‘Dekho bhai, aaj pyaar se bol rahe hain par agar kal tak daaru ka theka band nahi karwaya toh humari laathi bolegi’ (Listen brother, we are being very polite but if you don’t close your liquor shop by tomorrow then our sticks will do the talking). These were the words of Mrs Anita Raghav, a 50-year-old woman, when she decided to address the issues of domestic violence at the hands of drunken husbands, by closing the liquor shops.
The story of Mrs Anita Raghav is the story of an ordinary woman turned into an extraordinary leader. As a part of my internship, I had gone to see Women Self-help groups (SHG’s) in different villages in Sohna. The stories and challenges of all SHG’s were very inspiring, but the one that gave me goosebumps was, indeed, the story and leadership of Mrs Anita Raghav. In 2007, she joined a SHG under the umbrella of Navjyoti India Foundation. Coming from a very conservative rural village in Haryana, she recalls the days when she had just joined the SHG and how her family members reacted. “God knows who all you go with and what all you do with them”, her mother-in-law used to say these words questioning her character.
Undeterred by such harsh comments, she carried on her work. However, she was not going to stop at just a SHG. She soon formed her own organisation- Jagrit Naari Federation (The federation of enlightened women) and started to mobilize women SHG’s from other nearby villages. Today the Federation has over 200 women across various villages.
Her organisation works on various women’s issues. The major one is economic independence for women. The organisation trains rural women in various skills like stitching, making handicrafts, pottery etc, which are then sold in various melas and the weekly market. However their biggest venture has been to start their own brand of spices- Shudh Masala (Pure spices). The smell of these spices was so strong and awesome, I ended up buying 10 different packets of spices myself! “A research done by food authorities showed that our spices areÂ purer and more genuine than MDH”- Mrs Anita told me, beaming with happiness and pride. For these efforts, she was awarded by UN and she used the prize money of Rs50, 000 not for herself but to buy stitching machines for the women of her community!
Apart from economic independence, the organisation strives to changeÂ the associated women to leaders by giving them social and psychological independence. Seeing the rising number of domestic violence cases, Mrs Raghav tried to speak to the Gram Panchayat to close the liquor shops and train men. When she was refused, she went to file a case in the court which ordered the relocation of the alcohol shop. However, Mrs Raghav was not satisfied with mere relocation. She wanted the shop closed- that part was clear. So she took the matter in her own hands and together with a group of women went to get the shop closed. And the best part? She succeeded in doing so. The federation further talks to abusive husbands and compels them to stop the atrocities. ‘What if they don’t stop?’ I asked her. ‘Then our laathis do the talking’ was her one-line reply. Apart from this, Mrs Anita has done large scale campaigning against female foeticide and have warned hospitals against sex determination. Her strong leadership skills have inspired whoever she meets and she has been invited by an eminent NGO in Australia on a fully funded educational trip to the continent! She will be taking the tour in September 2014.
All this sounds rosy. But there were many, many problems these women had to face. ‘Kaun aadmi chahega ki uski biwi ke paas use zaada taakat ho?’ (No man wants his wife to become more powerful than him) said Mrs Raghav. As they began to mobilize themselves into SHG’s, their first obstacle was their own family members. Many women began sneaking out, making excuses to attend the meetings. However gradually, as they became stronger, their family had no other choice but to accept, at least on the face of it. Other women have happier stories; economic independence and international recognition have changed the mind-sets of highly orthodox people and they take pride in their daughter-in laws’ achievements.
What stood out about Mrs Raghav throughout my conversation with her was her simplicity. Whether it’s the way she lives, talks or runs her organisation, this woman is firmly rooted to the ground. She doesn’t use fancy words or schemes or policies. Her ideas, innovations and actions are really simple, yet powerful. And maybe that’s the reason why they are so effective. Mrs Anita doesn’t have fancy degrees, fame, and a Facebook page to boast her achievements. But she is a leader in every sense. Her ideas, actions, her thoughts and her courage have inspired me beyond words. We need leaders like her in every city, town, village, in every street, every nukkad and every house.