Here are 4 songs. These Bengali songs form part of our village level campaign, by team SWADHINA , at times with small street plays. On this GANDHI JAYANTI we remember the large section of women who still have a long journey to make to reach towards living a life with equality and dignity.
Literacy “Jatha”- a “Jatha” is a March in which certain action is also accomplished along the way. Some times ago we, an NGO group organised a Literacy Jatha in a tribal village
called “Majhidih”. The basic objective of the March was to spread awareness on the need to have a minimum literacy for all, and, also to teach women of the village ‘how to sign their names’. Since this was organised by an NGO working for women’s empowerment, the stress was to cover women in the village. Most of the women did know how to sign their names even. We were stressing on this because these days, they need to put their signatures for various reasons i.e. to open a Bank Account, to get govt. benefit schemes to become an effective member of Self Help Group and so on.
Majhidih literary means a Santhal Village i.e.” Majhi” means Santhal tribe, and, “dih” means a village. This village is located amidst East Singbhum region of Jharkhand state in India. Jharkhand meaning “The Forest Land”, is a new state. There was a long time demand from the local Tribals – the Adivasis that they be given a separate state. We are working in villages here on women and children development programmes since inception of this state.
Spending the night before at our camp office at Bondih we set out for the Majhidih village early morning in two bikes and a few bicycles. We also asked our village volunteers from neighbouring villages to assemble at the Majhidih village. It took about half an hour to reach the village for our bikes. The cyclists also made it within that time limit, since they took short cut passage through forest. It was summer, the area is chronically drought prone, there was scorching heat emanating from the stony road, even though it was still early in the morning.
After reaching the village we made two teams. The men in the team were given the task of writing awareness slogans on the walls. The Santhal houses have mud walls, but, they are kept very clean and neat by pasting coloured mud regularly.There is particiularly a red soil available in the hills here which look very beautiful on walls.
The women in our team, joined by other village volunteers, took the charge of teaching signature writing to the village women.
Our March or the Jatha began. While we took charge of the wall writing, the women, in small teams entered a few huts on both sides of the village road. The villagers were too enthusiastic to participate in this learning process. It was nice to see that while the women were busy trying to write their signatures on the paper, the menfolk in the house took care of the children. ( a rare scenario in Indian village context where bringing up a child is solely vested on women)
Once a cluster of 4 to 5 huts covered, the Jatha marched forward. At times we, the graffiti team were lagging behind to complete the our paint-brush task.
Around 3 p.m. we reached at the end of village. Here we had out lunch…. piping hot rice, lentil curry and a potato-brinjal curry…. served on Sal Leaves plates. It was tasty, and, in any case we were really hungry… we did not have a chance to break our fast (skipped the break fast !)
Our end of the Jatha was a cultural show, organised open-air. We have cultural team, which presented a number of Awareness song and dance, composed by us on various social issues like cutting of trees, need for literacy for all, torture on women and so on. At the end there was a Magic Show which was thoroughly enjoyed by all !
( I love playing a Folk Drum, and, whenever there is a chance….. !!!)
“Tomorrow we shall go to Hesla” my wife announced. “This village is near Bandwan, in Bengal, and there is a forest road from here which will lead us there” she added.
We have come to a village called Bondih in East Singbhum in Jharkhand. We are staying here for the past several days. It is a nice place except there are frequent load shedding, so most of the nights are spent on kerosene lamps. But fresh air, fresh vegetables are all for a refreshing change from our city life. We have several working villages here in which we are doing rural development programmes. It is surrounded by forest, and, placed amidst a hilly terrain. Though about 50 kilometres away , from the nearest town Jamshedpur, it is quite inaccessible, mainly due to very limited transport service. This meant we will have an inter-state travel tomorrow !
Next morning we set out for the Bengal village. We had two bikes. I was driving a heavier one, with my wife in the pillion. Her colleague was in the other bike, a bit lighter one, as a pillion rider. It was pleasant to start with. One good thing about long bike ride is that there is always cool breeze to enjoy, especially in the mornings, and I always relish such pleasant ride. For about an hour we drove through several small villages, small huts, small ponds, forest trees on both sides. But like all good things, the smoothness of the journey ended. We reached at the end of the forest road, and, here onwards we will have to tread through thin pedestrian route. This part is quite risky, especially to find out the correct track, but if one drives the bike at a steady speed one can always be able to see the thin white pedestrian track. At one point we sped through a risky patch with deep dry water body on both sides.
Around 10 a.m. we reached the Hesla village, of Purulia district. My wife and her colleague joined the women’s group which met at a villager’s veranda. Their basic agenda of the meet was to work out a plan for a training programme for the village women group as a part of the women’s empowerment initiative.
Myself and Pradip – the other bike rider, set out to have a go at the village. I was told by some of the local youth that this village, like most of the village in Purulia, has Chhow Dance troupe. For the past several years now I serve as the liaison for these various dance troupes and the Kolkata Puja organisers, to get these people contracts for performance. They always look forward to get a scope to show-case their talent in city situations. Kolkata organisers on their part sincerely look for getting these groups to perform in their puja arena. Some of the village youth from these troupes requested me to arrange for some performance contracts from Kolkata. ( Later, after a few months, at least two such trips got actually materialised ! ).
By the time we walked back to the women’s meet venue it was already 12 noon. My wife informed that they have agreed upon on the training programme – training on “Mask Making for Chhow Dance” ! This dance is a kind of marshal-art form, and, predominantly performed by men – even on performing women’s role. The villagers arranged for our lunch – hot pooris and sweet boondia, a very strange combination. But as the saying goes ‘hunger is the best sauce’ we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
By next month the training programme started, with the help of an expert mask-maker brought down from the Bandwan town.