Everyday, after finishing their daily chores, 12 women belonging to the Mahadalit community, gather on a terrace. They are in the age group of 20-60 and are dressed in green saris, with a drum slung across their shoulders. Confidence is evident in their stride. They form two rows and start practising, while the men gawk at them from a distance.
“It’s our kind of women’s empowerment — challenging a male bastion in the rural hinterland of Bihar,” says band leader Savita Devi. All the women are members of the ‘Nari Gunjan Sargam Musical Band’ of Dhibra village under the Jamsaut panchayat of Danapur, near Patna. They all belong to the Ravidas community — a Scheduled Caste — and have their dwellings in one corner of the village dominated mostly by backward caste people. Agriculture is their mainstay.
Earlier, these women were working as agricultural labourers earning Rs. 100 a day at the most. But, since July last year, they have been performing at different events, sometimes even at luxury hotels. For each performance, every member earns Rs. 500 “and it makes a huge difference to our lives,” they say.
It’s perhaps the first all-mahadalit women drum band of eastern India. Besides earning well, they even reach out to women in distress. When inebriated men beat up their spouses inside their houses, members of the musical band reach the house and start beating their drums loudly to attract the attention of other villagers.
“When we start drumbeating, the villagers, including children, gather at the door. The husband immediately stops beating his wife for fear of disgrace,” Savita Devi tells The Hindu . They trained under Aditya Gunjan, who travelled 20 km four days every week to reach the village and teach them. But, how did this idea come about?
Social worker Sudha Varghese made it all possible. “I was looking for an alternative livelihood option for these poor women when, during a visit to my home State Kerala, I saw a group of men playing drums at an annual Christian festival. I was inspired and decided to make it happen in Dhibra village,” says Ms. Varghese, who was awarded Padma Shri for her pioneering social work in 2006.
Ms. Varghese, who visited Bihar in 1986, stayed on for 21 long years among the Mahadalit women in a village in Danapur, fighting for their rights.