When the girl was in class seven her mother died. This was a shock for her because she had no idea how to handle the situation. During the first two – three days there were many relatives to perform rituals and provide solace. Then one by one they went away. The young girl, her father and one brother remained in the family. She was not able to bring water from the well as she did not know how to pull the water by the use of the Shadoof or local water fetching system. She had to do the cleaning of the mud house also. Somehow she managed to do the house hold work and started firing the wood stove and cooking the food for all of them. After one week she again began to go to school and the teachers paid her sympathy saying that she faced a very bad situation in life. She used to sit quietly some days in the school giving a lot of time to rethinking her new lifestyle so as to be normal like all human beings. She began studying as a student and simultaneously running the house as a woman without thinking that she was a child who wanted to play and enjoy like her friends. Her neighbours used to teach her, to keep the house clean, arrange the things properly and wash the utensil regularly. This work was more difficult than bearing the sorrow of her mother’s death. No one used to share her feelings of sorrow or sympathise with the fact that she was still a child, as they were more concerned about her cleaning the house and washing the utensils. Whenever she was seen free, there were only one question, have you cleaned, washed and cooked? Then she had to immediately finish the work that remained. Sometimes she used to forget the house hold work. Always there was some work that remained as she was not habituated to doing the house hold work. She was doing all the work that people were expecting from her but she wanted to be alone when she remembered her mother. So she moved to find out solitary places where she could be by herself. Those moments were more unbearable for her – the realisation that there was no mother and she would not come again in her life. She used to ask herself – would Mom really not come any more? Slowly she accepted the reality of the situation and tried to lead her motherless life. Her father was quite concerned about her and he did not stop her from going to school saying that given their poverty, schooling was the only way to climb out of it. Although she failed in two subjects in the class seven examinations, nevertheless her teacher gave her a chance to give the exam again and she passed out. She was at the sensitive age of thirteen and she was growing very fast. Physically and mentally immense changes were taking place. One day, she went for plucking the Tendu leaves in the jungle and while coming back she saw ripe Tendu fruits on a tree and decided to collect them. So she brought her basket down from her head, which was very heavy as it was full of Tendu leaves, kept it on one side of the Tendu tree and then she climbed it. First she plucked two or three ripe Tendu fruits and ate them. Then she began to shake the branches one by one. She shook all the branches which were nearest to her. After shaking the branches, she looked at the ground to see whether there were sufficient fruits or not. As she saw there were lots of Tendu fruits lying on the ground, she stopped shaking the branches. Then she realised that in her eagerness to collect the fruit she had reached the top of the tree and she got frightened and started trembling. She began wondering how she would come down as the height was that of a two storey building. She immediately looked around for help but there was no one around to help her. Around ten minutes, she stood on the top of the tree fearing she would not be able to come down. Then she picked up the courage to come down as otherwise people would make fun of her. There was considerable prestige in her climbing and coming down safely from the tree. Therefore, she slowly began to come down and confidently came down safely from the tree. She breathed a deep breath and then started gathering the fruits. Her basket was already full, so somehow she made space to keep the Tendu fruits in the middle of the basket but it became too heavy to be carried by her. She was unable to lift the basket in order to put it on her head. She gathered a few rocks and made a platform for keeping the basket and subsequently she tried to put the basket on her head as she kneeled down and somehow put the basket on her head but unfortunately the supporting headgear called chomal slipped off her head, which in turn led to pain caused by the sharp bamboo strips of the basket on her head. It was not possible to carry the basket without the chomal. Then she tried to lift the chomal by the help of her right leg and brought it up to the right hand and she lifted the basket in a slanting manner so as to place the chomal beneath the basket again. She then placed it correctly by shaking the basket a little bit and then the basket was perfectly resting on the chomal. After reaching home she finished the house hold work and after cooking and eating, she started tying the Tendu leaves into bundles with her father with the help of rope made from the bark of the Palash tree. Around six o’ clock, she finished the bundling and then she counted them. There were only a hundred, so she took all of them to the selling contractor. There was big crowd waiting to sell Tendu leaf bundles. Some people, most of them women, were in a queue to count their bundles. Children were helping their parents by taking the bundles for drying. Many people were coming to the contractor’s place with their baskets of bundles. The ground was full of the villagers who had come to sell their Tendu leaf bundles. The girl also joined the queue to sell her bundles alone, with no one to help her but happy to earn money, all of five rupees for a hundred bundles. After counting, she put the bundles again in the basket and took them to the place for drying far from the counting spot. She did not know how to put the bundles to dry so that the binding Palash bark rope is not eaten by white ants. So she watched others doing it and learnt the technique. Finally she came home in the dark happy with her day’s work.
The village was aligned along a main road from east to west. The houses were constructed on both sides. There were small lanes from the road after every eight houses or so to go out from the houses easily to the fields for agriculture work, to the jungle for fire wood, timber and other forest produce, to the tanks for house hold work or for taking bath and washing the clothes, to take the animals to drink water and wash them, bringing water for preparing malted Ragi (a nutritious millet) porridge (locally known as Madhia Page), mud for cleaning the houses, bringing Sarai, Mahua and Palash leaves to use in rituals and for making plates for marriages or any other community functions, bringing ropes for binding Tendu leaves, Charoli nuts which were exchanged for salt and Bel (wood apple) for eating and applying on the supda or utensil made from bamboo for separating the chaff from the grain, so that it lasted longer. Bhilava (Marking Nut) flowers were brought for eating and its nuts for medicinal use. Many leaves, fruits, nuts, roots, flowers, skins of the trees were useful for the people. The north and east sides were surrounded by dense forest. No one could go alone outside of the village into these forests even in daytime. There were three small hamlets in the village. Two of them were called Harrapara and Badhapara but the third one was not given any name. There was no respect for them. They were called by their caste name directly and the rest of the village practised untouchability with them. People used to say that they skin the dead animals and eat their meat. They used to make ropes for agriculture work and shoes for people out of the skins. Ironically these landless people were forced to do this work to fulfill society’s requirements yet they were considered to be untouchable while their products were freely touched and used. They were the poorest of the poor in this village. The eastern part of the village had the cremation ground for all types of community members but the western part of the village was reserved only for the cremation of Tribals. The people had many animals for farming, milk and compost fertiliser for the farms. Both sides of the village had gothan where the livestock used to rest before and after going for grazing in the jungle. They rested and drank water from the small stream. The animals used to gather and take rest there and then the man, who takes care of them, brings the animals to their houses. They were very systematically sent to their houses one by one without any mix ups. The Bardiha or herdsman follows all animals until they reach their houses. Early in the morning, he took the animals from the houses shouting “Dheelo”, asking the people to losen the ropes with which the animals were bound inside their houses. Before this he went to the houses to milk the cows. For this service he got to keep the milk every fourth day. All the animals had wooden or metal bells around their necks which made a very nice musical tune as they walked through the village. These bells were for the animal’s safety when they went to the jungle. In this village there were seven ponds and all were made by the village Panchayat and a dam which was constructed by the government on the stream coming down from the hills. Two of the ponds were made by individuals for storing water for their agriculture use. They were given the names Bodru pond and Kalar pond. One big pond stored water for the whole year and people used to drink water from there. But in this pond people couldn’t stand in the water while swimming because of its depth and muddy bottom. But there were a lot of fish and lotus roots and flowers and leaves for eating. In summer many of them used to bring the roots and boiled and ate them for cooling of the body. The other ponds dried out in summer. Every pond used to be known for its positive and negative specialities. The Kalar pond was known for its leaches. They were painful for the animals and human beings both. If anyone stayed in the water for two minutes the leaches got stuck on their body. It was more painful for animals because they couldn’t take off the leaches from their bodies. When the animals sat in the pond, many leaches got stuck on their bodies and sucked their blood and separated only after having their fill. When the buffaloes came out of the water they would have the leaches hanging from their bodies to the great merriment of the children who would poke the leaches. The people were aware about it and so took their bath quickly. This pond’s water never caused people to fall ill after bathing that is why despite the leaches people went to bathe in it. The Bodru pond did not have leaches, so many people used to swim in it, especially the children. But people fell sick when they bathed in it in the rainy season. The other four ponds were a few kilo meters far from the village and so were used only when the people went to the jungle. There were many wild animals like – leopards, tigers, deers, bears, monkeys, wild dogs, wild hens, wolves, hyenas, peacocks, porcupines, mongoose and rabbits. One day a leopard entered the village and was there till the morning at the back side of a house. When the woman woke up she saw the leopard was sleeping under the shed. She told her husband and both of them closed the door and went out from the house with their children and told their neighbours. One by one the news reached the villagers that they should all stay in the room that had wooden ceiling and close the door. Houses generally had one or two rooms which had a wooden ceiling below the tiled roof to store grains and other produce. Those whose houses were far way were informed by the Kotwar or village messenger. All the villagers were scared by the presence of the leopard in the village. When the leopard woke up, the sun was rising and she could not go to back to the forest. The bold men were trying to get her out from the house. She was unable to jump out of the house because she got disturbed. The leopard went from one house to another house scared of the people who had gathered. The people were trying to chase her away to the forests as without that they could not even go for the morning ablutions. Then the people closed the door of one house in which the leopard had entered and one of them whose name was Ganesh climbed up on the roof. He used to drink liquor all the time and was already drunk early in the morning. He said he could kill the Leopard and then took a spear and climbed up on the house’s roof and hit the leopard with it. She became angry and attacked Ganesh but luckily he didn’t fall inside the house and saved himself. He was injured seriously by the leopard. After this drama people went walking to the Sub- divisional office 8 kilo metres far from the village and informed the forest department. The people stayed inside their houses. They could not cook food. Children also stayed without eating. Everyone waited for a solution. Around four o’clock, the Zamindar of the village, who used to live in the city, came to kill the leopard by getting the permission of the administration. He was a master hunter of wild animals. First he analysed the situation where the leopard was locked in the house. He made the plan and the villagers as per the plan stood with their local weapons to guide the leopard back towards the forest. He alerted the people and fired his gun. The leopard came out of the house and ran fast on the special path opened for it and then the crowed ran behind the leopard thinking that she would go back to the forest. But when this happened the dogs became more active and they ran faster than the men. The leopard got a chance to hide herself behind the bushes of a small hill. Then the dogs encircled the leopard and the master hunter killed the leopard. The villagers were announcing that the leopard has been killed successfully and brought the leopard to the village and kept it on a table in front of the Zamindar’s home for paying it respect. Some women were offering flowers, some were covering it with new pieces of cloth and some people were praying. Then the leopard was taken in a procession around the village and then and given to the forest department. Things have changed drastically over the years and now the forests and their wildlife have reduced greatly and people rely more on the products available from the market than on those from nature.
There was a bonded labourer who worked for his maternal uncle who was a Zamindar (big landlord) in the village. This was before the village was submerged by the construction of a dam on a big river nearby. The labourer’s subsistence needs were taken care of by his uncle and the landlord also bore the cost of marrying him to a girl and gave him a small piece of land to provide for his married life. The labourer had left his home in his childhood after both his parents died and his brothers did not look after him and instead he went to work in his maternal uncle’s house. He had no other option to go anywhere else. He worked from childhood to the age of fifty. He didn’t demand anymore from his uncle, as he got shelter to grow up safely under him. The landlord treated him as a bonded labourer and not as a nephew or as a human being but he always followed his uncle’s order. Later the village was submerged in the dam and the man had to leave and come back to his own village and small portion of land and begin work there independently. The man was aware about the importance of education and so he sent his sons and daughters to school. His eldest son didn’t want to study so he also worked with his father on the landlord’s farm. One elder daughter had been given in marriage but the rest of the children were in the school. One boy was good in his studies, so he was sent to the government hostel in a nearby town. He passed his 11th standard and got a job as a forest guard in the forest department. The labourer had many expectations from his son that he would help the whole family to lead their life with dignity. He had hoped that his son would support all the family members, especially the younger brothers and sisters. The labourer was innocent and did not know that his son had grown up with other ideas. His son observed the urban life which was self centred. There the people help only themselves and not others. The culture of individualistic life styles in the city affects all the people who live there. The town educated son also could not keep himself aloof from his surroundings. He was lucky to get a Government job at that time, as later none of his younger brothers and sisters could get a job. The Government cut down on the number of people it was employing and a larger number from the earlier uneducated population was getting educated and so the competition increased. The so called development work going on in the country resulted in the dam being constructed and the labourer family being displaced. The people were unaware as to why the Government was displacing them. Simply they wanted to lead their lives peacefully. The landlord, who made the labourer bonded for life despite him being his nephew, did not register a single protest with the Government to save his own lands. All the people were uncertain about their future. They had got very little money as compensation for their land, houses and trees. The labourer got only three thousand rupees for his house and trees. His uncle had gifted him a piece of land but did not legally transfer the ownership of that land. The man was very happy to see his son in a government job. He told his wife that he wants to get his working son married into a good family. The money which was provided by the Government for their rehabilitation would have to be spent for that. His wife and all the family members did not agree. His eldest son opposed this decision till the last moment of the marriage ceremony. The man was very confident that he would get all types of help from his son to take care of all family members. The forest guard son was, however, interested only to settle his own life. He was not much concerned about his parents and he cleverly deceived them and established himself as a middle class man. He ignored his father’s requests for support and did not fulfil his father’s expectation. He used to rarely come home. The man died a disillusioned person gravely saddened by his son’s selfishness. The man had parental property of five acres of land in his old village but he had no bullock for farming. He used to give his land on rent to others at a cheap price and used that money and wages from labouring on others’ farms to run his family. He had not enough money to properly establish his family in a new place. After a few years his wife died and he suffered a lot as there was no one there to condole with him. He survived to the age of seventy but he had no rest from labour work as only when he earned could he eat as otherwise there was no food. The man died without any care despite having six children, three sons and three daughters. Thus, for poor people in this society there is no support structure and the culture of selfishness that pervades urban society corrupts the people who succeed in making a place for themselves in it and turns them away from their families. This is the cruel nature of modern development and culture in India that oppresses the poor even more than in colonial times.
The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (Majlis) or Society for Respect for Women and the Earth, a collective of Dalit and Adivasi women organising action for the rights of women and environmental conservation, has initiated a programme of gynaecological health camps for women residing in slums in the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. The programme consists of a preliminary baseline survey to assess the felt needs of the women regarding their reproductive and gynaecological health and the various barriers they face to achieving a healthy status. While this survey is conducted, discussions are also held about these barriers to health and the offer is made from Majlis of holding a health camp which is to include clinical checkups by gynaecologists, laboratory tests and provision of medicine, all done free of cost to the women. After this a first health camp is held and then a follow up one fifteen days later. This whole process takes a month in one slum.
Even though all girls and women who are menstruating and those who have had menopause are provided diagnosis and treatment, for the purposes of research, only married women who are still in the menstrual age group are considered. The preliminary results of the intervention for the first 150 women to benefit from the programme are described here in brief. They show the devastating status of women’s health in the slums in Indore and the cost effective way in which a well designed programme can bring about substantial improvement in the situation.
The initial part provides a comparison between the National Family Health Survey IV 2015-16 (International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, 2016) data for urban areas of Madhya Pradesh and that from the Majlis sample to situate the latter in the larger context of the state.
While the sex ratio is better in the Majlis sample than in the NFHS IV sample, the literacy and education levels are much poorer for the Majlis sample and the proportion of women in the 20-24 year age group who have been married before reaching the legal age of 18 years is more than double and this affects the reproductive health of women adversely. Thus, overall the Majlis sample has a worse demographic profile than the NFHS IV.
The NFHS IV sample has a higher proportion of households with a Good Drinking water source and clean fuel while the proportion of households with good sanitation is almost the same for both samples and so in the case of these indicators also the Majlis sample overall has a worse situation than the NFHS IV sample. Especially noteworthy is the very poor situation in the slums in Indore with regard to water supply which is a major cause of ill health. The Majlis sample has much poorer values for all the indicators with the economic values of out of pocket delivery expense and cash support under JSY being particularly disadvantageous.
Anaemia due to factors like overwork and malnutrition are the bane of women in India and there is an epidemic of Vitamin B12 deficiency which directly contributes to anaemia. The Majlis sample has an alarming proportion of 76.4 % women who are anaemic much more than the NFHS IV sample. While many women suffer from gynaecological problems and especially erosion of the cervix, very few ever get themselves checked up by gynaecologists. The Majlis sample had only 4.1 % women who had had their cervix examined and these were all those who had had hysterectomies. While with regard to owning of house and having bank accounts the Majlis sample is more or less on par with the NFHS IV sample, the situation with regard to suffering spousal violence and the use of sanitary napkins is much worse for the Majlis sample.
Thus, overall the women who have been chosen for the gynaecological health programme by Majlis are in a very disadvantageous situation as compared to the NFHS IV survey results, which themselves paint a very sorry picture of the status of women’s health in urban areas of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore the implementation of the current programme by Majlis is eminently justified.
During the preliminary survey the women were asked whether they were suffering from any of twenty specific women’s health problems that most commonly afflict women. 92.6 per cent of the women reported reproductive health problems with an average of three different complaints per woman, with some having as many as ten complaints. 96.3 percent of the women said that this was the first time they were revealing their gynaecological problems to anyone as they did not feel that they could speak about them to anyone.
Proportion of women who complained of dizziness is very high at 64.9 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who were tested and found to be anaemic which is 76.4 percent. A very high proportion of 71.6 percent of women complained of waist pains which generally arise from a combination of anaemia, overwork and problems of the reproductive tract. The proportion of women reporting vaginal problems which mostly arise from lack of menstrual hygiene was 44.7 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who use cloth washed and dried in the shade during periods which is 59.5 percent. A very high proportion of 49.9 percent of the women reported having menstrual problems which too arise mostly from a combination of anaemia, overwork and lack of menstrual hygiene.
A very high proportion of 67.6 percent of the women suffered from cervical problems like erosions and cysts and as much as 30 percent had serious problems requiring cauterisation and repeated medication. This is something that the women did not know about at all as they had never had their cervix examined by a gynaecologist. Many of these women also had vaginal problems and on the whole 49.1 percent of women were suffering from these. The proportion of women with urinary tract and menstrual problems was less than what they had reported in the survey because at the time of clinical examination they were not suffering from these problems which they do from time to time only.
Clinical diagnosis and laboratory testing of blood and urine samples are quite costly if done individually but since these were done in bulk, the costs came down by as much as 60 percent. Similarly medication for cervical and vaginal problems is quite costly if branded medicines are used. However, generic medicines were used in the camps and sourced at wholesale rates through bulk purchase and so the medicine costs were only about 15 percent of the retail value of branded drugs. All the women were cured of their problems over the month’s time in which they were diagnosed and treated. Some required hospital procedures such as cauterisation. There was one woman who had stitches in her vagina which had not been removed after delivery a few years ago. She was repeatedly complaining of pain in her vagina but had never visited a gynaecologist afterwards. Some women had to be given intravenous iron drips as they were highly anaemic.
Clearly, the women had poor gynaecological health mainly due to inability to articulate their problems and get access to good reproductive and sexual health services and prevalence of malnutrition and overwork, which are all due to a combination of poverty and patriarchal oppression.
We have already seen that there is a high level of gender based violence. The survey also revealed that other indicators of women’s disempowered status were equally bad –
The gender division of labour is highly skewed for this sample with 81.8 percent of women doing all domestic work. The proportion of women who said that their men decided when to have sex and they had no say in the matter was very high at 90.4 percent. The proportion of women who had some knowledge of governnment schemes favouring women was only 31.8 percent. The proportion of women with knowledge of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was only 33.8 percent.
Meetings were held with the men also as without their cooperation, the women would fall back into ill health. In many cases the bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause vaginal infections in women are there in the penises of men also but do not affect them. Thus, it is necessary for the men also to take the medicines so that both are disinfected. These meetings with the men revealed that they too were unaware of the complexities of the reproductive tract problems of the women. In some cases the men were themselves suffering from infections of the penis but were too shy to go to a doctor for treatment. Thus, these meetings served the purpose of raising the awareness levels of the men.
The total cost of the month long intervention in one slum including the preliminary survey, the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests, medication and documentation and analysis is Rs 50,000 catering to about 60 women. Thus, for an average cost of about Rs 800 per woman, complete diagnosis, testing and curative treatment is provided which would have cost the women at least Rs 3000 if they had tried to do it individually. Moreover, in most cases, the women do not have access to gynaecologists for their own problems even if they have the money due to lack of awareness. This programme of Majlis is consequently not only very essential but also a high impact one. The programme is financed by individual donors through crowd funding on the internet and thus provides for flexibility and innovation in its implementation.
The question naturally arises as to why the Government, which can get the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests and the medicine at even cheaper rates than an NGO like Majlis, isn’t providing this important service to the women. The survey revealed that let alone provide these gynaecological services, it is not even providing properly the safe motherhood services which are such an integral part of its family welfare agenda. Gynaecological health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness. An adverse gender division of labour, lack of sexual rights and domestic violence further queer the pitch for most women. Under the circumstances a more effective Government programme of reproductive health and women’s empowerment would reap huge benefits in terms of economic and social progress for the society.
I have been working intensively on gender and reproductive rights and health of under privileged women in Indore city for two years now and I have published a training manual on the same based on the results of this ongoing work which can be accessed here –https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nxs_PuUjhd9MjdIaCMNYsjVDWWK22pzZ/view
The factors which affect nutrition levels are food, inheritability, genetic predisposition, clean water, sanitation, disease conditions, geography and human development etc. According to the economist Arvind Panagaria, the processes of nutritional outcomes are shaped more by food intake, inheritability of poor nutrition across generation and genetic predisposition towards a shorter stature. However, the economist Sonalde Desai while accepting that the first one is a function of household income and food prices and so amenable to being addressed through public policy states that the other two are beyond the reach of public policy. Desai shows from an analysis of nutrition data that the difference in nutrition begins at six months of age where children start supplemental food. The quality or the quantity of the supplemental food is not sufficient to overcome the effect of gastrointestinal diseases which affect these children the moment they begin taking anything else other than mother’s milk. Research in many countries has found that gastrointestinal disease in associated with inadequate access to water and sanitation systems. These have to be addressed to reduce malnutrition among children. Thus, it is important to look at the role of disease conditions shaped by water and sanitation. The poor quality of water and sanitation leads to a high prevalence of diseases like diarrhoea, which stop food absorption and affect nutritional outcomes. The disease environment is also one of the prime reasons for the nutritional outcomes. The disease environment affects both the rich and the poor but there is difference between communities. Many of the households do not have access to basic amenities. The spill over effects of the disease environment spread through contamination and flies so even well to do households living in unsanitary neighbourhoods are affected. The situation of people who live in different geographic areas like urban and rural is different. This reflects in most indicators of health care systems. Regional inequalities remain in different levels; an educated person from a rural area and an uneducated person from an urban area do not get the same facilities. So there is a need for holistic understanding of nutrition level among children in India, and also a need for multidimensional inputs to assess nutrition levels of food intake, disease conditions, right policy emphasis and genetic predisposition as well as to create a right parameter for the Indian population for nutrition level. According to National Family Health Survey data when a child is born there is no change in nutritional outcomes across income groups for the first 6 months but when they start taking food, then growth is affected because of the differential food intake and diseases. Thus inter generational inheritability and genetic predisposition have a marginal effect. The income to nutrition data also shows that the improvement in nutrition over the period 1992-93 to 2006 is far greater for richer households. So upper income groups have better nutrition out comes. Earlier more than half of the Indian population had no access to toilets and sanitation but now there is a substantial improvement and around 36% households have access to water closets and more than half have access to toilets of one kind or other. There is not much of a gap between geographic areas as this has been overcome with time. Therefore the most important factor at present to influence nutritional outcomes is food intake which is related to income. Thus, there is a need to improve the incomes and food availability of poor households while continuing the thrust towards ensuring greater sanitation.
I met an old Barela tribal lady from village Jamasi in Bagli Tehsil of Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh in India. Her name is Kunjaribai. She has many children still alive. She is a small farmer and very active lady. She always works with her husband in her farm and produces many things for their daily life. There is a small hut full of useful things; like vegetable seeds , grain seeds, ground nut seeds for sowing in the next season along with a box for keeping her farm’s ownership paper. First she took me to see the farm that has fruits, vegetables like methi and explained everything about them – how she grows and sells for her every day’s need like – sugar, oil and salt and some time she buys dry fruits like coconut and kharak and methi from her garden. She prepares this homely medicine and keeps it carefully in her control and eats it for her fitness in the winter season. This is agood food habit of the tribals in winter time. However, all women do not get this chance in their household consumption due to poverty . The custom is to share and eat with the family members. Especially, the children cannot be deprived, so women prepare winter food as much as possible. This is called Khurak, which means good food consisting of Methi seeds, cooking oil and Jaggery along with coconut and Kharak or dried dates. Kunjari bai doesn’t ask her son to provide things for her survival, even though , she always gives excess products to them from her field . While explaining, she quickly picked a guava and gave me to taste. We came back to her hut and sat on the floor. There her husband, Ranjee, was sitting on the cot and cleaning coriander seeds. He was very happy to talk with me , saying that his sister-in-law, Sursi bai, had been in jail for four months in connection with a case falsely put on her by the police for opposing the Government and he has provided surety for her bail and she had come back to her village yesterday. Then people had gathered and take her into their community because going to jail is not considered decent by the Tribal community . Hence, four chickens were sacrificed to appease their main Gods and ask them to take Sursibai back in their community. Then only she entered in her house. Kunjari entered the hut to light the Chulah or wood stove and prepared tea for all of us . She called me inside the hut saying that the door is low and I will have to enter carefully . She became a little bit angry at her husband and cited that this hut is very small as no one can sit inside the hut when she lights the Chulah . The smoke spreads all over the hut. She doesn’t feel comfortable making chapatties or corn bread inside the hut. Ranjee didn’t respond and seemed reluctant to construct a larger one. She has already lost one eye when she was pounding gram in the pestle two years back. She wants to get her eye cured hence she had gone to the camp for an eye operation in the nearby small town of Udaynagar. There she was told that she would have to get herself admitted for four days in a big hospital .There was no facility to operate her eye in the camp. She assumed that money would be needed to take treatment, so she is planning to sell her cow and go to the big city of Indore. She has the freedom to tackle her problems on her own in small matters but for serious matters the whole family has to chip in. Every woman has some things, like chicken, goats, milk and vegetables to sell and spend for her requirement. She was telling me that a relative is in the big Government hospital in Indore who is working as an agent between the patients and the doctors. He may help Kunjari . She wanted to know how much money will be required for curing the eye. I was unable to tell her the exact amount of expenditure required in the hospital. While taking tea, we were busy with our discussion inside the hut that was filled by smoke. She opened the box and took out her farm’s papers to show to me and asked how much land had been written on the papers. About three hectares of land had been written on that paper but no one exactly understands what is meant by the measure hectare. She stared at me and then questioned me as to how much lands were there in the local measure which is bigha. I also could not convert immediately as i did not know the local measure but she explained that she had a ten bigha farm. She keeps this paper always with her because her sons may transfer the land in their names and cause trouble for Kunjari . She had only one new sari that she wears occasionally. Her hut was small but very special, made from and covered by stalks of plants. The hut was around five feet in height in the middle part and six feet in length and the door was separately made by cotton stalks and covered by plastic bags. The stalks have been covered with mud and so the hut is air tight almost and when the wood stove is alight becomes full of smoke. She had everything required for survival in this hut. She was finding it difficult to take the things out and keep them properly due to the shortened space of the hut. She was very keen to show me whatever she had in her hut. Then we came out from the hut and started collecting fresh onions, coriander, green chillies and garlic from the field amidst our continuing discussion . Ranjee left his work in the middle and came to the mala or water stand. First he washed his hand and drank water. He stooped and entered the hut and came out holding a sickle. I thought, he is going back to work in the field again. We were engaged with our funny talk. After half an hour he came back with a plate full of the meat of chicken and told Kunjari to cook quickly and then he went missing again. Again Kunjari lighted the Chulah and started pounding the chillies, garlic and salt in a pestle and mixed only cumin seeds for taste . First, she put the meat for boiling in the utensil and then asked a grandson to bring cooking oil from her old house. He was a six year old boy who was sitting in the shade and eating green grams. The old house was about a kilometre away from her hut on the farm. A young granddaughter was cutting coriander seeds in the farm. Kunjari called her and sent her to make corn flour chapattis. Once again she came out and checked that her husband was not present there. Getting a good chance, Kunjari started talking of personal matters about that why she is staying in the hut on the farm. First, she bitterly complained that her husband went searching for alcoholic drinks. Her husband has become old but his mind is like that of a young man when he takes liquor he is ready to come with her and that is why she has left her old house because there family members sleep together in the house. She pointed to a thick bamboo stick which she uses to control her husband. She keeps it near her cot while sleeping and when her husband creates problems, she becomes aggressive and raises the stick telling him that she will break his head with it if he comes near. She is older than her husband as this pattern is common in the tribal community but even then she and other such women are under the control of their men. Her husband after that does not have the courage to bother her but mutters the whole night. She laughed continuously while relating this to me. After boiling the chicken she fried it, put more water in it and left it to cook for twenty minutes. This discussion was not simple, it raised a number of questions about all couples since every woman cannot behave like Kunjari ,. After all this is also not right way for a couple to live their life. How do couples manage their sexual life without discussing between themselves? There is no conversation about sexual requirements between most couples as men tend to override the women. How this hardship for women will be removed in our society since no one can talk about their sexual relations openly . Women spend their lives suffering in silence so as to maintain familial and social peace .This situation is not new as thousands of women, given an opportunity speak of this problem all over the world. There is no sign of any satisfactory change in the patriarchal structure of our society which has created this unacceptable situation for women. Being unaware and lacking in empowerment most women are forced to support this male bastion. Even women who are aware about their sexual and reproductive rights also sometimes do not have the courage to resist the oppression of their male partners.
I first had an online voice through the yahoogroup CGNet – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/chhattisgarh-net/ . This is an online group of people interested in the development of the state of Chhattisgarh in India. For the first time I could get my views published in a public forum on a regular basis as otherwise I rarely get to write in the mainstream media. People responded to what I wrote and there were debates. So this gave me a feeling of worth that I had not had before. As an activist fighting for the rights of Dalit ( Formerly untouchable low caste People in India) Women I often felt frustrated that their pathetic situation could not get more publicity. Even mass actions by our organisation were rarely covered by the local media. However, once I began writing about this in CGNet then many national and international scholars and journalists picked up our struggle stories and we got a broader exposure. Thus, it was our struggle for rights which created the push to find newer fora for publicity and led me to access the online forum of CGNet. Later on I came across Pulsewire and became active on that forum also. I had posted about the problem of the Mahar caste, to which I belong, being de-recognised as a scheduled caste eligible for affirmative action in the state of Chhattisgarh by the Government there and this led to further publicity to the issue. Presently the Mahars are fighting the case for reversal of the Chhattisgarh Government’s action in the Supreme Court of India. Thus, online presence does lead to greater impact. My posts and interviews on Pulse wire too have reached a bigger audience and given publicity to the work I do for the rights of poor women in India. This interaction with others on the net especially through Pulsewire leads to me doing a lot of thinking about my work and this improves its quality. That is why I find internet activity useful. Many people respond to my posts on CGNet and on Pulsewire and I have developed friendship with other women across India and the world. I developed a reproductive health intervention for slum women in Indore with one of my friends on Pulsewire and then later got it funded by an agency and it is now being implemented. The pulsewire organisers have taken my interview and also awarded me for my posts and some of my contributions have been forwarded to UN Women. I think just to put something on the internet is enough to be heard. Many people read my posts without responding. This is something I have come to know later. It is very important to be heard because I raise issues of women’s rights which do not get much space in mainstream media. I have consistently broken the culture of silence that shrouds women’s experiences whether within the home or outside through my work. The internet has provided me with the chance to publicise this work and my views resulting from my experiences on the net. Empowerment means to have the power to change the negative aspects of this world. Specifically from a woman’s point of view it is the power to reduce the negative impact of patriarchal oppression on women. My views as expressed in the Pulsewire blog are appreciated by many readers and also the Pulsewire staff. Consequently I was chosen for an interview that was published in the magazine – http://worldpulse.com/about/blog/meet-subhadra-khaperde. Many people have read and quoted this interview and this has given me a sense of self worth in addition to that gained from my field work. Following this and the response to my posts in my pulsewire journal I have written in other fora also and so my power of expression has improved. Today I am much better known in India and across the world than I was earlier. The main challenge in finding a voice online was initially to write in English because there were very few online fora in Hindi when I started out. My English was not so good and so I had to get my posts edited before putting them online and that took time. Given that I am mostly in the field and only rarely online except in patches this posed a problem and it was frustrating at times. Once I overcame this problem things have become smooth. I diligently avoid common social networking sites and undertake online activity only through secure closed groups like Pulsewire and so I do not face any online security or privacy threats. My advice to all women is to seek out such secure women’s networking sites or closed groups and then begin posting their experiences online and interacting with like minded people. These days commercial internet access providing cafes give this service very cheaply. In India it costs only about 0.5 US$ per hour and that is sufficient to check emails and post in one’s online journals after having first prepared the blogposts offline. It is an immensely educative and empowering experience and more women do this the more will be the power of the battle to overthrow patriarchy. “Down with Patriarchy”!!!
Early in the morning, the police came to arrest Sursibai but they didn’t recognise her so they asked someone to find out where she was. Sursibai was on her way to fill drinking water from the hand pump in her village Jamasi in Dewas District of Madhya Pradesh in India. The people were aware about the police and informed Sursibai that she should not come before them. She waited for a while hiding in the tall cotton plants to avoid arrest but then on an impulse decided to go and meet them. She appeared in front of the police and introduced herself. Then she went to prepare tea for them. After that Police men asked Sursibai to come to Udhaynagar Thana with them for some work. She got ready to go with them and said to her husband that she would come back quickly. She thought that she would get bail soon and be back. The police men had come to arrest Sursibai without lady police which is mandatory. On the way the police men stopped the van and went to arrest other women. Sursibai was sitting alone in the Van for half an hour. The police men came back without arresting the women. They reached Udaynagar Thana that is 7 k. m. from her village Jamasi. Sursibai was told to remain seated in the van. Then the police men started to prepare papers to arrest her and she remained sitting there for around 5 hours. After completing the papers they took her to the next police station Bagli by bus. It is 35 k. m. from Udaynagar to Bagli. There, they had called a lady police to accompany her and she was presented in front of the sub- divisional magistrate at around 5 o’ clock in the evening. Police did not give a chance to the people from her village to present the bail application in the court. She was sent to the district jail in Dewas that is also 60 k. m. from Bagli. While she was under the control of the police men, the whole day she was hungry. She could not object to this but also not ask for food, but the police department is habitual in delaying the case procedure for producing arrested men or women in the court. She entered the jail at 9 p.m. and was put in the women’s compartment, where there was not much light. The Lady police opened the lock of the heavy steel door. The lady police entered in the hall and pointed out a separate cemented cot and asked other women to give two blankets to Sursibai and then she came out from the hall and pulled the two parts of the door together with a sound like an elephant’s trumpet. She said that no one should come near it and then she locked the door from outside with a heavy lock and hung the key on her wrist. For a little a while she held a baton and then crossed the windows to show that the prisoners are under the control of the lady police and then she sat on her bed outside and asked women to give hand made bread to Sursibai if they had any left. One woman had a child so she always kept some bread for her child and she gave that to Sursibai. But she didn’t eat thinking that it was for the child and instead she tried to sleep on the hard bed. There was one blanket for putting on the bed and one for covering herself but the whole night she could not sleep due to empty stomach. She drank water and tried to sleep but could not sleep at all. From time to time she would peep outside through the window and feel free. She woke up early in the morning and tried to befriend the others. Next morning another lady police came on her duty and started asking about the case in which Sursibai had come to jail. Then Sursibai explained that she is a social activist fighting for the rights of her tribes people and not a criminal. She works for her community to solve their problems. Sursibai countered the question of the lady police by asking her how she did not know of the tribal women’s campaign for closing the liquor shops in this district. The women’s organisation “Kansari Nu Vadavno” (which means Felicitating the Goddess Kansari who is the symbol of their staple cereal Sorghum) is a rights based organisation set up to demand the basic needs like health care systems, safe drinking water, schools and to implement the Right to Information Act, Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Closing illegal liquor shops was the main agenda of the organisation. Sursibai is one of those thousands of women who led a peaceful campaign to curb it. It was most effective between 1996 to 2000. There were 25 women with different cases in Dewas district jail. She was very happy to stay in the jail because she wanted to know everything about the jail. The hall had a toilet and ash for washing hands, big windows with thick iron rods, fans and big walls all around the hall so that no one can see outside the jail. The heavy door was opened at 8 a.m. so that they could come out from hall in the morning and move in the courtyard, brushing their teeth and taking tea and breakfast. There were no twigs for brushing teeth like she was used to in the village. She brushed teeth by crushing small pieces of coal into powder. Tea was served in a full of glass by a male prisoner. It was not hot as she was the last in the queue for getting tea. One hour later the breakfast, salty porridge, was served in a plate, and she had a stomach full. Undercooked and burned handmade bread five in number and a tasteless dish of gourds and potato curry were given for lunch. The same tasteless food was served to the jail inmates every day. There were two lady police on duty for them. Sursibai had been arrested on October 22nd, 2013 when general elections were going on in Madhya Pradesh. She was brought to attend the court hearing in Bagli around once in a week. On hearing days her lawyer presented the bail application for her but she was not given bail till the supplementary charge sheet charging her with attempt to murder police men was filed by the police. Sursibai is not a common woman and that is why she has been falsely implicated in this case by the police. The government is not always very positive when people demand their fundamental rights and object to its illegal actions. After, 9 days, she began to worry about her house, children, animals, chicken and goats? Then she started to lose her confidence and reduced her diet. No one could say for certain how long it would take to get bail and get out of the jail. With the stress, she definitely became much pressurized and became ill in the jail and lost her weight too. The bail application was rejected twice in Bagli and finally she got bail in the Dewas court. After 3 and half months she got bail at the end of the day on 16th March 2014. Her son and husband were present to receive her. Since they could not reach their village that day they stayed in her relative’s house in a nearby village and phoned her family members to arrange for the formality to take her back in their community. Among the Bhils a stint in jail is considered to be a defiling one and so the prisoner after release has to perform rituals to be purified. Sursibai is one of many Bhil women who have gone to jail fighting for their rights because the Government is not prepared to give them justice. The fight goes on.
On one occasion, in 1994, a group of people were going to celebrate their socio- cultural meet that was organised in Chhattisgarh in India. Around three hundred men and women set out from Dhar, Alirajpur and Barwani districts of western part of Madhya Pradesh in India. This area is known as Malwa-Nimar region in the country. This meet was organised by P.V. Rajgopal, the Convenor of the people’s rights mass organisation, Ekta Parishad. Ten thousand people gathered from all over the country. The convention was held over three days in Tilda-Nevra village in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh. The convention was held to showcase the immense variety of tribal culture in various parts of the country and the efforts being made to represent their collective life style, document and promote tribal history, save cultural identity and promote tribal arts and crafts. The people from non – Tribal areas made every possible arrangement to give the tribals a chance to perform easily. They took care of the food, water supply, stage, medicines and toilets etc. After three days the participants were ready to go back to their respective places. There was a custom among mass organisations in those days to travel all over the country without paying anything for the train fare. Most of the people who participated in that convention had come without ticket on the trains. However, while arriving they had come by different trains at different times whereas while going back all the people from Madhya Pradesh wanted to go back by the first train available. A huge crowd of over three hundred people both men and women. So a small group of young men and women were sent to the preceding station of Bhatapara to secure the seats in the train for their colleagues who would entrain at Tilda-Nevra . They had decided to catch the train before the stop because the train used to stop for only two minutes in Tilda-Nevra railway station. All three hundred people could not get in the train in that short period of time. So they moved to catch the train in Bhatapara railway station just before the Tilda Nevra railway station. This front party was divided in 6 or 7 groups each for one compartment. When the train Chhattisgarh Express stopped in Bhatapara railway station for a while all of them entered quickly as planned. They decided to pull the emergency chain to stop the train in Tilda if the rest of the people were not able to get in. As usual the train stopped in the Tilda-Nevra station. People eagerly entered the train without caring for others to see that no one should be left behind. Some of them were ready to pull the chain for stopping the train if there were any difficulties to get into the train. All people were very happy as they expected to reach their destination as they had caught the train. They were mentally prepared not to give trouble to the ticket holder travellers and were ready to sit on the floor if necessary. No one objected to this huge crowd even in the Raipur junction, which is the capital of Chhattisgarh in India. However, when they reached another Junction Durg, 20 k. m. from Bhilai where there is a big steel plant passengers from Durg station were unable to enter the train as it was fully packed by local and Tribal people from different parts of the country. Few people entered and got their seats but when more people came there and saw that there was no possibility of entering because common people were standing in the way, they asked the common people to get down and also called the police. When the crowd refused to come down from the compartment, the police intervened and started throwing the common people from the compartment. They shouted that there was no permission for entering without reservation and abused them asking where had they come from? The police started beating them with their batons. All women and men were threatened to get down from the compartment. In that situation the ticket holders were divided in two parts, few were inside in the compartment and most of them were on the platform. There were no lady police, so the police men could not touch the women led by their women activist leaders. These four women leaders opposed the policemen in such a brave manner that there was a stalemate. Getting a chance two women pulled the chain and stopped the train and the other two got the men to get into the train while holding the doors to prevent the regular ticket holders from entering the train. Then, seeing that the activist women had made matters difficult for the train to move ahead, the police men tried to convince these women that they should not to take the law in their hands and let the train leave immediately as otherwise they would be taken in police custody. These four women were concerned about taking their people in the train back to their home. They had no money to buy tickets and could not wait for other trains. So the women asked the police men to inform the railway department to include one more compartment for them. In such a hot situation the women persisted in stopping the train by hanging to hold down the chain and their hands became red. So they used to use their hands by turns to keep the chain pulled and this lasted for one hour as the women were scared that if they let go then the train would start and their people would remain on the platform. The hands became red, and the shoulders were paining. Then they exchanged their role by turns with the women who were guarding the doors to manage the whole show as well as possible. Holding down the chain was a big challenge but it was made possible. In this way they succeeded in keeping the train stationary. Most of the ticket holding passengers became angry for the delay in the train and continuously questioned and berated the crusading women and seemed worried about their delayed time schedule. After 20 minutes some of the police men announced the availability of a separate compartment for the common people and warned them not to enter in other compartments. Somehow all three hundred people were accommodated in one compartment and packed together as a bundle of grass ….. some of them laid themselves down atop the shelf for luggage , others under the seats and the rest of the people sat packed together like sardines. Nevertheless they sang and laughed throughout the night till they reached Bhopal because they had succeeded in getting a special compartment to go home in. Those were the heydays of mass organisational mobilisation in this country when the trains were used to transport without any money, poor people protesting for their rights. Over the past two decades the amount of security on trains has increased many times and such free movement is now a thing of the past and consequently big mass mobilisations now have to take place on foot.