The one-named Mayawati is the head of the government of Uttar Pradash, the largest state in India. In a country that, unlike America, has already had a female head of state, it might not be so unusual to see a woman at the helm of her political party and the government. But Mayawati is the daughter of Dalits (the so-called "untouchable") caste in India, and so it's a very, very big deal.
Mayawati studied in public schools, went to college and planned to be a lawyer. But after a series of anti-caste speeches, another anti-caste activist convinced her to run for office and she did. She won, and worked her way up to the top of her party and is now the head of her state — and the first Dalit member to hold that position. It's widely expected that at some point in the not-so-distant future, her political heft and coalition-building skills could make her the first Dalit Prime Minister of all of India.
Of course, there are problems. She's suddenly rich — and thus accused of graft and corruption. Worse still, it might be true. She's unmarried. She coverted to Buddhism to protest Hinduism's acceptance of the caste system. She's still, after all, a Dalit. But all in all, she is seemingly trying to use her position to force the enforcement of anti-caste laws long on the books, to improve the status given and attention paid to members of lower castes and to try to inspire others that stand in the shoes she was once forced to wear to dream ever-so-slightly bigger than a life of ostracization and drudgery. That's probably why there aren't so many people that care how many rings she wears or statues she has built to herself.
A Daughter of India's Underclass Rises on Votes That Cross Caste Lines [NY Times]
Lower-Caste Politician A Lofty Symbol in India [Washington Post]
Earlier: Big Deals