Indian Politician Bridges Caste Divide

Kumari Mayawati, an untouchable, has risen to prominence, power
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2008 9:02 AM CDT
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati addresses a press conference after her party's victory in the Uttar Pradesh state elections, in Lucknow, India, Friday, May 11, 2007.   (AP Photo/Ajay Kumar Singh)
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(Newser) – Kumari Mayawati, the 5-foot-tall, unmarried member of the so-called untouchable caste, has gained unprecedented power and stature in Indian politics. The leader of the nation's most populous state, Mayawati is positioning herself to become India's next prime minister, a feat that would have been unthinkable until recently and for which she can thank the support of both lower- and higher-caste voters, reports the New York Times.

"We have this culture in India and, being a Dalit woman, I faced more of it—doubly—as a Dalit and as a woman," she said. "Slowly things are changing." But not everyone approves of the way Mayawati rose to prominence. Accusations of corruption and personal greed are fueled by her land holdings and ostentatious taste in jewelry, notes the Washington Post. Her supporters don't seem to mind. "She's like a god," said a teenage girl in the Dalit caste.