Her Born Identity: Dropadi reclaimed her identity on paper & in real life

“At my in-laws, I didn’t get food thrice a day, but I certainly got three beatings. After I had my son, my husband forced me to get sterilized. My parents came to meet me after the operation and my husband beat them as well. I couldn’t bear to watch my parents disrespected. So, I left.

Back at my parent’s home in Latur district’s Patoda village, I worked in construction. My son suffered from bouts of pneumonia and I often had to beg for money to afford his treatment. Eventually, I started a savings group that put me in touch with a community-based organization (CBO), which introduced me to CORO.

I joined the Grassroots Leadership Development Program in 2011. Initially, I didn’t care about the work. The draw was the 3,000-rupee stiped. But the fellowship changed me. The module on the constitution shook me to the core because it made me realize that I didn’t officially exist. My parents had removed my name from their ration card and my in-laws never added my name to their documents. I had no Aadhar or PAN card. I wondered why women never really belong anywhere. I asked myself, ‘Am I really a person?’

After the fellowship, I accompanied the CBO head to different villages in the hope of bagging a paid position. I saw firsthand the injustices meted out to women and Dalits. Because of CORO, I was sensitive to small acts of cruelty like parents sending their son to an English-medium school, but their daughter to a municipal school. Or feeding their son good food, while their daughter survives on scraps. I decided that earning money isn’t everything. This was my calling.

Over the years, I’ve helped 1,100 people access pension schemes and dealt with 200 cases of domestic violence. I’m also a ‘Saheli’ in CORO’s Single Women campaign and am often called on to intervene when violence breaks out in nearby villages.

Recently, a Dalit groom’s relatives were beaten up for entering a temple even though his mother-in-law was the sarpanch. I dug deeper and found that she was a sarpanch only in name. She wasn’t allowed to hoist the flag or even sit in a chair during meetings because of her caste. I spearheaded a protest to challenge this injustice and 400 people participated in a ‘rasta roko’.

The agitation resulted in a social boycott. Dalits were banned from the ration shop, the village well and refused employment. With no other recourse, we squatted in front of the collector’s office for 10 days. Eventually, 33 upper caste villagers were jailed for three months. For them, it was just a slap on the wrist, but for me – a person who didn’t even exist in the eyes of the law until a few years ago – it was a huge victory.”