Crimes against women are on the rise, gender divide is widening and the sex ratio is getting skewed by the day in Odisha. Three Kondh women from Daringbadi in the tribal hinterlands have taken up cudgels to bring change into their society.
Ramadevi Pradhan, 35, from Sarumaha village of Daringbadi block of Kandhamal, has been instrumental in handling post-communal riots of 2008 fuelled by alcoholism in her village. Recalling the riot days, Ramadevi says, “The communal clashes of 2008 took a heavy toll on us and tension ran high because this area has a mixed population of Hindus and Christians. The riots took an ugly shape due to consumption of liquor in the block. It was also igniting fights between communities. So, we decided to stop it,” she says.
Ramadevi joined a village club called Antaranga and got all fellow members together to demolish the licensed liquor shop and to ban brewing liquor in homes. The liquor shop owner threatened her of dire consequences. “Hundreds of us demolished the liquor shop. I was hit with an iron rod,” she says.
Namajini Mallick, 37, from Budapappali village of Bhramarbati panchayat, led movements against child marriage, domestic violence and alcoholism. Her efforts resulted in the ban on the sale of alcohol in 10 villages. She is also a member of the Antaranga club,
Then there is Gandhari Pradhan, sarpanch of Partamaha village. Terming corruption as the single biggest obstacle in development work, she contested the panchayat polls and won due to her commitment towards the development of her area. “My only objective is to facilitate all the work for the development of our village,” says the 50-year-old.
Gandhari says that initially the men of the village did not support her bid to stop the sale of liquor as they were alcoholics. She went door-to-door and spoke to men about the bad impact of liquor and how it led to communal clashes. “Finally I succeeded,” she says.
The three women are not too educated. Gandhari is a Class VII dropout, Ramadevi Class VIII and Namajani studied till Class V.
Ramadevi first objected to liquor being brewed in her house after her marriage. But it took her years to convince neighbours and villagers. Though she was keen on studies, there were no schools in villages then. Due to her efforts, a school building has been built in her village at a cost of `4 lakh. She is the vice-president of block level Nari Mahasangha.
Namajini rues not being well educated. “Education would have helped me know more about government facilities,” she says. To stop absenteeism in schools, she visited them everyday to check whether teachers took classes or not. “I did it till teachers started coming to school regularly,” she says.
She is also trying to stop child marriage in the village and is encouraging women to start micro-enterprises.
Gandhari has joined hands with civil society organisation Jagruti to influence people to stop drinking and has raised her voice against injustice and corruption. “I ensured that all eligible applicants get MGNREGA cards and get 150 days of work. I took the help of the Antaranga club to select eligible families for housing assistance under Indira Awas Yojana and ensured opening of bank accounts of 254 beneficiaries under Jan Dhan Yojana,” she says.
She has also intensified a cleanliness drive under Swachchha Bharat Abhiyan in her panchayat.
Ramadevi works to help single women have land rights and gender equality. “Men and women can never be equal. In our homes men eat first, then the women. Look at a classroom, where you find two girls and 20 boys. There is no problem in the birth of a girl child. It is only when they start growing that inequalities crop up,” she says.
Namajini says she learnt to take up various causes for society while fighting for human rights, secularism and peace. She is involved with land rights for people, prevention of child marriage and spreading awareness on the consequences of child marriages in her village.