This was my first rural project visit and I was keenly looking forward to it. What I was not quite excited about was the long travel from Mumbai, using all modes of transport and over 12 hours of travel time we arrived in Giridhi in Jharkhand.

After an introductory meeting with the project partner Baidyanath, we decided to head out next

morning along with the Jago team to meet the communities. Kiran the lady member of the Jago team and Baidyanath met us at the pre-decided time.

We were told that on the first day we would go to the CCL (Central Coal Fields Limited) areas and on the next day to the non-CCL areas.

CCL Areas
Most men in the community collect coal from the wells dug by various contractors. They buy this coal, load it on their cycles and sell it in the market. These cycles are so heavily loaded with coal that most of the time the son of the family goes along to help push the cycle. The markets are very far and they travel long distances to make some money. Some times the well collapses while the men are inside collecting coal and they lose their life. Their family is not compensated, as this mining is not carried out through the official sources.

Non-CCL Area
In these villages the main source of income is tilling agricultural land and livelihood generated through forests.
Most problems are similar to the CCL area. The only difference is the problem faced due to deforestation, which is a source of their livelihood. Deforestation had hugely impacted the communities as members of the community used to cut down the forest for wood.

The villages in these communities have formed Mahila Samitis (women’s group), Youth Groups and Kishori Samuha (adolescent girls group) to fight for their rights.

Mahila Samiti (Women’s Group)
Most women of the village are part of this women’s group. Such a group is present in all the villages and it works towards resolving problems faced by them and the community

1. They stopped alcoholism in their village by organising a jhadoo (broom) procession
2. Children used to drink alcohol and play cards, the women have put a stop to this and ensured that they go to school
3. Men from other villages used to come to their village and abuse the women. Mahila Samaj protested to this and have managed to put a stop to it.
4. Healthcare is being taken care of. Dayi training has taken place in all these villages. Pre-natal care and vaccinations are a regular feature. Women are educated on the kind of food they should eat when pregnant. This has ensured that the women stay healthy.
5. Most women from the community were fed only one meal after delivering a child due to some misconception. The dai (mid-wife) educated them on feeding proper meals to the woman as it is most important at this time.
6. All new births are getting registered
7. PDS is now open regularly after a dharna by the mahila samaj
8. Mid-day meal in school was of a very poor quality. The women protested, infact they took charge of making the khichadi themselves at the school. After this protest the quality of the mid day meal has improved.
In the non-CCL area, the Mahila Samaj decided to resolve the problem of deforestation. They formed a security force whose responsibility is to protect the forest. Every day 2-3 women are on guard around the forest. They take turns in guarding the forest, every single day. It is their responsibility to ensure that no one cuts trees; anyone caught doing so is fined. This fine is used towards the betterment of the village. This has helped solve the problem to a great extent.

Initially, the men of the village were sceptical about the ability of the Mahila Samaj to resolve problems and conflicts. The women would be taunted and called names like “she has now become the Prime Minister and will advise us” or “she has become Indira Gandhi”. On seeing the women achieve success on various issues, the men of the village have become more supportive.

Kumari Samuha (Adolescent Girls Group)
This is a group of adolescent girls again formed in all the villages. From a young age they are educated on various issues related to girl child. The topics covered are healthcare, hygiene, sex education, importance of going to school, eating well and eating the right kind of food and bane of child marriage. This allows the girl to share her problems with the group and the Jago member without feeling shy or apprehensive.
These young girls are educated about their rights giving them the confidence to stand up to their parents if any injustice is being done to them. They also have the solace of the group backing them up if required.

One problem that the villages were facing was of pimps coming from UP and marrying girls by paying a generous sum of money to the girl’s parents. This was a problem that the Mahila Samiti and Kumari Samuha tackled together and quite a few marriages were stopped.

One such group of girls was very verbose, eloquent and confident. They freely spoke about their rights and expressed their desire to be educated.

Of course, everything is not perfect. There is still a long way to go for the women and children of these communities. There is still discrimination in wages paid to the men and women for the same job. A man is paid Rs 60/day, while a woman is paid a meager Rs 30/day.

The high school is 12 km away and is one of the main reasons for girls dropping out of school.

Upper caste – lower caste clash
This was an excellent opportunity to see the progress made by the community in standing up for their rights and the confidence they have gained over a period of time.

We witnessed an argument between a person of the upper caste and the dalit community. The dalit community and the Jago team were holding a meeting, which was suddenly interrupted by a man shouting at a very high pitch. He barged into the meeting on the pretext that the goat belonging to the dalit community was grazing in his field. In reality, he wanted to know what was going on between the community and the Jago team. There was a huge argument that took place between him and the people of the community. The Jago team did not intervene and let the community take charge of this debate. It was good to see that the community confidently defending themselves. Both men and women had participated in this debate. Out of which one woman had taken the lead in this debate.

We were later informed that till a few years ago when an upper caste person walked past the Dalit community, they were all supposed to stand up to pay their respect. They were not allowed to wear any footwear in front of the upper caste person. The situation has improved drastically today. We even observed the upper caste person accepting snacks served by the Dalit community.

Motivating Story
The person who impressed me the most was Kiran, a part of the community and a Jago team member too. We asked her that being part of this community how easy/difficult it has been for her to come out of her house to work. We requested her to tell us her story.

Kiran has been working with Jago since the last 8 yrs. Her responsibility is to interact with women and girls and facilitate Mahila Samaj and Kishori Samuh too. Kiran can be a role model to all the women in the various villages because of her achievement in the face of opposition and difficulties.

She was born in a more educated family where her father was a teacher in the village school. Because of this background she was encouraged to study, though this could not stop her child marriage. She was married off at the age of 13 yrs and had her first child when she was just 15 yrs old. After which she started leading a life like all the women of that village. She had 2 more kids after the first one and was engrossed in looking after them.

But she had this constant nagging feeling that she should be doing something worthwhile with her life. Her family was also going through a financial crunch and hence the need was felt for her to earn some money for the family. She convinced her family to allow her to learn to stitch clothes. Of course this was not easy at all, as it was seen as replacing the male tailor in the village. She was warned by male members of her family that she would attract unnecessary male attention as men would come on the pretext of getting clothes stitched. This would definitely not reflect well on the family. After garnering support from a senior lady member of the family she finally was allowed to learn to stitch. She started doing very well and received lots of orders for stitching. When the family saw some money coming into the family, they felt happy about it.

During the times she was stitching clothes she interacted closely with various women of the village. Most women would share their experience with Kiran. Lot of them were ill treated at home, some were sexually and physically abused by members of the family, they were not allowed to study etc. Each time she heard such a story she wished she could do something to help these women. But she was not sure what she could do.

Unfortunately her frail body could not take on so much workload. She became quite weak and the doctor advised her against stitching clothes. This brought her back to the initial situation of sitting home doing nothing productive. After a long wait people from Jago visited her village to conduct some project research. During this time Kiran was able to contribute substantially more compared to the other women in the village as she was smarter and more educated then the rest of them. She was also exposed to their way of thinking; which was based on the rights of the community/ women and children. She could relate and agreed with their style of thinking and working. She realised that this is what she had always wanted to do.

At this time Jago was also looking to recruit a woman employee and approached Kiran’s family to ask their permission to allow her to work. It goes without saying that this was another battle in the family against letting her work. Kiran’s parents and brother supported her and convinced her husband and in-laws to allow her to work. The difficult part of the job was when she had to travel out of the village overnight. The villagers spun all kinds of tales about her and sometimes her family and husband also accused her of wrongdoing. These were tough times for her. Many a time she decided to quit her job as the stress and the tension was getting too much to handle. But then she stood her ground against all kinds of difficulties as she was determined to make a difference. She has made a very valuable contribution to the communities and the project.

She is a role model of what one can achieve in the face of difficulties if one is determined to do so.

This project gave me an opportunity to meet and understand the women power of rural India; Mahila Samajs, Kumari Samuhas and the likes of Kiran.

These women are “warriors” in their own way. I salute them!

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