HYDERABAD: In a city that is becoming increasingly populated with disorganised urban planning, gender and caste-based discrimination, and moments of injustice, the highly demanding work of women activists is a much-needed ray of hope and inspiration for the people. CE speaks to some women activists in the city, who are working towards making Hyderabad a better place — Mayank Tiwari
Helping save every drop
Architect Kalpana Ramesh, the founder of the Rainwater Project in Hyderabad, is on a mission to make people believe that water is precious. Her aim is to rid the city of water tankers and cans. “I know that we have enough water, which we must save and use properly. What drives me is my consciousness about water, which gets me worried that our city will run out of it soon. This would force us to depend on alternative sources such as the Krishna and Godavari rivers,” says Kalpana, who is also responsible for conserving the age-old well in Gachibowli. “There are so many bowlis (wells) and a river in the city. With rainwater harvesting techniques and proper conservation, we will have enough water for the city,” she says.
Kalpana looks forward to a Hyderabad where the natural cycle of water is not broken and everyone gets their share. “I do not believe in activism. As an activist, I have seen that people listen to me, but don’t implement. I believe in inspiration. Now, I have changed my communication style and have started inspiring people through awareness programmes. It is a major boost to me when they install rainwater harvesting plants,” she says.
Working towards an equal society
Dr Mamatha Raghuveer, the founder of Tharuni NGO, has been working with the Telangana Women Safety Wing for quite some time now. She helps educate women, get dignified jobs and makes them want to speak for themselves. “My journey started soon after I saved a three-year-old girl from getting married,” recalls Mamatha, who started Tharuni six years ago. “Whenever I see an issue that is unattended, it challenges me and I want to resolve it in the best way possible. That’s how I started Bharosa (an NGO), to help the victims of child abuse because they are discriminated against in courts and throughout the legal process,” she says. According to her, the biggest challenge is the lack of education among the people and unforgiving discrimination against the girl child. “People still do not like a woman going out and working. Families can be challenging too.
There have been times when people tried to hold me back. They think that I have a lot of money, but finances have always been a problem. I come from a middle-class background and am proud to say that we have taken up delicate issues despite all these challenges,” she says. Mamatha, who has been working to curb child abuse, says the police can be insensitive in such cases. “My goal is to address the issues that are hidden in plain sight, yet affects every girl child. I aim to make Hyderabad a better place, where every girl is equal to a boy and a woman to a man,” she says.
Standing up for women
Mandadi Shravya Reddy Deshmukh, the founder of NGO We and She, was a UPSC aspirant, who dropped the idea of being a civil servant to serving the society. She instills hope in women, who have lost everything in life and want to start afresh. “Three years ago, I decided that I don’t have to be in civil services to serve the society. My understanding of the State, city, its women and culture grew as I travelled over 4,000 km. I could not stop myself from thereon,” says Shravya.
Her first area of focus was underprivileged divorced and widowed women, for whom she stands strong. “We help them achieve small goals, which can get them through their journey of life. The happiness I see in their eyes keeps me motivated,” she says. But even helping people is no bed of roses. “It is not easy to reach women who need help. Sadly, they have developed this idea that they cannot stand up for themselves, and these destitute women are the ones who are hard to convince.
But, our job is to help them by giving them hope and assurance that they can do something on their own,” Shravya says. “I am always questioned by the men of the woman’s family. They look at us as eye candy and refuse to listen to what we got to say. It is very disappointing,” says Shravya, who continues to remain unfazed by these challenges.
Fighting for fresh air and water
Lake protection activist Madhulika Choudhary is the one behind the rejuvenation of the Neknampur lake which is spread across 108 acres and was once surrounded by a dumpyard. “We are a society that worships water, sunlight, air and soil. We learn from nature, but we have lost our identities. I am conscious of what we pray for and I respect nature. This is what keeps me motivated,” says Madhulika. She thanks her husband for being supportive as neither officers nor the people take women seriously. “There are also a few officers who support my cause.
Although it was a little difficult at first to convince them, now I have their support,” she says. Speaking of the challenges she faces while working at the grassroots level, Madhulika says citizens appreciate her work, but don’t want their daughters to become like me. “I literally pick up garbage, fight against encroachments to protect the lake and also face a lot of criticism.” People want leaders to sacrifice for them, but don’t want to raise their own voices for a cause, she says. “Change is possible only when we all raise our voices together,” she says.
2020 deluge was her turning point
Activist, researcher and author Kota Neelima, who runs the Hakku Campaign on sanitation warriors, is a force to reckon with. She was the one who helped Rajani, an MSc degree holder working as a sweeper in the GHMC, get the job of an assistant entomologist. “The turning point for me was the floods of 2020. I have lived all my life in Delhi and the US, but since I hail from Hyderabad, my heart still lies here,” she says.
“The deluge would have never occurred had the drainage system been functioning well. It was disheartening to see the city I love grapple with so many problems. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but find solutions. I learned how difficult it was for sanitation workers during the pandemic and the floods,” says Neelima.
The activist had studied studied journalism and also worked as one as she wanted to bring about a change through her stories. “Then, I changed my style of communication and shifted to writing books on farmer suicides and the plight of rural India. If you tell a story interestingly, people will read it and that’s how solutions are found. If we don’t know about the problem, if we don’t empathise, we cannot understand its intensity. Therefore, we cannot solve it,” she says.