She has been credited for not only bringing the first school in her village but also electricity, water and health facilities for women and children. Meet the vivacious 50-year-old CRY-Child Rights champion Valuben from Sujapura Vand from Kutch in Gujarat whose fights for child rights has transformed her empty desert village into a child friendly space.
A small remote hamlet nestled within the confines of the forests in the vast region of Kutch district in Gujarat has been instrumental in changing the landscape of the region.
The efforts of a lone woman has played a key role in not only uplifting the underprivileged children of the area but also helped in empowering women to come forward and press for their demands in an organized manner.
At first glance the 50 something Valuben as called by her village resembles like any other ordinary woman. Her colourful traditional outfit with silver jewellery commonly worn by the local women of the area do not diminish the hard lines on her dark tanned face. Her rough hands wave in the air as she talks of her long and tiring efforts to get a school in her village.
Speaking in her local Gujarati dialect, Valuben informs how despite all odds she took it upon herself to demand for change when there wasn’t any.
“There was no point in waiting for things to happen, I wanted things to happen,” says Valuben who first agitated against the mining lobby for displacing them from their homes.
Sujapra Vand located in Fatehgad grampanchayat, in Rapar taluka in Kutch district is a remote hamlet surrounded by the dry forest and vast desert. Rainfall here is scanty—the villagers inform that it rains well only every three years which is why drinking water is scarce forcing families to migrate frequently.
Currently comprising of 28 families, belonging to the Parkara Koli caste, the villagers are mainly daily wage labourers who were demoted from the Schedule Tribe category to that of the nomadic tribe by the government a few years ago.
Many of the villagers including the women end up working in neighbouring fields, doing coal mining (making coal out of forest wood) or doing odd jobs.
This demotion also left them vulnerable to not receiving the facilities that most villages are entitled to. This vulnerability also left them to being exploited by the mining lobby who mine certain areas of the desert for ceramic clay.
Valuben informs that when she found that her home was being evacuated to make way for a mining project she sat on a dharna and protested.
“Due to the constant mining happening around the foundations of my home had begun to shake. I thought the house would come down of me and my family and that we were going to die. I immediately went to the collector’s office, protested and sat there till he registered not only my home but also that of others from the village. They now to take our permission in case they want to continue with mining here,” she recalls further adding that this victory gave her the courage to go a step further.
“I realized that education is the only way forward to tackle such injustice and hence decided to educate my village specially the children here. I then demanded a school from the collector. After few more such dharnas and help from CRY, we finally managed to get a school here,” she says with a smile confessing that she never went to school herself but her victories have made her family proud.
A mother and a grandmother herself, Valuben states that the primary school which is upto Std 6 has three full time teachers—two men and one women. Along with her collective Bhoomi Adhikar Sanghatana that she founded with other women, Valuben had also demanded an anganwadi for pregnant women of her village. The anganwadi was recently open and comprises of various facilities including that of a doctor on call.
“It was because of Valuben that we could not only get drinking water and electricity here but also school, an aanganwadi and other facilities for those residing here,” points out Dharmendra Hothi of Gram Swaraj Sangh (GSS), a partner of CRY-Child Rights and You from Kutch in Gujarat. GSS has been working for over a decade and a half in the region and has been successful in rehabilitating even victims of the then Bhuj earthquake.
Dharmendra informs that it was the collective efforts of CRY, GSS and Valuben that led to this transformation of this nondescript hamlet into a place worth living which in return has further boosted the morale of the people living here.
Valuben says she would like to have an all girls’ school and college in her village too.
“We need more people like Valuben to take the initiative forward to create better educational facilities for the underprivileged of this country. There are many remote areas like the one Valuben is working in where access to basic facilities continues to be a challenge. CRY’s has been working in the Kutch region for over a decade and has been instrumental in changing the lives of those living there in a positive manner,” says Kreeanne Rabadi, Regional Director – CRY (West)
“The interior of Kutch region is a very harsh place to survive despite that both CRY and the community together along with support from the government have successfully managed to give children access to education,” pointed out Kumar Nilendu, General Manager, Development Support – CRY (West)