Rural women near Mangaldoi river in Assam show a way to bring change through collective efforts
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Rural women near Mangaldoi river in Assam show a way to bring change through collective efforts

By auther pic. CSRBOX

September 4, 2019

Rural women near Mangaldoi river in Assam show a way to bring change through collective efforts

SHG leaders assemble for agriculture planning

Dotting the shore of the Mangaldoi River, Chandowalpara and Gaurapuri village in the Darrang district of Assam look like any idyllic neighbourhood where the tranquillity of the green meets the simplicity of rural life. Yet behind the veneer, there existed a communal relationship fraught with mistrust and resentment. This bitterness between the two villages had its roots in a feud over organizing a kirtan (a religious cultural gathering). One village was not invited. Small things piled on and eventually it reached a point when the communities stopped altogether talking to each other.  This was several years back.

 

Fast forward to the year 2019 - 18 women representatives of different Self Help Groups (SHGs) from five different village hamlet, including Chandowalpara and Gaurapuri, sit in a circle in the common ground. The meeting begins with a prayer with the beginning and ending invoking the Almighty. Interspersed between are words like unity and togetherness.

 

When NGO SeSTA (Seven Sisters Development Assistance) in the year 2017, under the ITC MSK project collectivized the women of nearby villages into an Agriculture Business Centre (ABC) model, there was murmur of resistance from the communities of Chandowalpara and Gaurapuri.  But the dire need of investment on both mechanisation and new technology to keep farming sustainable put old hostilities to the back burner. By the time, family based livelihoods planning, under the auspices of ABC was carried out, women who had evaded each other for years spoke directly for the first time. Barriers melted as rapidly as they had been erected.

 

166 Baideus or women/sister from five different hamlets/villages are associated with this ABC and before long they realized the power of their collectives. So many women coming together were a force to reckon with and they decided to test their mettle.

 

The earthen road connecting the two erstwhile warring hamlets to the rest of the world had large holes and resembled a paddy field after very rain. They wanted the road issue to be resolved. As a first line of protest they ironically organized a road block by planting paddy saplings. This was covered in the local press but there was no action.

 

There were several other complaints filed.  But success eluded them.

 

Still video image of women protesting poor road condition

 

There was, though, a change sweeping through these villages- women were coming out of their homes and speaking out. With every meeting of ABC, with every new agriculture skill learnt and with every planning exercise, they grew in confidence. And when after a burst of early monsoon shower, they were forced to pull their saris to the knees to avoid the soggy dark mud, they had enough. Sixty women from Chandowalparaand Gaurapuri reached the office of the MLA. They were not backing down. A road was finally sanctioned and the construction was supervised and done by the women of these two villages.

 

Finally road being constructed

 

Much has changed today yet the fight for a better tomorrow persists for these women. Road resembling “muddy crater of the moon” has been replaced by a much better road. The antagonism between the two hamlets/villages has not only disappeared but is a matter of societal amnesia. Introduction of farm machinery and technology has significantly strengthened livelihoods. And women have been at the forefront of this change. Once a week, they go around inspecting and cleaning their village surrounding.

 

“Only a few years back, only men in our houses had opinions. Now we speak out loud,” saysAnjuBaideu.

When some local goon stalled the work on the road for a few hours, more than a hundred women reached the spot.

“Seeing so many off us, he fled the spot without even talking to us,” laughs Narmada.

Bordering mild sexism, MinotiBaideu remarks, “We are the men now”

And while this draws a heartily laugh, RenukaBaideu solemnly adds, “We want to make this village a model village in Assam”

At this, there is no laugh; only silent nodding with a realization that there is still a long way to go.

 

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