Gaining a new identity

NEW DELHI, APRIL 24. Fence sitters and those dead against women's reservation in Parliament had at least 1,600 reasons to change their mind on Friday. Ramabai Srimant Gaiwad, Baby Balakrishanan, Sauswarna Sivavaya Matpati, Indu Bai, Meena Mohan Patil, Ekta Jaiswal, Nimala Devi Sahu are just some of the reasons to rethink the issue. Sarpanches in their villages, these women have managed to solve water issues, get road cemented, houses built and also do the unthinkable: gain a new identity.

In the Capital to attend a workshop organised by the Institute of Social Sciences to celebrate Women's Political Empowerment Day, they have travelled across the country to share their experiences with power or sometimes the lack of it. As fiery Rambai Gaiwad from Rampur put it: "It is my right and why should I be scared to exercise it? I have been given the power and I shall use it."

However, unfortunately breaking free of patriarchy is often not easy. And while there are "heroines" like Nirmala Devi Sahu who refused to resign from the post, despite attacks on her life, the story of women leaders at the grass roots do not always have a happy endings. There are others quite happy to hand over the reigns of power to the men in their family, reduced to `puppets' they find it tough to have a separate identity.

"I was opposed by my father-in-law who didn't want me to become a sarpanch. But now he is a supporter. We have lots of problems in the village -- electricity, housing and there are no gutters. I have been working for three years, but my husband does do all the work,'' reveals a 19-year-old woman from Uttar Pradesh.

Pawns or "real'' actors, this workshop has given them a chance to `unite'. Moving out of the confines of their home to realise that there is an unknown world and they have ability to change it, they are not giving up just as yet.

"We want to be equal at the Parliament level too. I used to look after my children and home, now I know how people live in the village. All the elders say that there used to be Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, now there is one in our village. I now realise that I can do everything,'' says Sauswarna.

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