Alkaben Jani – India

Linked with Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan KMVS.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Alkaben Jani’s work in the Kutch area of Gujarat is informed by her intimate knowledge of the oppressive social fabric of the region. For the past 15 years, she has been extensively organizing, mobilizing, and training rural women, focusing on capacity-building and leadership training. The result of these efforts is the emergence of a strong and motivated team of 12,712 leaders at the community level, who are leading other women in the area to surface and take the reins both in their homes and outside.

She says: “The human sea is full of pearls that need to be identified and polished so as to give them the shine. I was identified and groomed and now I feel it is my moral responsibility to groom the rest”.

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Alkaben Jani – India

She works for Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan KMVS.

Alkaben Jani (born 1964) is a single woman who has had to struggle against family expectations and pressures to pursue her convictions and work with women less privileged than her. She hails from a middleclass Kutchi Brahmin family. Her father, a manager in a cotton company, had passed high school, and her mother had studied up to grade VII. The couple had three daughters and three sons, five of whom are, at the least, graduates. Alkaben is a postgraduate, having completed her Masters in Commerce.

She was in Kutch until the age of seven, and then her father was transferred to Karnataka, where she completed her education. Alkaben’s background, therefore, is a mixed-urban culture. She returned to Kutch as soon as she completed her university education, and joined a school as a teacher. She realized soon, though, that she was compromising heavily on her values and principles.

That was when Alkaben came into contact with some of her cousin’s friends. Together, they started visiting the rural areas during weekends. They called it “Project Unnati” (Project Progress) – a group of enthusiastic youth who felt they could change the world. It was around 1989 when Alkaben and the others in the group met Sushma Iyengar, who was looking for likeminded people to work with.

Alkaben was immediately convinced about Sushma’s vision and organization – which came to be known as the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, KMVS – that came into existence as a trust and society. She joined KMVS as a social worker and has since then been part of it. In fact, she believes that she is “organically linked” to the KMVS, and is growing with it.

Alkaben’s work in the Kutch is informed by her intimate knowledge of the area, which has one of the highest rates of women driven to suicide by oppressive patriarchal practices; where one in 20 women faces severe debilitating conditions such as prolapsed uteruses, and where women face the brunt of the near-perennial drought conditions and scarce water resources.

For the past 15 years, she has contributed extensively to organizing, mobilizing, and training rural women in poverty. She has inspired them to transcend social pressures, and move towards transforming themselves and their environment. Today, the KMVS comprises 12,000 women, and much of that credit goes to Alkaben’s sustaining leadership and commitment.

Alkaben worked hard with the other team members, who came from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. One of the difficulties she faced was accepting the pathetic condition of the rural population. She could not comprehend the wholesale absence of facilities and services, and how people still managed to survive without them.

Fortunately, this realization only reinforced her determination to work towards a model of holistic development. Alkaben’s focus is on the capacity-building of rural women through training, and the identification of women who can lead and manage the community. She creates spaces for women to express themselves and encourages a process of self-reflection, so that they analyze their situation in a larger politico- socioeconomic context. She supports them in their move towards the action that they identify and strategize on.

Their method of working is utterly simple: mobilize the community, identify potential leaders, and then handhold them and train them till they are able to move forward independently. The core team then repeats the same process in a different area with a different set of people, but continues to maintain a nurturing relationship with the new leaders, providing routine and need-based support.

The result of Alkaben’s efforts is the emergence of a strong and motivated team of 12′712 leaders at the community level, who are leading other women in the area to surface and hold the reins both in their homes and outside.

Alkaben and other activists have been mobilizing rural women for a decade and a half now. As she thinks back over the years, Alkaben remembers Deuben of Umersar village, and Lakhpat, who had almost adopted her as a daughter. Deuben, a Jadeja woman from Abdasa, was married off to a Pakistani man from the Sodha community many years ago. During Partition, however, she returned to India. She was almost 70 then, and somehow supported herself by doing menial jobs.

Deuben was childless, and when Alkaben went to work in her area, she showered all her affection on “Alka”. Soon enough, it was time for Alkaben to move on. The team at Lakhpat was nurtured by other team members, but every season, Deuben waited for Alkaben to return. Deuben died when Alkaben was handling various responsibilities. It was a bitter blow for Alkaben – particularly the realization that it is criminal to raise someone’s expectations if they are difficult to fulfill.

When she looks back, Alkaben has no regrets that she stood up to her family and society, and lived by her commitment to work with the poor. Today, she inspires other women to lead from the front – to manage, to set up micro-credit banks, legal aid centers and crafts production centers, to create water harvesting models.

And what is it that keeps Alkaben going? “The human sea is full of pearls that need to be identified and polished so as to give them shine … I was identified and groomed and now I feel it is my moral responsibility to groom the rest,” she says. (1000peacewomen).

The united and spirited efforts of women in creating, conserving peace in India have been documented in a film titled: “Redefining Peace: Women Lead the Way”, produced by SANGAT and Visual Aids Productions and directed by renowned, activist film maker K.P.Sasi from India. This one hour documentary showcases the history of the 1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize 2005 initiative and profiles ten peacewomen from different regions of India, connected to various people’s movements namely Magline Peter from the Fishworkers movement, Medha Patkar from Narmada Bachao Andolan, Teesta Setalvad, lawyer-journalist and her struggle against the fascist state and fundamentalist political forces. It features C.K.Janu who is struggling for rights of indigenous people and adivasis, Sharmila Irom, a young woman who is using non violent mechanism to challenge and demand repeal of draconian laws in North East India. The film highlights the work of four grassroots women Lataben Sachde, Parmeben Sava, Alkaben Jani, Meghiben Samariya from Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghthan, Gujarat and their struggle for sustainable health, education and livelihoods for masses. (full text).

The documentary features C.K.Janu who is struggling for rights of indigenous people and adivasis, Sharmila Irom, a young woman who is using non-violent mechanism to challenge and demand repeal of draconian laws in North East India. The film highlights the work of four grassroots women Lataben Sachde, Parmeben Sava, Alkaben Jani, Meghiben Samariya from Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghthan, Gujarat and their struggle for sustainable health, education and livelihoods for masses. (full text).

There are two more nominees from the Kutch district: Alkaben Jani and Hakkuben Theba, who have been working with Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan for the last 15 years. While Jani has worked to organise village women and train them in social leadership skills, Theba has worked for ecological regeneration. (full text).

links:

Relief, Rehabilitation and Development, The Case of Gujarat, 52 pages;

Communication with KMVS;

Kachchhi Oswal Jain Association In NorthAmerica Inc. KOJAIN NEWSLETTER;

Voice of the Dalits, by the Dalits, 18 pages.

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