Basanti didi frying wadas.
(Photo: Abhipsha Mahapatro)
In Pics: Stories of Wonder Women in a Quiet Corner of Odisha
From farming to running businesses, these women don various roles effortlessly.
Tucked away in the Eastern Ghats in Odisha, is the panchayat of Koinpur, home to the Lanjia-Saura tribe.
Here, walking into Gauru bhaina's tea stall, the oldest shop in Koinpur, you see his wife, fondly called Basanti didi, chatting with the villagers as she serves them tea. From discussing issues of the village to laughing at jokes over chai, their shop is the locus of all information exchange in the area.
Basanti didi was the first woman entrepreneur of the village, in a way – a woman seen outside of her house, working equally as hard as her husband at the ‘tiffin’ shop that they run together.
While some women here, like Basanti didi, are entrepreneurs, others continue to be involved in traditional activities.
Firewood, to work the chulhas at home, is collected daily. It’s a chore shared by all members of the family.
Mohuli, a local alcohol known to aid malaria prevention, is also prepared by some families and used as a source of income here.
Basanti didi’s story as a woman entrepreneur has inspired many, one of them being a young widow who chooses to remain unnamed. Through trying times it gave this young woman the courage to open her very own chai shop to support her daughter and ageing mother.
Basanti didi herself has raised and educated three children – her youngest daughter took up Science in Class 11, an uncommon choice for girls in the area.
However, unlike Basanti didi, not many women here have a steady source of income to fall back on. Life is hard here, and so, window for recreation is small.
To make ends meet, Mudi Didi, as she is fondly called, carries bags of puffed rice and travels 30kms in a bus to sell puffed rice to students in residential schools. As soon as the bell rings for the lunch hour, children rush to her with notes of Rs 10. They exchange these for as much mudi fits in the palms of their hands and stuff their mouths with some mudi ladoos.
Rubita didi, meanwhile, travels 12kms one way to her jewellery shop that she runs with her husband. Rubita didi is a mother of five daughters, all of whom she educated with gusto. Her oldest is finishing her masters degree, and her youngest is in the Class 8.
Among the many inspiring stories tucked away in this village of 4,000 people, another incredible one is of Sanju didi.
Sanju is a survivor of domestic violence. A few years ago, her neighbours complained against her husband to the police and he was nearly arrested, but she withdrew the case. And even though the domestic upheaval still persists at home, she does not back away from heading out to learn a new skill.
As hard as daily life is, women here don’t back down. Along with household chores, the women also come forward to be a part of Self-Help Groups (SHG), so they can learn various skills that can help them earn an alternate source of income.
These SHG meetings find time in their lives after they are done cooking, fetching firewood, herding cattle, taking care of their children, and going to the farm, all so that they can contribute to savings.
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