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The woman and the village that inspired me

March 8, 2012

This is an anecdote that inspires me till date. The memory is set in a remote village in Orissa. It is about 30 km away from a place called Dasmantpur, in the Koraput district of Orissa. I did an internship with an NGO working for that remote village, six years ago.

The NGO had provided accommodation for me in Dasmantpur. I lived in a small cottage with a giant mosquito net to protect me from the draconian malaria – a permanent inhabitant of Dasmantpur. The surroundings were extremely beautiful and green. While temperatures in the rest of Orissa soared, it was a pleasant 27oC in Dasmantpur. In the morning, the place looked surreal with green trees all around and the chirruping of birds. In the night, it became scary with darkness engulfing the whole area and the persistent droning of crickets.

Let me give you a peek into my life there. In the morning, I had to wake up, draw water from a well (the bucket filled with water was so heavy, I felt it was heavier than me. Pulleys on a well are just over-rated), wash clothes (there was no washing machine), have chai (thankfully someone made that for us!), and leave for work (the most enjoyable part of the day). After the daily chores, I visited the village with three of the local residents of Dasmantpur.  We used a jeep to ease our travel for 20 km, but after that we had to walk for another 10 km. For people who like hiking, it was a great hike, but for people like me, it was a tough climb.

My first day in the village; when we reached the village, a woman hurried towards us and spoke to us in a dialect of Oriya completely alien to me. I failed to comprehend a word she spoke till the time she gave me a glass of water. My friends translated her speech. The woman’s words translated to, “Has she come to talk to us? She looks so tired! Ask her to drink this glass of water first.”

After resting for a while, I spoke to the women in the village and the children in the village. My friends helped me understand their speech. A description of the women of the village- they wore silver ethnic jewelry and if you think wearing one anklet is fashionable, they sure topped the fashion charts. Some women sat comfortably on the foyer of their houses and smoked ‘bidee’ (a less glamorous version of cigarette). And one of them was yelling at her husband for being in a state of intoxicated inebriation! Yet another lady was running after chicks to huddle them to one place. She held one tiny chick in her hand and asked me if I wanted to hold it. She probably recognized the twinkle in my eye when I saw the yellow cheerful chicks roaming around.

I kept visiting the village every day for a few weeks, till my project was over and eventually the women in the village and I formed a wonderful bond. We talked together, ate together and discussed issues together. I heard their stories and they heard mine. Even if, at times, we did not understand each other, we exchanged smiles- a form of language that cuts through all barriers, right?

What is my most memorable moment in the village? One day, when my friends and I were walking back to the jeep (yes, the long 10 km walk), we heard sounds of drums beating, and a huge congregation of people walking towards us from the opposite direction. They held different things used in a household – someone had a part of a bed, someone had a vessel, someone had a broom, while others carried some food. Who were they? I wondered, ‘Maybe it is a religious procession in the village or maybe someone is shifting houses. But why are so many people moving together?’

When they came closer, I asked one of my friends to enquire. My friend asked one of them and explained the situation to me. I was dumbfounded and dumbstruck to hear what was happening.

So here is the story – The people in the procession were residents of a village far away. One of the women in that village was married to a not-so-gentleman from the village I was working with. That woman had been tortured, emotionally and physically by her husband for a long time. The village knew about this dirty secret for a long time. But they wanted to give the not-so-gentleman time to improve and thought mercy had the power to turn him into a good human being. When even the power of mercy failed, they decided to teach him a lesson. However, they did not choose a method of violence. Instead, they decided to return each and every object the man had given to his wife. This was their way of condemning the act and expressing their anger. They wanted to ensure that the village he lived in knows about his deeds. They also wanted to send a strong message- certain behaviors are non-negotiable. The bed, pillows, food carried by the villagers belonged to the man and they were marching towards him to teach him a lesson. The woman who was tortured led the procession. She was smiling, brave and determined to fight for her rights.

This story inspires me a lot. A woman was treated disrespectfully, lines of humanity were stepped, and not ONE or TWO people but the ENTIRE village stood by her. There was no fear of alienation in anyone’s mind. The WHOLE village supported her.  (She was a role model to many after that; I heard stories of other women in the village standing up against injustice from my friends later.) The burden of fighting for a cause did not lie on that woman alone, the village was with her. But she was definitely the first to speak.  

Today, at this moment, I sit back and think, ‘We need inspiration from people like that woman and the people from her village who had the courage to fight injustice. I salute the people in the village who refused to be silent spectators to injustice around them. The woman and the people from her village inspire me till date.

Sushree

Would you like to share some stories that have inspired you?    

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10 Comments
  1. Anti permalink

    Nicely written :). Its really nice to hear such inspiring stories.

  2. Wow!!! I was dumbfounded when I read this! I salute the woman and also, most importantly the villagers. By the imagery of the village, I don’t think the woman or the villagers were “educated”. And its heartening to note that they were willing to support a woman who was courageous enough to stand and fight for her rights. I did a course on gender studies during my undergrad and we read a lot of stories of women, where even the most “educated” ones holding degrees, failed to voice their opinion and stand up for their rights.

    P.S: the quote around education is because I believe that the woman in your story is more educated than the ones who hold degrees and yet remained voiceless.

    • Ramya, the children in the village were first generation learners. I wish we learn more about speaking up for our rights and being sensitive in our schools.

  3. This is a wonderful story and is very inspiring. The form of protest is fascinating and stands in stark contrast to the hoarseness that seems to engulf human interaction these days. I am sure it would even make Bapuji proud! Thanks for sharing it. Also, I second Ramya’s comment on “education”.

    • Thanks Teja. We need to talk about stories like this to inspire people to speak up for their rights.

  4. Mayank permalink

    What a beautiful and uplifting story to mark International Women’s Day! 🙂 Great narration too!

  5. Prabha permalink

    A very poignant blog post! It is truly inspiring how the entire village stood behind this woman, and took to the streets for her. A remarkable lesson for us city dwellers who live cocooned in our own little shells, paying no attention to the many such stories that happen around us.

    A similar incident is narrated about a village in Maharashtra in the book ‘Shantaram’ — a book that’s definitely worth a read, by the way — about a married woman who inspires a village to fight against a gang of robbers.

    Happy Womens Day 🙂

    • Happy Women’s day, Prabha! I haven’t read Shantaram yet, but now will definitely check it out.

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