's Day celebrations held on 8 March 2021, profiles superwomen of sorts, from all walks of life, for a full week on till 15 March 2021
(Read all the Women's Week stories here)

The Draft Colaba’s Nivedita Bose spoke to local politician Sushama Shekhar on her modest origins, son 'Chottu' and putting life lessons to use

Throughout her childhood, she watched here mother Tarabai rush off to others' homes to cook for a living. And, all through the day, she'd be rushing from one home to another at a distance, where she'd hastily cook meals of choice for a monthly pagaar. Father Appaji worked as a repairman at Naval Dockyard. Sushama would go to school at SNDT Girls School but knew one thing from childhood...she had to escape this rigmarole of poverty, somehow.

And, escape she did, with panache too. Sushama Salunkhe, born in Colaba's Azad Nagari in extremely modest origins was all too familiar with poverty and knew her way about life from scratch and not in a classroom. So, banking on what was her strength, the street-smart woman took to grassroots politics as a fish to water.

The youngest of four sisters and one brother, none of who are in politics, Sushama knew it was near impossible for the family to make ends meet and had to do something herself and for her sort. After winning local youth wing elections thrice, she got "seriously interested in politics and decided to pursue it with uninterrupted attention."

AT WORK: Sushama Shekhar with Mumbai Congress President Bhai Jagtap

It was on the insistence of her brother, who worked closely with sitting Corporator Vinod Shekhar, that Sushama began to get involved with youth politics as there was a growing need for youth leaders in Colaba. "The youth in Colaba need to be channelised in the right direction. There is so much talent among them. And, I realised that they are capable of doing so much work for people. So, after joining politics, I had found my true calling," says Ms Shekhar.

It was in 2012 that Sushama contested the BMC elections and won the seat from Ward 225 in Colaba. And then, there was no stopping for the woman who knew she had to change lives of thousands, and all within her own life. In time she got married to renowned Colaba Corporator Vinod Shekhar.

"It was with the blessings of the poor that I got a chance to serve them. We’d work for long hours at home and in the slums of Colaba even past midnight to ensure their needs are served," recalls Sushama of the times spent with her socially-driven husband.

FOND MEMORIES: Sushama (extreme right) with husband Vinod Shekhar and mother-in-law Annie Shekhar

But, fate had more in store for her whose life was fraught with challenges. In August 2017, Vinod Shekhar died suddenly to a massive heart attack leaving behind Sushama and an infant Jeet Shekhar, they called 'Chottu'. Sushama, true to her wont, refused to buckle and trudged along. Meeting karyakartas at one time for a political campaign and discussing her son's learning with a playschool teacher at another, Sushama managed it all.

Today, as a single mother, she takes Jeet to the local parks, Gateway of India and makes time to cook for him and reach out to her sea of karyakartas, mostly Vinod Shekhar's friends, who vouch for her sincerity.

"Women are on big posts today as well as small. They are at the helm of companies as well as do jobs like driving, electrical fitting much like men. I have not been educated formally but have learned a lot from life," says Sushama.

TOGETHER: Sushama, on her birthday, cutting a cake with son Jeet

This Women's Day, Sushama exemplifies the lot of women who have learned from life, lessons that no school can teach. So, her life comes a full circle as the Azad Nagari girl today helps women of lower economic strata tackle domestic abuse issues, reaches health care to the poorest and more. "Why I even helped a poor boy with a heart valve issue procure a surgery, that was beyond his means, for free, at a government hospital. Today, when he comes to see me, I can't stop my tears from flowing," she says.

"Now, I am interested in holding legal awareness workshops for women. It's important that they know what laws affect them, their rights and liabilities. I am keen on fighting for their haq," she says. "Their haq is not something that they need to beg for from men or from the government. The law ensures it. And, I will make sure they get it," says Mumbai Pradesh Mahila Congress General Secretary.