One More Shot Please! Durga went from hooch peddler to curbing drunkenness when she got a second shot at life
“When my husband beat me so badly that my womb lost the ability to bear children, I ran away to my parents’ village, Mor Dungri, in Udaipur district. I realized I wasn’t welcome there when I asked for chappals from the family shop and my mother asked me to pay her. I had no money, so I left barefoot and dejected. I sat on the road and pondered my next move. Eventually, I went to a store and bought ‘mohua’ flowers on credit because the only skill I had was the ability to make country liquor. That’s how I survived for the first year. I was deeply ashamed because I’d seen firsthand what alcohol does to a family. If my father earned 100-rupees, he spent 1000-rupees on alcohol and our whole family suffered. Luckily, a local NGO offered me alternate employment.
I’ve had many different jobs since then. Before joining CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program in 2016, I sold a weight-loss drug for a company in Udaipur. I gave up a 9,500-rupee salary for a 3,000-rupee fellowship stipend because an NGO had once helped me escape a life of selling ‘desi daaru’. Now, I wanted to help other people stuck in bad situations.
I selected three villages to work in. CORO encouraged me to empower people, not make them dependent on me. So, my first move was organizing monthly meetings for people to discuss their problems and find solutions. When villagers complained that the local ration shop owner was cheating them, I encouraged them to confront him collectively. 150 people gathered in his shop and exposed the scam. He’s now been replaced.
CORO picks grassroots fellows like me because we have certain insights. Once, an elderly man was struggling to get his pension because his age on official documents was 35 years. This was absurd because he had two sons, who were receiving senior citizen pensions. I knew the sarpanch had grown up playing with the old man. So, I told all three to go to the sarpanch and politely ask him to pick the eldest. The sarpanch felt sheepish and quickly corrected the error.
During the fellowship, I learned how to make a Facebook account, which led to surfing the net. handed One day, I found a government website listing the names of 42 villagers, who had received money to build cattle sheds. None of these people even knew their applications had been approved. I downloaded the receipts and they pressurized the sarpanch to give them their money.
A few years ago, I set up a ‘samiti’ in a nearby village to stop men from drinking during the day and harassing women. By design, the office bearers, who had the power to fine people Rs 501 for breaking the drinking curfew, were also the villages’ most notorious drunks. The experiment was a success. Today, men work during the day instead of drinking. As for me, I’d come full circle from the days I was forced to peddle hooch to survive.”