May 2017


March 8 Women's Day:

Little Known Stars Of 2013  

Delhi (Women's Feature Service) - Many women came into greater prominence in 2013, whether it was Angela Merkel of Germany or Sonia Gandhi and Vasundhara Raje Scindia closer home. But forgotten in the rush of news coverage focused on established personalities are significant if little noticed figures who have, in their own distinctive ways, made a difference to their communities or audiences over the last 12 months. Here are the stories of six of them: a student footballer, a woman 'mukhiya' (head) of a village, a woman crematorium worker, a nutritional scientist, an IIT assistant professor who has made a full length animated feature film, and a woman who has taken it upon herself to guard the forests. We celebrate each one of them.forest. We celebrate each

Bend It Like Saurabhi

Saurabhi Rabha would have been just another girl in a sleepy hamlet called Natun Batabari in Rani, some 35 kilometres from Guwahati, Assam, if she had not started to play soccer two years ago. She and her friends have had to brave numerous odds, including the stigma meted out by a patriarchal society as well as insults from the people of their own village.

But these energetic young women, most of whom are from poor families, stuck to their game and rebuffed the derogatory comments that came their way to reach their goal, quite literally.

Saurabhi and her two younger sisters live with their mother, Santoshi Rabha, who looks after a stone quarry to earn a livelihood, ever since their father passed away in 2011. "Being a girl people used to ask why I go to play soccer instead of helping my mother in domestic work. But my mother was supportive and she never stood against my wishes," revealed Saurabhi.

It all began when a group of 30-odd girls, studying at various local schools, had got together to play soccer on a sunny afternoon in 2010. They approached Hem Das, a veteran Guwahati-based coach who had represented the state at various national level tournaments in the 1970s and 1980s.

Thanks to Das's hard work as a coach, this daughter of a single mother of limited means could get to represent her state at national level soccer tourneys in 2013.

Remarked an excited Saurabhi, as she got ready for another practice session at the Rani High School playground, "We are extremely happy and thankful to our coach for making us believe in ourselves."

- Text by Abdul Gani

Dorothiya's Anchors Grassroots Woman Power in Jharkhand

Despite a promising career in the law, Dorothiya Dayamani Ekka opted to work for the development of her village. She had completed her bachelor's degree in law from Ranchi University, Jharkhand, and had been inducted into the Ranchi Bar Association. She had even applied for a seat to pursue a Master's degree in law when she decided to give it all up and tread a different path. Having contested the panchayat elections from Ara village in the Namkum block of Ranchi district in 2011, Dorothiya is now the 'mukhiya' (village head) of Ara and is focused on providing sustainable employment for the women of the village.

"Women do not find jobs easily because men are still preferred when it comes to employment. But they have tremendous potential, and if their natural skills are honed, they will excel in activities like kitchen gardening, poultry rearing and cattle breeding. We are working to develop small operational business models that will prove profitable for this village," she explains.

In 2011, Jharkhand had witnessed panchayat elections for the first time in three long decades. The Jharkhand Panchayat Act, 2005 has a provision for 50 per cent women's reservation. But history was created when women contested and won in 56 per cent seats - the highest in the country. Dorothiya explains why panchayat need to be more empowered, "Today, because panchayats do not have the authority to disburse funds or take decisions, most of our schemes get stuck in bureaucratic hassles at the district level. We have to adjust to the policies of a given government, which in most cases are very driven by politics." This is what she and her colleagues hoped to change by coming up with a charter of demands that would allow panchayats a more proactive and engendering role.

If the outstanding work of grassroots leaders like Dorothiya is any indication, then women leaders are bound to outnumber their male counterparts in the years ahead.

- Text by Saadia Azim

Shanti, Lighter Of Pyres

There's nothing extraordinary about the way she looks. Yet, Shanti Behera, 52, a resident of Sambalpur, is unique. For the last decade she has been running the local crematorium. According to traditional Hindu customs, women are not even allowed to go to a crematorium and participate in the funeral rites. But compelled to provide two square meals for her family after the demise of her husband, Shanti willingly took on the job of being the full-time keeper at the Kamlibatar Rajghat crematorium.

Married at 15, she had just turned 40 when she lost her husband to multiple illnesses. "I had no work and six children, including four daughters, to support. My husband was the caretaker of the Kamlibatar Rajghat cremation ground. When he fell severely ill and was bed ridden I had to take over his duties or we could not have fed ourselves," Shanti recalls.

There were several personal as well as social hurdles to cross. Initially, it was not easy for her to look at the dead bodies being brought to the crematorium. She also faced opposition from her relatives for daring to go against tradition. But Shanti grew stronger as time passed, "My husband was cremated at the same ground where he used to work. I had to take over just after a few days after his death. It was very painful for me but I went ahead."

Behera's job is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Starting with arranging the wood for the pyre, setting it alight, and ensuring that it burnt properly, she does it all. But she has demonstrated that, given the right opportunity and support, a woman - although she may be poor and barely literate - can do anything.

- Text by Sarada Lahangir

Scientist Sarla Has A Taste For Nutrition

In 2007, the district administration of Baran in southeastern Rajasthan was faced with a dilemma. With local farmers on the verge of giving up the cultivation of amla, or Indian gooseberry, they were at a complete loss as to how to prevent this trend. That's when a local food and nutrition scientist came up with a plan. She proposed that amla be distributed as part of the mid day meal for children in primary schools. As gooseberry, a sour fruit rich in Vitamin C, couldn't be consumed raw, she recommended it be processed as candy, murabba (compote) and laddus (Indian sweetmeat). To deliver on this idea, she advocated the involvement of women self help groups (SHGs) for processing and distribution.

Her idea ended up serving multiple purposes - not only did it boost amla production; it ensured critical nutrition for children and gave women a shot at self-reliance.With such innovative thinking and a sound scientific approach, Dr Sarla Lakhawat, who works at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Anta, a block in Baran district, has managed to fight the region's triple curse of acute malnutrition among children, tough agricultural challenges and the poor status of women. In the process, the scientist has given not just a new lease of life to families that were earlier languishing in hopelessness, she has also managed to motivate scores of women, particularly those from the impoverished Sahariya tribe, to fight for their rights by helping them form a vast network of 350 SHGs.

This talented agri-scientist also has a yen for technology. She developed a post-harvest unit to process garlic using solar energy. The technique has enabled the garlic farmers of Anta to value-add their produce and connect with the international market.

- Text by Rakesh Kumar

Animation Art Animates IIT Professor Shilpa

After helming several short films, assistant professor of design at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai, Shilpa Ranade presented a famous and much loved children's story into a feature length animation this year. Ranade's 'Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiyya' (The World of Goopi and Bagha) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2013.

Penned by Upendrakishore Ray in 1915, the classic story was first brought to the marquee by his illustrious grandson and India's only Oscar winning director, Satyajit Ray. Many versions have followed but Ranade's is the first animation feature albeit with some tweaks to the original narrative.

Ranade's creative sojourn began as a student of Applied Arts with specialisation in illustration/video and her interest in animation helped combine her twin interest in cinema. After completing her Masters from IIT Mumbai she headed to the Royal College of Art in London where her M. Phil thesis was on 'Indigenous Images and Narratives for Socially Relevant Animation.' She subsequently returned to her alma mater where she set up the Industrial Design Centre.

Her academic career has always been complemented by film assignments. 'Goopi...' is her first feature length and the journey has been a tough one. The film took almost two-and-a-half-years to complete and, according to her, "it is challenging to make feature animation in India".

Part of the reason for this is that animation in India has almost always been associated with Disney cartoons and, by extension, with fun and children. This, in turn, translates into stuff that is colourful and saccharine. As Ranade pointed out, "to have things with shades and darkness, all that is certainly difficult for our local viewers to digest."

This is what Ranade hopes to change through her work, so that animation emerges as an art form that is taken seriously in India.

- Text by V.Radhika

Hara Dei's Forest Vigil

Sinapalli may be a small block in the Nuapada district of Odisha, but its thick forest cover attracts many a nature lover. Venture towards this verdant wilderness and from among the trees could emerge a fierce, middle-aged woman armed with an axe on her shoulder. This is Hara Dei Majhi, 55, the protector of this 'dongar' (hillock).

The illiterate tribal woman has been keeping a sharp vigil over these 11.25 acres of forest land for over three decades now. After all this, according to her, is the "legacy of my late husband". It was Majhi's husband, Anang, who had initiated the process of planting trees on what was once a barren patch of land at the foothills of Kapsi Dongar. A dedicated conservationist, he understood the vital role forests played in maintaining a balance in the local eco-system.

Recalls Majhi, "In the beginning, I was not involved in his work. As we were poor, we depended on minor forest produce and tendu leaves to keep our home fires burning. However, due to gradual deforestation our livelihood was affected and we had to become daily wage labourers to feed ourselves."

When Anang spent passed away in 1995, Majhi took on her husband's unfinished business as a challenge. According to Majhi there are two major threats to the forests: forest fires and timber thieves and, over the years, she has been able to counter them as far as is humanly possible.

Sarat Chandra Panda, District Forest Officer, Khariar Forest Division, is all praise for her, "I have seen many groups protecting the forest in Odisha during my career but Hara Dei is unique. Her dedication and love for nature has inspired many villages in the region to form Van Surakshya Samitees (VSSs) to save the forest. Even the incidence of forest fires in our block has decreased by 50 per cent in the last five years."

- Text by Sarada Lahangir

(© Women's Feature Service)


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