Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

29. Breaking Chains

On Friday, one NGO had invited me to facilitate training on Child Rights. I am not an expert in this area, so, took this opportunity to understand the topic. The participants were 30 women from four small villages near Sangamner. They all are members of Village level Child Rights committees.
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.
Generally in India the trend is to measure success of SHGs in terms of savings amount, credit availed, income generated through various activities ….. All quantitative measurements. I do not undermine their importance, but bringing in qualitative change, behavioral change is more important.
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.


  1. Very nice experience described so well.

  2. 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.
    Not only breaking these chains is important because of those things, but it brings freedom from all bad things of life..... One should start the process to bring about the positive attitude in people around him/her...

  3. I like what Bhagabai said 'I will not sow ,so it will not grow'...
    and definitely your point regarding Qualitative Impact of Socialization in SHGs is remarkable. But I was wondering will there be only positive impact?

  4. ….. All quantitative measurements.

    I think its mainly on the orientation of the ppl working. When we say MF we linked SHG to the same and when we say SHG .. we think of women in the villages. so then only point towards discussion is saving, credit. how these women are using money and again the question raised is... you know very well !

  5. In SHG, saving & credit is like entry point activity & can be quantified.Empowerment is a process & also within the person - may be having various layers,spheres etc

  6. Yes, we often interpret SHGs in the language of the "donor" (often western).. forgetting our own Indian slant on true significance of social change.. Ethics has been at the heart of all our social change..

  7. Very nice experience indeed! Nice to read it in your words.

  8. Indeed interesting - you have described it and analyzed it really well - Seema

  9. i read all ur posts... then i either smile or think ... u know, it is difficult to write smile/thinking as comment...so, i do not write comment... but pls do keeep me informed abt new posts


  10. True. The qualitative aspect of life is just as important, if not more so especially in the social context.


  11. Thanks Girish, Rajesh, Anonymous (real one...), kiran, veena, sachin, mrinalini,seema, mms and suprabha for sharing your thoughts on this post.

    i believe we need to re-look (qualitatively) to the concept of shg... it has become too mechanical, quantitative and hence superficial. there may not be only postive impact as Anonymous has pointed out. the job of external person is not to offer solutions but to facilitate processes to bring out the solutions people have... and may be share other people's experiences to 'show new paths' (if show and path are the right words!)


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