Durga Devi – India

Linked with Social Uplift Through Rural Action SUTRA.

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

Durga Devi (born 1956) always wanted to do something socially productive. Despite her husband’s protests, in 1979 she contacted and joined the Social Work and Research Centre. Since then, she has not looked back: she has formed women’s groups in her district and was instrumental in forming a coalition of women’s groups under the banner, Sarva Shakti Sangam, a watchgroup over atrocities against women.Durga Devi lives in Nahan, Sirmour district, Himachal Pradesh. She was born in 1956 in Shambhuwala village to Nar Bahadura police officer, and Sevati Devi, a prominent representative of the Mahila Mandal (women’s group) in their village. She has four brothers and four sisters.

Durga attended a school located in another village: it was a distance that her parents could not afford to continue to send her, and the fact that she never managed to complete her matriculation remains a matter of regret. When her education was abruptly curtailed, Durga joined a one-year tailoring course in her own village. But stitching and sewing were not where her heart was – she wished to do something socially productive, like her mother had … // … She says: “Often I have to face threats and harassment, but I am not scared. I work with truth in my mind, and it is this truth that gets justice for the innocent”.(1000peacewomen 1/2).


Sorry, no downloadable photo found for Durga Devi, India

She works for Sarva Shakti Sangam, and for Social Uplift Through Rural Action SUTRA, see also profile on barefoot college.org with 11 pdf-pages.

(1000peacewomen 2/2): … Married off at the age of 15, Durga became convinced that her dreams would lie fallow. But intrinsic resilience led to keep looking out for a job. Finally, in 1979, eight years into her marriage, she found an opening in the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in Jagjit Nagar, Solan district. Her husband was incensed: a woman’s place, he believed, was inside the home. Her children–she had, by then, a son and a daughter, and another daughter after she began work – were also very young. But Durga stuck to her ground and set off to work with young daughter in town.

Her husband’s prejudices seemed mirrored everywhere. People looked at her strangely, and would even try to incite her husband against her. He started pressuring her to stop working. But Durga prevailed, working very hard to create a difficult balance between home and work.

Her first challenge at the SWRC was to set up a childcare centre and to conduct tailoring lessons. Her workplace was about 20 km from the SWRC. After this, she traveled to several backward and far-flung villages such as Dhakariyana, Khadin and Thimber. In 1983, she formed a Mahila Mandal Samooha (women’s group), again pitting herself against a battery of prejudices from both men and women. Working hard to convince the women of the need for empowerment, she was soon made supervisor of the program taking full responsibility for it. The voluntary organization SUTRA (Social Uplift Through Rural Action) also helped her, heralding the beginning of her association with SUTRA.

Durga soon realized that the primary problem the women faced was the time they spent in front of chulhas (stoves), inhaling the smoke in the absence of chimneys. She looked for and hit upon a solution – smokeless chulhas. In 1983, she went to Khori in Haryana to get trained on how to use smokeless chulhas, to pass the knowledge on to the women she worked with. Thereafter, in every place that she set up women’s groups, Durga began emphasizing the imperative to use these chulhas and trained women.

Herself empowered by her status, she began to fully understand the social, economic and political problems that women faced. In 1989, she was appointed branch coordinator of the Nalgadh division of the organization, which gave her the chance to establish a separate identity and space for herself. The closer she came to the women in the district, the more she realized that male alcoholism in the area was a major problem that the women had to deal with on an ongoing basis. Male drunkenness brings with it physical and emotional attrition; they also spent all their money on liquor and gambling, contributing little to the home.

Durga and the women brainstormed and came to the conclusion that removing the local liquor vends was the only real solution. It would prove to be a complex battle. The Chhiyachhi village headman, for instance, had already obtained signatures on blank papers from the villagers, ready to use them to set up a liquor vend in the village. When the women objected, he said that he had written permission from the people. The women then protested the obtainment of signatures on blank papers.

The six-day protest was a first in the area. The women simultaneously battled domestic problems – they were beaten up, they were not permitted access into their homes, they were threatened with death. Both powerful politicians and the police force tried to break the protest, even turning away when the local liquor barons sent hooligans to sexually harass the women and yell out obscenities. Some of it worked, but Durga kept a cool head and calmed down her fellow-protesters. Finally, on the seventh day of the protest, the state government passed an order against opening up a liquor vend in the village.

The protest’s success spread like wildfire – women in the neighboring villages comprehended the potential of coordinated protests. Since then, there have been several similar efforts to fight various social ills in the area. In March 2004, the women of Chamadar village successfully organized themselves and protested against the sale of liquor in their village.

Durga has also been fighting to get the official machinery to work for women and society’s disadvantaged. On April 6, 2000, a senior functionary of the women’s group in Nalagadh was murdered in a nearby forest. When the police reacted by arresting innocent villagers, Durga organized more than 500 women to protest the blatant illegality. Then, the concerted official and criminal threatening began, including from criminals, police functionaries and local politicos. Some local politicians influenced a minister to halt the murder investigation.

When Durga and her colleagues demanded that investigators come in from outside the district, women police officers from another district were brought in. The intensive follow-up revealed that the murderer was in Maharashtra. The Maharashtra police handed him over to the Himachal Pradesh police – who claimed that he had committed suicide on the way. The protesters refused to believe this story, clearly one of convenience. Durga organized a chakka jam (literally, “jam the wheel”), or a virtual roadblock. Furious, drivers and vehicle owners filed two cases against Durga and 20 other women, a case that went on for four long years. Durga’s only regret is that, through that time of trouble, she could not do any work with the women’s group.

Durga and her colleagues have formed a union of women’s groups, the Sarva Shakti Sangam. Today, the Sangam raises its voice against any form of injustice against women, with even women in far-flung areas looking to it for any manner of redress.

Often, I have to face threats and harassment, but I am not scared,” says Durga. “I work with truth in my mind, and it is this truth that gets justice for the innocent. I cannot express in words the joy that helping an innocent get justice gives me.”

In 1995, Durga participated in the Beijing Conference on Women, which gave her an opportunity both to present her grassroots point of view and her experiences, and to learn many new things that would help her in her work. In 1996, she traveled to Holland where, during women’s groups’ discussions, key focus points concerning the Indian situation were identified.

Durga is currently working on the NGO SUTRA’S Nalagadh Development Program, which includes six village panchayats, 42 self-help groups (SHGs) and 16 women’s groups. The economic empowerment of women and forming of women’s SHGs continues to be her area of reference. She is also working to raise awareness against female foeticide and infanticide. On October 2, 2001, Durga and her colleagues organized a 500-women strong rally demanding punitive measures against those performing the illegal sonography that directly encourages female foeticide.

She is also trying to raise awareness against the consumption of intoxicants, and the sale of liquor and other intoxicants to those below the age of 18. She has, in fact, presented a demand to the state government that it prohibit the sale of liquor.

It has been a long way for Durga from once struggling step out of her home to being so involved that devoting much time to her home affairs is difficult. But part of the payoff has been that even her once-recalcitrant husband has made an enormous effort to understand her work and adjust to her new life. (1000peacewomen 2/2).

Sorry, no other texts found for our peacewomen … BUT

Links for Durga Devi:

  • Putting Durga Devi into Google you get about 185,000 results, but they all mean Durga the goddess, in word, pictures and even videos:
  • A text example: Durga, the goddess: In Hinduism, the goddess Durga (”the inaccessible” or “the invincible”) or Maa Durga (Mother Durga) “one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress”. Durga is a form of Devi, the supremely radiant goddess, a superheroine depicted as having 10 arms, riding a lion or a tiger, carrying weapons (including a Lotus flower), maintaining a meditative smile, and practicing mudras, or symbolic hand gestures … (full long text on wikipedia).
  • About the goddess find also pictures by Google Images-search; and many Videos by Google video-search.

Links for Indian NGOs: find them on choike.org; on Indian NGOs.com with their newsletter; on NGOs India.com; on wikipedia; on Indian Child.com; and by Google News-results with articles about Indian NGOs;

Other links about India:

  • Republic of India non-profit laws;
  • Foreign funds to Indian NGOs soar, Pak among donors: NEW DELHI – Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have not only been getting money from big donors like the US, Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Italy, but are also receiving contributions from Pakistan. In fact, Islamabad has consistently been donating money to various associations in the last three years … (full text, 24 Dec 2008).
  • HINDRAF or Hindu Rights Action Force, a coalition of 30 Hindu Non-Governmental organizations committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in a multiracial Malaysia … (full text on wikipeia) – and this article:  Ninety-six Indian NGOs seek release of HINDRAF leaders, September 25th, 2008.
  • Categories on wikipedia: Non-governmental organisations based in India.

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