We the women, are going together!
The women of Nandurbar belonging to diverse tribal communities, who have shown commendable strength and togetherness, quote this:
‘Till today we were coming to attend programs meant for us and our welfare in government or private cars, which were being arranged for us, but today when we come to reclaim our identities as women and human beings, we have arranged the cars and transport for us’. ‘We have taken our ownership’. ‘This is a huge deal for us’.
Nandurbar is a tribal district, which is why the social and economic make-up of the work which happens there through CORO or any other organization is different, because any organization which works there has to cater to the demands of tribal folks which are different from the rest, for instance, the ‘discrimination towards women’ cannot be seen directly here, as it is not practiced in their activities of daily living, but the same is very covert – because it is seen in the traditional and cultural practices of the tribal folk and then the discrimination towards women/girls can be gradually noticed.
In Nandurbar, other collectives of women cannot be seen, it is only through CORO’s facilitation that the women collective has been formed, through the mobilization done by our women who are associated with us, CORO is just the facilitator, and the women who have actually mobilized other women and made the collective stronger deserve all of the credit. We have only seen up until now that women have their self-help groups which consist of a few select women (8-9 women) not a larger number, this Self-Help Groups (SHG) is formed by women but the benefits which are to be enjoyed by women are enjoyed by people/organizations who have helped women to form SHG or formed women’s SHG which is not right because women’s entitlements are not going to them but to someone else.
For instance, any PQR developmental organization which is working for women and children in the Nandurbar spreads awareness related to schemes/policies for women and the benefits can be enjoyed by them if they form a self-help group, the women form a SHG, as per the scheme the direct beneficiary are the women, but because there is an organization involved, they take the benefits and give only interest money to women. The larger chunk of benefits is taken away from women.
Therefore in Nandurbar, such collectives of women were not formed, only SHGs which proved to be not fruitful, because of the mishap that used to take place and still takes place today (though rarely). The woman in the district are made aware about the various schemes of the government which are for them and how they can reap the benefits from the same but no one ever spoke or informed them about the violence which they have to face because they are females, the abuse they have to suffer or have suffered, their rights and identities. There are women leaders in Nandurbar from tribal communities, but they work in compliance with the local governance system which most of the time requires them to say ‘yes and go with the flow’… the issues such as gender inequality, patriarchy, gender based violence, violation of children’s and women’s rights we say are not openly visible and hence are less, but that is not the case, one needs to look at the gravity of these issues and then conclude that the way in which patriarchy manifests in Nandurbar following other issues is different, which can be only observed if one knows the local tribal community closely.
The way women and men express their wants and needs also differs here, and who is given what as per their demands/requirements is dependent on the gender…for instance, a man and a woman fall in love and decide to get married, post marriage the woman has to give up on her education and aspirations, whereas the man continues with his education, the woman’s family receives certain amount money from the in-laws but later her in laws ask her to compensate for that money which they had paid, and she has to pay. Secondly, even if the Sarpanch is a female, the power and accountability with her role and responsibility is assumed by men and they do the work, this is visible in almost all villages. Men are addicted to desi daaru (country liquor) and women consider these issues of utmost seriousness, there have been deaths due to consumption of the alcohol in Nandurbar, women get gravely affected by husband’s addiction to alcohol, men under the influence of alcohol subjecting women to violence and abuse, ignoring their responsibilities and when they die, women’s suffering exacerbates because society expects her to give up on everything since her husband has died, her honor, dignity, will to live and freedom is equated with her husband’s living and dying, which is problematic for the woman, because social norms establishing premise for inequality have to be challenged in order to bring that very equality. The magnitude of deaths due to alcohol consumption is more in the villages which are mainly in the outskirts away from Nandurbar and Navapur block. No one in the district of Nandurbar actually works and intervenes on the level of village, rural issues and intervention is neglected, whatever intervention or work happens it is on the level of schemes and local governance system…this intervention is sterile in nature because unless we intervene with the local people, communicate with them and understand their demands, issues which actually need attention, intervention and correction… no positive change is guaranteed. Government schemes/policies should be issue specific, they cannot be random. The anchoring, hand holding and facilitating first have to begin with the people, by the people and after this we can expect the local governance to help us achieve our larger goal. As aforementioned organizations reap benefits meant for women through schemes and policies due to which a general distrust is developed towards application of these schemes and new organizations refrain from working in the village with these women as they are under the impression that if any problem happens they will be held accountable. Nandurbar is 100% tribal district, therefore the political influence is a lot and because of which it is sensitive, any organization which is working for the rights of the people of the village are closely observed by the people who are involved in politics.
CORO has been working in all of Maharashtra, but it was not working in Nandurbar in its initial stages. Then CORO intervened in Nandurbar and Navapur through the Meena Raju Manch programme, considering the social, political and cultural ecosystem of the villages in these two blocks. The MRM had begun at the school level and with SMC’s help CORO entered the village and in the communities our work was MRM+. When CORO intervened and began work in Nandurbar, it had observed that people of the village are inclusive and willing to work for the holistic betterment of the village, people are hopeful about the positive change that they will bring in the village through their work with CORO as a facilitator, but in reality the people who are in local governance are not locally tribal, so they neglect the issues of tribal people and whatever financial resources which come for the tribal populace through various govt. schemes and policies are being taken by the people in power, and is not given to the beneficiaries due to which the situation in the district of Nandurbar is sad and dismal. In such a situation CORO began work on school level and at the level of local system, and established a place for itself, in 2018 we began with the project of children’s rights in more and more villages and CORO mobilized the systems(Gram Panchayat, Village Child Protection Committee & School Management Committee) and parents. And during the same time, we elected 2 women from the village and enabled their women leadership, made them leaders, from two blocks of Nandurbar – Nandurbar and Navapur, total 10 villages from each block are selected, and 20 women were selected initially to begin the implementation of the work. And now these 2 women leaders who were selected initially handle the leadership responsibilities of all the work being done by CORO in Nandurbar and Navapur.
How did CORO begin the mobilization of these women and start working with them? How did it take these women in confidence? The answer lies in the process of building rapport with them and understanding them, assessing their needs and then as per the assessment and analysis giving them their rights and entitlements and benefits to which they rightfully should receive as tribal. CORO had noticed in the nascent stages of work development that the perception towards these people is negative mainly because they are ‘tribal’ their ethnic identity was looked down upon, the non-tribal population framed perceptions about them which were hollow and baseless, and this stands true even today, if we reflect and ask ourselves that how many of us actually see tribal as human beings, respect their ethnicity and give them their rights? The tribal population feels today that they are systematically made to lower down, marginalized and not given importance…the perceptions towards them are negative, the way people talk about them (prejudices) is negative. So when CORO began its work it took in consideration the dilemma and included all the women in the work, these women were simple, belonged to a peculiar tribal culture/tradition, speaking a different language (a mix of Marathi and Gujarati kind), their conduct and etc…was diverse and CORO respected this diversity and opened its arms to these women, there was so much acceptance, kindness, positivity and freedom that these women did not all refrain from joining in the programme, and there was a lot inclusivity. Everyone else respected their ethnicity and culture and it was normalized amongst all that the way we work with rural populations in Satara, Beed, or other districts of Maharashtra, that is different from the way we will work in Nandurbar. These women were not aware of their rights, violence, abuse, gender based discrimination etc…because their conditioning was such that they thought it is normal, and because they are women they cannot resist it, to maintain relations and respect they must accept whatever comes in their way…they lagged behind due to lack of literacy and education, therefore the first step was to make these women aware and informed. The work had to progress step by step and gradually but with immense patience. The women have participated in all the programs which were held in the village by CORO. CORO helped in empowering these women so much so that they started taking initiative and they were now recognized in their villages by their community, and set an example for other women. The women were made part of the planning too- planning regarding how will CORO’s work progress further, their opinions were taken, they were asked to brainstorm and give ideas, they were made part of decision making and work progressed further, here they felt that ‘we are different, and we matter, our voice is important, our actions are important to bring development t and welfare for the village’; this was the first time they felt that they as ‘women’ matter, which they had never felt before. The people of the village, of their community now started looking at them differently; earlier the perception was that of ‘looking down on women’ and thinking that women are ‘weak and feeble’. The importance and recognition they got through CORO overwhelmed them because as quoted by women ‘they never received this in their homes far from the society…but CORO helped them achieve a status in society’.
Women became confident and they started to evolve their personality to bring growth and development in their village, through this process of change women started to take ownership of issues i.e. women started ‘taking charge’.
The constant meetings with these women were held, the sessions, workshops and trainings were held with women, and the queries which women had were discussed and solved, as it was thought by women and CORO together that if the questions/issues of women are solved, then a collective strength of women together can emerge in the village, and more and more women will join in this process of ‘change’. Women have to come together, is the need of the hour and they must stand for one another…when women understood the significance of this, they came together with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and formed their collective. The unity and co-operation women displayed were commendable.
- Your questions
- Your leadership
- Your unity and cooperation &
- Your solutions
These 4 things are for you, by you, to you and through you. Hence the role women played was excellent. CORO will anchor, handhold and facilitate but the responsibility to make this program a success is totally onto you. The women were so motivated and it reflected in their actions and energy levels they displayed…women arranged for food, private vehicles, hall, posters etc., this was all done from people’s contribution for this programme. It wasn’t funded organizationally. There were 2 most important things for this program to become a success:
- To tell all the women of the village about this program, background of it and why it is necessary, how will it help…in a nutshell; mobilization of women.
- To enable financial help for this programme at village level, to not only rely on personal contribution but also ask Gram Panchayat to help with financial resources or in other kinds.
“Earlier we were not given an opportunity to take ownership of anything, but now that we are given the opportunity, we are happy and we will use this opportunity fully”. “CORO should only support us, rest everything we will do on our own to make this program a success”.
The two of our women leaders took the responsibility and formed small women’s groups to spread awareness of this program and why is their participation important…everything was explained to them, these women also did home visits and talked to women as some women due to work and home chores couldn’t come to the meetings, and also during sessions where women usually meet there a full-fledged discussion about this program was done. This program was basically aimed at making a collective of single women in Nandurbar, because it is be-known the stigma women have to face for being single or widow and their identity is made even more questionable post their husband’s death, but how does actually stigmatizing and victimizing women actually help? Their identities and their husband’s life or death are two different things, completely unrelated to one another…so why are women facing the burden? This program was exactly to address these questions and seek answers, rights, entitlements and new opportunities.
One may ask, how do men (husbands) die in Nandurbar, and why is the magnitude high? The answer lies in the problem of consumption of country liquor, and men consume this liquor to such an extent that the repercussion is not even health hazard, but death. Nandurbar has recorded highest number of deaths due to consumption of country liquor, and women bear the brunt of the problem because of two main reasons: a. they are women, b) they are tribal.
These women also met the Sarpanch of their respective villages and informed them about this program. The women did everything on their own and told CORO that if anything is left out by us, you help but this responsibility we will take and fulfill, they arranged for food, water, etc… the women talked to the person who could give them the hall, and the hall was given to the women for free, but women anyway paid 1000 rupees to the person for his helpful gesture. The women took the responsibility of arranging the hall for the program, made arrangements for sitting, put posters and did everything on their own. District coordinator and social animators helped.
- These women were oriented and guided by Pallavi Palav, Mahendra Rokade and Nandurbar’s education officer. Pallavi ji and Mahendra ji firstly congratulated and appreciated the efforts of these women and boosted their morale, the education officer also was impressed by the hard work women have put to make this program a success, and he also supported women for their endeavor, through his talk.
- The 20 women leaders will be made leaders in their respective villages, these 20 women talked about everything at the individual, societal and systemic level which has kept women behind from engaging in activities meant for their growth, development and holistic welfare, and now the time has come to challenge it and reclaim our space, rights, duties and entitlements. The women said “our duty” as females isn’t only towards our family members, our first duty is towards us…and today we have gathered to learn, unlearn and relearn a few concepts.
There were more than 700 females who had come for this, albeit the expectation was only 300-400. Our 20 leaders said and told all these women that we will work for our issues, to reclaim our identities as independent women keeping in mind the values enshrined in the preamble, and our approach of moving forward also should be constitutional in nature.
“We will always have a dialogue, we will not confront/fight”.
We also took extreme care regarding the culture/tradition of these women as they belong to the tribal community, we took care that because of us or our action, they do not face any kind of risk later on, the women had come dressed traditionally and they even began the program with their traditional dance, sang songs and gave an entirely different look to this program, it became lively. All women had come at their own expense…so it was a program just according to them, and they took the responsibility of this program, as they were told it is for them, by them, to them and through them. The team who works on child rights in Nandurbar and Navapur also worked for this program, and the collective and united efforts of all were commendable.
The entire ownership of this program was of women.
We have recognised grassroots leadership and its importance and now this grassroots leadership will progress further keeping in mind the issues, rights and duties of ‘single/independent women’.
- The women will be a part of the organisation who will work for single women in Nandurbar.
- This is for the first time that an organization which will work for ‘single/independent’ women will begin its work in Nandurbar.
- Through this program the established tribal leadership by women in the village was shaken, because they perceived CORO and women associated with CORO as a threat to their established organization, when in fact it is nothing of such sort.
- This program was recognised at the local governance level and political level in Nandurbar.
- And lastly, this program has happened entirely with the help of local expenses.
1. Whatever work will be done or is done, its reporting and documentation. Reporting and documentation of all the activities which are planned and implemented, the know-how of the activities, the gaps and challenges faced, opportunities etc….
2. There is a need for constant workshops with these women, and establishing rights based approaches while working with these women.
3. Our 20 women should now organize programs at the village level, for example, strengthening the women’s group, their SHGs and increasing its membership that asks more and more women to be a part.
4. The listing which will be done of single women at village level, they should approach Grampanchayat, take its help and through people centric advocacy, make the list.
5. These 20 women should meet the collector, introduce themselves and along with other women they should also meet the block development officer, and present their issues/questions/demands, and ask respective Gram Panchayats of villages (where CORO works) to make a list of single women and recognize them at the district level.
6. Single women should work towards establishing their identity as ‘human beings’ who should be at par with men, the women should work towards it.
7. In the gram sabha and women’s meetings, the participation of women has to increase and for this we have to work hard.
This program was very successful and the women were overwhelmed by the success of this program. They appreciated their hard work and efforts. The 20 of our women leaders greatly talked about equality, irrespective of women being married or single. They talked about the stigma which is attached with single women is baseless, single women are also human beings who are worthy of respect and dignity, their living, dignity or aspirations are completely unrelated with their husband’s death. It is the patriarchy which teaches or has taught a woman to give up on everything when her husband dies and this notion is to be challenged exactly, as this notion establishes that a woman’s life is worth only if her husband is there, she can be happy and dress-up only for her husband etc… the single women organization exactly questions that. Single/independent women can remarry, the taboo associated with their re-marriage should be discarded, these women are also entitled to acquire jobs and work, they also should have important documents and papers – if their request in rejected because their husband has died; they can take law’s help.
Basically this program for single women and this organization which has recently come up in Nandurbar will work for the rights of single women. The process will be long and gradual as the target group is tribal community women, there will be risks involved….but these women will not stop until they together have achieved what they want, they are in this entourage of their “identities” together.