I can have expensive clothes, they can’t.
I can travel in a car, they can’t.
I can take a photograph with a digital camera, they can’t.
I travel to different places (states); they have not visited even the neighboring block.
I have a mobile phone, they don't have.
I can read and write, they can’t.
I can spend money, they can’t.
I can speak English, they can’t.
From the point of view of the women, the list has no limits. For them I do not belong to their world, so, whatever I speak is not applicable to them. I understand and appreciate their feelings. But I know that the truth is much broader than this. Truth has many more sides than are apparent to us.
I am in the midst of Kotwalia women. Out of the 15 women I am interacting with, only one has studied up to 8th standard, rest of them never went to school. All of them are married. They live in a small hamlet of Village Chindiya in Tapi district of Gujarat.
Kotawalia is one of the Primitive Tribes in India.
While walking through the hamlet, I see one bicycle and casually ask women whether anyone of them can use that. They all naturally laugh at my question. One man is sitting under a tree and tells women something in their tribal language, at which they again laugh loudly. I ask them what the man said. The man seems to have told, "Tell her that you know bicycle riding. Why tell her that you don't know something, when she has no means to check it?"
Clever man indeed.
His approach in a way is right. Why share one's problems and weaknesses with a stranger?
During the meeting we have talked a lot about their life. Now I begin to elaborate my life, which generates the other kind of list.
They (the Kotwalia women) can milk a cow (actually cow rearing is not their traditional livelihood, they have learnt it in last two years!), I can’t.
They can make cow dung (gobar) cakes, I can’t.
They can go to forest alone, I can’t.
They can fetch buckets of water from a handpump, I can’t.
They can speak Gujarati, Hindi and their tribal language. I can speak Hindi well, can manage with Gujrati but cannot speak Tribal language.
They can cook on Chulha, I can't.
They can produce a basket from bamboo, I can’t.
I go on speaking about the things which they can do and I can’t.
This list too is has no limits.
Now the women are enjoying the list and they keep on adding more aspects of 'what I cannot do'.
They can dance, I can’t.. (I really cannot!)
They can sing, I can’t. (I really cannot!)
They can identify various plants, I can’t.
They can cook fish recipes, I can’t.
Now the discussion is funnier for them. They realize that urban women, educated women lack certain skills which they themselves are good at.
What factors influence the differences in our lives?
Is it education? Is it class? Is it caste? Is it ethnicity? Is it religion?
Is it the present or the past? How does it direct the future?
There are questions without answers.
But the interesting part is at the end of the discussion we all feel empowered.
Though empowerment is about living according to one’s choice (freedom of choice is what ultimately matters!), understanding our own strengths is necessary to make the right choice.
I think we all reached that positive understanding at the end of the discussion. It is not that only I have given them a new IDEA, they too have given some points to me to think more about. They taught me that life is not all about what you can do (and do it well), but also about what you think of those aspects which you can't do!