Home Alone: Chitra took the radical decision to live alone as a single woman in her village

“My father was an alcoholic. He married me off in a drunken stupor. I was only 12. It was decided that my in-laws would come and get me after my dad paid a dowry and I got my period. My dad never paid the dowry and I never got my period. Eventually, my husband married someone else. I stayed in my parent’s home in Beed district’s Dhanora village and contributed to the household income by making papads and giving tuitions. I never kept anything for myself. I over all the money I earned to my family.

In 2013, I was working as a community health worker for the government’s National Rural Health Mission. This put me in touch with a community-based organizations (CBO) and I started attending all their events. The CBO recommended me for CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program, and the organization head became my mentor.

I am a Maratha. I belong to the Patil samaj. Women from my community are usually confined to the house. So, at the interview, CORO staff asked if I’d be able to leave the house and willing to work for Dalits and other marginalized groups. I said I would. They also asked me whose side I would take in an argument – my brother’s friend or his friend’s girlfriend. They insinuated that my brother would get angry if I didn’t support his friend, but I told them that I would pick whichever side was right. I think that’s why I was selected for this fellowship.

My fellowship project was self-help groups (SHGs). I picked five villages where I created 14 SHGs. By charging a fixed 2% interest rate, these savings groups freed villagers from the clutches of loan sharks. I also helped 100 women get job cards, 30 women access a widows’ pension scheme, and resolved four cases of domestic violence. Within six months of the fellowship ending, I became a ‘saheli’ in CORO’s Single Women Campaign. The support groups I created in each village now function independently, lobbying for infrastructure and other benefits from the gram panchayat and intervening in cases of domestic violence.

None of this work would have been possible if CORO hadn’t helped me understand who I am. Before the session on ‘self’, I’d never thought of myself as a person. I didn’t know I had rights. After the fellowship, I made the radical decision to live alone. I stopped giving all my earnings to my family and instead decided to buy a plot of land and build a one-room house.

This enraged my brother and sister-in-law. My brother insisted that I give him the money or put the land in his name. I refused and the situation at home grew very tense. I would have probably given in if not for the support of my mother and the CORO staff. When it came time to move, I left with just the clothes on my back. I’ve been living in my new home for the last 15 days.”