An Adivasi and a woman, and the need to protect her rights

An Adivasi and a woman, and the need to protect her rights

How the struggle of this extra-ordinary tribal woman in Madhya Pradesh brought together tribal community to break free from unawareness.

For Sujatabai (name changed), it was never about winning elections or grabbing power. Her fondness to preserve the tribal culture she was born in, besides advocating equal rights for women, made her a “loved leader” within her Adivasi community.

Most of the people in her village belong to Schedules Castes (SCs) and Scheduled tribes (STs), the marginalised and the deprived sections. “Our only source of income is farming and income. Some of the families here are so economically weak that they can’t even afford two meals a day, forget about sending their children to school,” she says. Rainless seasons and ignorance of government livelihood schemes, forced these indigenous people to migrate to distant land in search for work.

“It was our land, but we left it to work as bonded labourers at someone else’s farm. Women getting harassed, children lacking nutritious meals, death of livestock.”

“We (Adivasis) are the people of this land, and yet we felt helpless. We needed to know about our rights in order to survive,” she says. The problems of Adivasi communities are about access to basic needs like elementary education, healthcare, sustainable livelihood support, food security, and infrastructure, which largely remain unfulfilled.

 

dsc_1906

In 2007, Sujatabai joined Ekta Jan Sangathan (EJS) along with a handful of women in her village. They held meetings and discussions on what issues needed to be taken up in the next Gram Sabha meetings.
 
The community understood that “the rights of tribal communities in India are protected by the Constitution and special legislations. The government has been ensuring schemes but somehow we were not aware of them.”
 
Sujatabai and tribal women like her, who once stayed away from the “frustrating” governmental procedures, were now putting forward appeals and grievance letters to the officials demanding for the fulfilment of their rights.
 
Initially, it was very difficult to gather women to participate in the organisation, but when they saw our work on NREGA payments many showed interest to join us, she says. Now, her job didn’t remain restricted to preserving culture, Sujatabai and others also to dedicated her time to empower more women from her community.
 
“Our organisation started working for Widow Pensions. We raised the issue in Gram Sabha. Before this, widows were living in an adverse condition with the future of their children insecure and unstable,” she says. Her repeated appeals forced government officials to release pension for widows.
Sujatabai, a resident of Betul district in Madhya Pradesh, also worked effortlessly towards liquor consumption among men and domestic violence against women.
“Husbands used to beat women; their drinking problems led to financial troubles within family as the man of the house spent money on liquor and neglected livelihood activities. The burden shifted on to their wives,” she says.
 
The organisation raised the issue in the Gram Sabha and after a thorough intervention and counselling, the drinking problem among men have reduced.
She along with other women leaders are rigorously working on the issues like reducing liquor addiction among men, domestic violence, checking on migration, regular NREGA payments, monitoring school activities, and increased participation of women in the village and ensure regular pension for widows.
 
Sujatabai says that she does not want to be the Sarpanch or at the centre of the system “I just want to help preserve the ethnic culture and ensure that not a single person is left out of her basic needs or rights.”
 
(Her name and her face could not be revealed due to privacy reasons)