I get tired easily if I have to constantly listen to one person. Therefore I always plan meetings, trainings, and workshops in such a way that everyone gets opportunity and is motivated to be involved.
During one game (kind of role play) on ‘inequality’, one woman voluntarily shared part of her life story. I got interested and during lunch break chatted with her.
Bhagabai (name changed) does not know her age. Her eldest son is about 45 years, so she must be 57-60 years old. She was married at the very young age of 7 – but stayed with her parents until she was 12. She was married to the son of her aunt (father’s sister). On my casual remark “‘the aunt must have treated you well…”, she laughed loudly. She told me various incidents on how she was harassed. Not providing enough food, verbal and physical abuse, giving extra workload, not allowing talking to other women … these were some of the methods used by the mother in law.
Bhagabai has four sons and two daughters – all married. I inquired, “You don’t abuse your daughters in law in any way I suppose….” She smiled understanding the direction of my remark and replied, “No, I do not. What I suffered from, I will not sow, so it will not grow.”
Bhagabai was silent for a moment. But from her expressions, it was clear that she was thinking deeply. She was in a position to reveal some uncomfortable truth. She was in two minds about sharing it with me. Finally she decided to trust me. She added, “But this maturity has come to me very late in life. You know, I have a younger sister-in-law. I have treated her very badly. I did to her all that my mother-in-law used to do to me. I used to beat my sister in law. Reasons? Any small reason could do, even I used to treat her badly without any apparent reason”.
“Why?” I could not help asking.
Bhagabai sighed, “See, that time my world was very limited. I had never gone outside, never spoken to strangers, and never heard anything beyond routine mundane things. I was immature because I had no exposure. I had suffered and wanted to take revenge – on whosoever I found. No one told me how to live differently. I did not know that there was some other way in which I can think and I can live….”
“Then how did you change?” I asked encouragingly.
Now Bhagabai was smiling again, her voice became stable and strong, her eyes were shining… She told me, “This all I learnt in Self Help Group (SHG). I met so many different people here, I saw them living differently. They told me what is good and what is bad. My horizon expanded since I joined SHG. I have developed a sense of good and bad after attending to workshops, trainings, meetings… I feel that no woman should be verbally or physically abused…..”
I was overwhelmed with the honesty and with the trust Bhagabai showed in me.
One major mandate of SHGs is to create congenial atmosphere for women’s empowerment –bringing in positive change by helping women to see ‘alternative paths’. Breaking old chains is inevitable process of such a demanding journey. Breaking chains not only brings freedom to others but even to those who are bound by the age old traditions.