Four rural activists from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been honoured with ‘Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life’ by the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF). Founded in 1994, at the Beijing 4th World Conference on women, WWSF annually awards creative and courageous rural women leaders and groups for their work in improving the quality of life in rural communities.
Among the ten women leaders from across the globe, three are from Madhya Pradesh and one from Chhattisgarh, said Ran Singh Parmar, national president of Ekta Parishad. The prize includes $1000 and a citation.
Till date, the foundation has awarded 462 prizes to selected candidates in over 140 countries. In some cases, the WWSF prize enhances the status of unknown, active, creative rural women leaders and some of attain national recognition and sometimes move into positions of decision-making at the local/or national level, it said in a statement.
Subhadra Khaperde (52) – A senior volunteer activist born in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker, Khaperde had started her journey as a social reformer in 1988 with Gandhian organisation ‘Ekta Parishad’. After five years of association, she now independently works for the rural women in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. Her work varies from reproductive health to women’s ownership and intervention in agriculture.
Born as a Dalit, Khaperde had to incredible hurdles in her course of career. After being trained by veteran Gandhian activist Rajagopal PV at Raipur, she worked in Chhattisgarh and later shifted base to Dhar in Western MP with a team of 20 volunteers.
In the subsequent years, besides working for the rights and upliftment of the downtrodden, she focussed on the reproductive health of women after she established base between Khargone and Dewas, a tribal pocket of around 20-25 villages. Aided by crowdfunding, she organised health check-ups, offering them medicines and referring them to hospitals.
“We worked in Dhar, nearby districts, brothels in Kolkata’s Kalighat, Chittor in Rajasthan, Indore slums to map the reproductive health status of women in both rural and urban areas. It was to compare with the data offered by the census. At one point, we realised that only medicines won’t help as nutritional levels were low among women and we found them in same condition in future visits. Then we found out that they are living in poor environment, have low income and consume food grown with chemicals and lacked nutrition. So, we started producing organic seeds of paddy, pulses, millets at a small stretch in Pandutalav in Dewas around five years ago. We also promoted consumption of nutritious vegetable, as I think that a woman requires more nutrition than a man reproduction and menstruation regularly," she said.
“Earlier women had desi seeds, which ensured nutritious food at their homes but as corporates seized the agri sectors and started offering hybrid seeds, women’s intervention in agriculture and reach to nutritious food also got hampered. This is the reason we mostly work among women from farmer families for promotion of desi seeds so that they again have stake in agriculture," she added.
Khaperde had also been active in promoting education of tribal girl child, banning bootlegging, conservation of water and land rights for tribals.
Shabnam Shah (33) - A young volunteer activist from Mungaoli in Ashoknagar district, Shah has been associated with Ekta Parishad since 2009, working among Sahariya tribe mostly on “Jal, Jungle and Jameen" (water, forest and land).
“We work among 6000 families in 100 villages and have ensured land rights to over 1500 families. Mostly the field officers with a lack of knowledge about Forest Land Rights act hinder process of land right allotment. We work for awareness on this with the help of Gram Sabha," she said. The volunteer and her group also works for awareness against liquor consumption in villages.
Besides, Shah recently helped a tribal family in Koluachak village get their land back from encroachment of musclemen. One of the tribals had died in the assault of influential people and police had booked the victim’s side. “We are also working to get the false charges charges levelled against tribals removed," Shah added.
Nirmala Kujur (37) - A young progressive tribal worker from Korba’s Chandrauti, Kujur has been striving to uplift her community for years. After finishing class 10th, Kujur had started working as a government-appointed volunteer and also worked with women self-help groups and a volunteer organisation in Mumbai.
A strong advocate of women self-reliance, Kujur had left her husband’s home when her husband, who was not much educated and had no proper job, objected to her going out and working. “I work for employment of tribal women and girls’ education and teach them that they should be self–sufficient so that they are not dependent on anyone in any phase of life," Kujur said.
She also works for forest land rights and believes that women should have ownership of the house they live in. “We work for the education of girls who drop out of schools and securing degrees through alternative courses," she added. Kujur has been associated with the Ekta Parishad since 2006-07.
Saraswati Uike (43) - A tribal from Gond, Uike comes from a very poor family of labourers. At 14, she was a mother, living the challenging life of a day labourer. However, her contact with the Ekta Parishad transformed her life at the age of 18. Soon, she became an active leader fighting for the right to land, water and forest.
Born in Betul, Uike works in Raisen district among Gond, Bhil, Bhilala tribes on forest land right and empowerment. With her dedicated efforts, scores of tribal villages have secured land and community rights in Raisen.