This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Women's Feature Service. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Story Of How This Brave Widow In Udaipur Refused To Bow Down To Patriarchy

More from Women's Feature Service

By Renu Rakesh:

Udaipur (Women’s Feature Service) – Moti Meena has done what not many women of her lot would have had the courage to do – she stood up for what she believed in, shunned regressive practices imposed in the name of tradition, and refused to remain imprisoned within the four walls of her home after the demise of her husband.

As is the custom, widows in southern Rajasthan are under tremendous pressure to adhere to oppressive social customs, especially remarrying within the marital family and limiting their mobility. But when Moti lost her husband to an unknown illness in 2007, not only did she decline to remarry, she made up her mind to work to support her three sons, single-handedly.

Nine years later, this feisty tribal woman is a senior health worker with a non-government organisation that runs three clinics in remote villages of Salumber block in Udaipur. She spreads awareness about health and nutrition, educates women on the ante and post-natal care, follows up on tuberculosis patients during the community outreach, and counsels walk-ins at the clinic at Berawal gram panchayat. Married at 18, widowed at 28, Moti has certainly struggled hard to get back on her feet and establish herself as an independent woman.

Moti Meena holds regular health meetings with locals across three panchayats in Udaipur district. (Credit: Renu Rakesh/WFS)

Moti and her husband had worked hard to build a life together, which abruptly came to an end with his untimely demise. When she had gotten married in 1997, she used to stay in a joint family with her parents-in-law and her husband’s two younger brothers in their village Manpur. When one of his brothers got married in 2001, her husband decided to move out of the small home. While he used to routinely go to Ahmadabad, in the neighbouring state of Gujarat to find work, eventually, he managed to get a job with a non-government organisation near where he lived. He used to help them organise literacy camps in the area. It wasn’t easy to make ends meet on his meagre salary of ₹1,000, especially with three sons to provide for. So, when in 2006 an Anganwadi centre was to be set up in Manpur, Moti and he decided that it was time for her to step out of the home.

“There were only two educated women in Manpur at the time. I have studied till Class 5, so I got the job as the Anganwadi helper while another woman who had completed her education till Class 8 became the Anganwadi worker. I got ₹500 per month to cook, do the dishes, clean the campus and assist the Anganwadi worker. Although we hail from a conservative background, my in-laws didn’t object to my working because my husband was alive and I had his support,” she recalls.

Meanwhile, her husband fell ill, and his health started deteriorating rapidly. “We didn’t know what he was suffering from; no one could diagnose his disease, and it was a very frustrating and disheartening time for us. Desperate for some kind of remedy, on the advice of the villagers, I even took him to Dungarpur, over 100 kilometres away, to a Muslim shrine. But nothing helped,” she says.

Moti was working at the Anganwadi when she heard of her husband’s passing. “Within four months I had lost him. Even today, it’s very painful to relive those days,” she shares. Of course, what followed after his death was no less tormenting. The elders started telling her to get married again, and when she refused outright, she was subjected to domestic violence. One of her brothers-in-law beat her up for being defiant but because “the villagers were backing me up and also my own parents I was able to resist the pressure”.

What worked in Moti’s favour was the fact that activists of Aajeevika Bureau came to her village to organise a health camp. “When people from the Aajeevika Bureau came and spoke to us about healthcare and asked if anyone of us could become a community health volunteer, I immediately decided I wanted to be one,” she added.

Aajeevika Bureau, a non-profit working in the remote villages of the Salumber block, runs a family empowerment programme for rural women. “The programme is aimed at increasing the capacities and agency of such women so that they can take greater control of their lives and the well-being of their families,” says Abha Mishra of Aajeevika Bureau. What impressed the activists about Moti was her sense of commitment and her rapport with the people.

Her decision to work with Aajeevika and go for the capacity building training did not go down well with her in-laws who threw her out the house and refused to look after her boys in her absence. Her parents, who live 35 kilometres away, stepped in to take in her children and also support her financially.

In March 2009, she underwent a two-day training at Aajeevika Bureau’s office in Salumber. On returning, she immediately jumped into her work as a health volunteer commuting everyday from her natal village to Manpur. She would organise meetings of women in her village, tell them about family planning measures, the spacing between children, distribute contraceptives, as well as ante-natal and pre-natal care.

For this, she earned a small but welcome sum of ₹500. “But as I interacted with the people from Aajeevika, I slowly realised that I needed to study further if I hoped to go ahead in this field,” she says. Consequently, Moti sat for Class 8 examination as a private candidate in 2009 and later passed her Class 10 from the open school system in 2012.

Moti Meena periodically distributes contraceptives and supplements to local women. (Credit: Renu Rakesh/WFS)

In 2012, she was given the opportunity to go for a nine-month paramedic training to Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh. Whereas this stint enabled her to upgrade her skills it didn’t auger too well for her sons who had to live with their paternal grandparents for that period. Her eldest, Jayanti, ended up dropping out because the elders would abuse him if he went to school; they wanted him to work on the farm and graze goats. After some days, he ran away to Moti’s parents. When she came back from the training, she tried to put him into school, but it was too late. Presently, her other two sons, Kailash and Shravan, are in Classes 8 and 4, respectively.

Today, Moti is posted at the Berawal clinic being run by Aajeevika Bureau. Incidentally, the NGO has three clinics at Berawal, Manpur and Ghated gram panchayats. Each clinic has three nurses and two senior health workers. One of the health workers is a woman. The clinics provide OPD services from 9 am to 5 pm every day and round-the-clock emergency services.

The facility at Berawal covers three panchayats – Berawal, Khajuri and Sati Ki Chori – and often Moti has to traverse nearly five kilometres a day to reach remote households. She lives in a rented accommodation in Berawal, paid for by Aajeevika which also takes care of her electricity and water bills. She has 15 volunteers reporting to her; most are illiterate. “They do what I did until a few years ago,” she says, “I attend their meetings once a month.” These days, she is getting a salary of ₹9,300 and is happy that she is doing a job she is passionate about. “I lost my husband to an undiagnosed disease; I don’t want others to die as he did. My team of healthcare volunteers and I have raised awareness levels in villages about health issues,” she says proudly.

Interestingly, Moti has set her sights higher now. She wants to become a qualified nurse. Dr Pavitra Mohan, Aajeevika Bureau’s Director (Public Health), informs, “She’s studying hard to pass her Class 12, the eligibility criterion for getting into a nursing school.”

Moti has the last word, “When one steps outside the home, one’s knowledge increases. Now I want to know everything!”

You must be to comment.

More from Women's Feature Service

Similar Posts

By Dipali Banka

By Aayomi Afreen

By Subhashini Kant

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below