The Neelesh Misra Show Ep 4 | Watch Out for These Angry Women
On one scorching summer day, thousands of women hailing from a village in Maharashtra took off barefoot on a sun-baked road. Where were they heading? To Mumbai.
Thousands of angry women, some wearing old, battered chappals, others barefoot with only a sari on them, left their homes, their children, their troubled village, their dry wells, their lives swimming in debt and took off.
But how did this happen? We had heard poets, writers, our grandparents, neighbours tell us that a woman is an embodiment of compassion. She endures so much: trouble inside the house, as well as outside it. Sometimes at home and at office, sometimes at home and in the farm.
She is forced to understand endurance right from the beginning of her life.
Her words are measured, her head is bent. She thinks so many times before sharing her misery. She has to be watchful even of the length of her smile, so that others may not think that her laugh is vulgar. She is told that she must not ask questions, must not argue. How can she have faith in concepts such as justice and equality? Are they not mere theories found in sociology textbooks for her? She does not share her pains, her troubles, her dreams with anyone. She silently swallows whatever she is served.
Which is why when a woman, especially one residing in rural, remote areas of the country, relinquishes all, and comes out on the streets to take charge, you must know that you have hit a breaking point. Her limits of patience have been reached.
Be it the government or the ruler or the patriarchal society she lives in or ancient orthodox conventions, a poor woman coming out on the streets is a barometer and a litmus test for it all. It is a clear indication of the fact that all limits have been crossed. It is an obvious sign of the fact that far away, in some remote part of the world, in some villages, in some hamlets, away from newspaper headlines and media glare, something is very wrong.
In this country every time, women have taken to the streets, society has turned over a new leaf, a big change has been made. My name is Neelesh Misra, and I have taken off to find the story of these angry women.
That Year of 1974 and The Courage of These Women
March 1974: The authorities had passed a plan to chop down trees in order to construct a road in Raini village of Uttarakahand's Chamaili. When the villagers protested, they were promised compensation. The authorities deliberately selected 26 March as the day for tree-felling, because the men had gone to Chamaili to collect compensation, and the social workers were called to a place Gopeshwar for talks –the only people left in the village were some "feeble" women. Officers and contractors reached the village to chop the trees.
Gauri Devi, a woman who had just studied up till class 5, who hadn't read thick law books, who had never seen the world outside her village, whose talking skills lacked urban finesse and polish, along with other women friends of hers, went and clung to trees. "Cut it, if you dare," she challenged.
They were unable to cut the trees. They had to go back home. That ‘feeble’ voice resounded much beyond Raini Goa and all over the world. The Chipko movement went on to become an example for movements related to the environment all over the world. Following this, the forest and environment ministry was set up in the world. So how were a few ‘feeble’ women able to do this?
Angoori Dahadiya hails from a very poor family in Teerva hamlet of UP's Kannauj district. She laboured night and day to make ends meet. After having worked immensely hard, she managed to buy a plot and get a builder to construct a building on it. The builder tricked her into not getting the building registered, and subsequently snatched the very thing she had worked so hard for from right under her nose.
Angoori shares that she was so crestfallen by what had happened with her, that she wanted to ensure that nobody else had to suffer the same ordeal. Hence, in 2010, she got together women and set up a Green Gang.
When the law and government institutions refuse to assist them in procuring their basic rights, the Green Gang take the law into their own hands.
Angoori Dahadiya has been to the jail on multiple occasions. While it is not correct to spread lawlessness, these women have little choice when the law fails to accord them what is fundamental.
A sexual abuse victim, Usha Vishkarma, brought together a group of women who have endured a similar ordeal and set up a union. This union strives to bring justice to those survivors whom the government and the legal fraternity has failed.
Belonging to UP's Baanda district, Sampat Pal is one such woman who has found herself a place in newspapers and TV news. Her Gulabi Gang works towards punishing harassers. As of today, there are thousands of women associated with her organisation.
In 1995, a man in Haryana's Zeend district went up against the Khap Panchayat and married a woman of his choice. The Panchayat decided to get retribution by instructing the villagers to get the man's 12-year-old sister raped. The men in the village were in support of this ruling. But the women were having none of it.
A woman called Jagmati Sangwan lead other women into a full-fledged protest of this ruling.
(Translation by Mekhala Saran.)
(This piece was originally published on Hindi Quint. Read the original story here.)