She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
They say about her: “A single tribal woman day laborer stood up to usurious landowners, and then went on to change the developmental complexion of an entire village”.
Duiji – India
She learned by the connection with the Mahila Samakhya Programme.
Duiji (born 1942) has single-handedly changed the face of an entire village. She mobilized her community against caste-based oppression and injustice. Her efforts have led to a drastic reduction in atrocities against the Kol community. Caste-based sexual violence is practically nonexistent in her village now, and the tribals are no longer afraid of approaching the police and courts for redress. The literacy rates have shot up and the women participate more actively in community affairs.
She is a Kol tribal from Uttar Pradesh, she has seen such terrifying excesses of poverty and oppression in her childhood and youth that even today the pain is starkly etched on her face. Her father, Jamuna, and mother, Budhiya, worked as agricultural labor in the fields of local landowners in village Gahoor. So naked was the exploitation of the tribal people that after a long day’s hard work, Duiji’s parents had to beg the landowners for payment – which was, when they got it, a handful of foodgrain. Duiji remembers that when they brought the grain home, de-husked and ground it into atta, it was barely enough for three or four rotis. Her mother would divide the rotis between her seven children and her husband. Sometimes, even this meager meal was not available, and the family would sleep on empty stomachs.
In those days, education was not even a distant dream in Duiji’s mind, or that of her parents and siblings. The Kol adivasis were treated as subhuman by the ‘upper castes’, to be lambasted at the slightest excuse. When Duiji was seven, she was married off to Babulal from village Manka. At 11, she was packed off to her husband’s home. The situation there was no different: the slavery and hunger persisted. Over the years, Duiji had 10 children, the last when her husband passed away. Duiji was about 27 years old.
Duiji and her children relocated to the village Juhi Kothi in 1982, but she soon realized that the Kol people there were no better off. Initially, she worked as an agricultural laborer, then moved on to digging, breaking stones, spading the land. The end of the day still brought a palmful of foodgrain. Duiji gradually began to protest the extremely low payment, speaking to fellow laborers, motivating them to join her. After a prolonged face-off between the laborers and the landowners, the latter agreed to pay the workers five kilos of foodgrain.
In 1998, Duiji finally found an anchor in the Mahila Samakhya. Her association with the organization opened her eyes to the many issues of rights and the law, and of the tremendous exploitation her community labored under. The Kol adivasis were mostly bonded labor, which Duiji learned was illegal. The community had not even begun to think about education. Slavery had broken the bodies, minds, and spirits of the community.
Duiji began to speak to the Kols. No matter what the problem was – whether she needed to clash with the authorities or the local bigwigs – Duiji stood like a fortress protecting her community. Slowly, the Kol people in Juhi Kothi began to see a ray of hope. Her determination has become the stuff of legend in the community. Irrespective of the caste involved, Duiji’s goals are always to see justice done.
Over the years, her efforts led to a drastic reduction in atrocities against the Kol community. These adivasis are no longer scared of approaching police stations and the courts to demand their rights. Sexual violence by the upper-castes against Kol women is practically nonexistent in the village today. Duiji has arranged for handpumps, and the women received a 15-day training course on how to repair them. Furthermore, most children now attend school.
The community’s economic situation is also much improved. Duiji stays updated on various welfare schemes for the old and the handicapped, and helps people access welfare schemes that the government periodically announces. She has also come to understand the Byzantine laws of the land and various government programs. She processes all this information, and uses it to raise awareness among the tribal people.
It is awe-inspiring that an illiterate tribal woman, herself struggling to survive, has almost singlehandedly changed the face of an entire village. (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).
The Government of India has approved a scheme called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) for setting up upto 1180 residential schools with boarding facilities at elementary level for girls belonging predominantly to the SC, ST, OBC and minorities in difficult areas. The scheme will be coordinated with the existing schemes of Department of Elementary Education & Literacy viz. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) and Mahila Samakhya (MS). Asha for Education will work with Mahila Samakhya Uttar Pradesh to come up with innovative solutions for execution of this scheme. KGBV is one year compressed course for dropout girls after class V. Hundred girls in a residential school will complete class VI, VII, VIII in a year. (full text).
Mahila Samakhya covers 23 blocks in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh. There are 1,435 vibrant and strong women’s collectives called Sanghas. Sanghas take up a variety of activities ranging from changing traditional practices to carrying out development activities. Mahila Samakhya’s main aim is to empower women so that the women attain a position of strength to carry on their collective agenda without a major need for any external inputs or impetus. SIFPSA.
Read: Making a difference.
Mahila Samakhya – meaning education for women’s equality – was launched in 1989 by the Government of India in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka. Today , Mahila Samakhya is active in 12,000 villages, over 60 districts in 9 states including Bihar, where UNICEF and Mahila Samakhya have been partners for a long time. (full text).
Asha for Education – Mahila Samakhya Uttar Pradesh.