International Women`s Day is an occasion to honour and praise women for their efforts and accomplishments. VideoVolunteers celebrates and dedicates this day to the IndiaUnheard women Community Correspondents. They all have faced the realities of being a women in a patriarchal society that wants to restrict their livese. With their outstanding personalities, these women have overcome many barriers to give voice and speak out for the unheard women in their communities. We spoke to our Community Correspondents Varsha Jawalgekar and Rohini Pawar about the role of the women and their work as Community Correspondents.
Community Correspondent Varsha Jawalgekar convinced her parents to let her study instead of getting her married at 15. As abudding social activist she moved to Bihar and started working at the grassroots with some of the most underprivileged communities. But when she faced first-hand oppression against herself in her own home, she felt paralysed. Then, she met women fighting for land rights in Chattisgarh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh:
“These women inspired me when I was going through my own personal turmoil. They reminded me that a house is run by a woman but not owned by a woman.”
Varsha decided to transform her situation and become the decision-maker within her own household and in her work. She continues to meet strong women who remind her of two meanings of being a women: strength and struggle. They are closely interlinked, she says. Whereas the latter is caused by inequality, the first is consumed by the fight against it. She cites the example of a video she made of a lower-caste who was assaulted by the upper caste men in her community.
“It was really challenging for me to film Sunita, a Dalit woman being dragged through her village, when she was defending her land. But her firmness and demand inspired me at the same time. She wanted justice more than anything she owned.”
Varsha’s video and Sunita’s courage to speak out had a great impact. It changed the dynamics of the Dalit community in the village. People in the community began to understand that they too could speak out against injustice too. They discovered the power in their unity. They were losing their fear and gaining courage by being together in what they believe was fair and right.
Varsha observes how women face discrimination in a very invisible and subtle way without any outward display of violence:
“Women and men are often pushed into a certain kind of behavior by society giving them a certain position in life. Without questioning certain structures they act on them and women become subordinate to men according to traditional society structures. They experience distress and suffer, but very few question it. But if I see the spark in the eyes of women, because they have realised the need to change their own destinies and start fighting, it is the happiest moment in my life.”
Varsha is a woman with this certain kind of spark in her eyes. She is inspired by women and she inspires them.
That spark also turns up in the story of our Community Correspondent Rohini Pawar. When marriage threatened to derail her education, her husband supported her ambition to become independent. Today they work together on the video reports:
“My husband, a wedding photographer, has been very supportive throughout our married life. Though he wasn’t highly educated, he understood the importance of education and wanted me to study further. Thus, shortly after my marriage, I joined a junior college to complete my plus 2. After that, I began earning some money by stitching blouses and petticoats for women in the community. I did that for a few years, after which I helped open a women’s savings group in 2004.”
With advice from a relative she joined Video Volunteers and started her work on women`s issues. Her first filming experience was empowering, but also challenging to her:
“My fist video was on the devdasi in Jezuri, dancing girls. To begin with I was bit awkward and scared of filming them. Although, I had interacted with the women before, the women didn’t want to do the interviews, they had been interviewed many times before but they haven’t seen any changes. I convinced them that I was doing it for a good cause and they did like the outcome (video).”
Today Rohini wonders to herself about her state of mind before these possibilities had opened up for her. Her father had became very ill before she got married and the family had difficulties trying to sustain their living. She felt helpless:
“At that time, I didn’t even consider working as an option. It was expected of girls in the village to get married at an early age and take charge of household duties. Now, I feel very sad that there was nobody to tell us, nobody to help us realize that we too could earn money. I could have afforded my father’s medicine, then. He wouldn’t have had to suffer the way he did.”
Now she has changed and is independent. Rohini is the first women in her village to have a camera. In the beginning people could not believe that she could handle the technical equipment, but when they saw the first results they accepted her as the voice of the village. Rohini is convinced that her community is behind her now:
“I feel my community is proud of what I do, with the equal wages video the women who were a part of it were really glad I had made it, without the video they said they would be in same in the situation they were in before. The devidasi cried whilst telling me that other people just come to watch their dances and leave, but I asked them questions and they were really touched that I cared to find out more about them.”
“I feel the biggest change in my personality since VV has been self confidence. Not only have I become better at shooting videos but I can do things on my own, not depending on people.”
Varsha and Rohini are two of the inspiring women, who fight against inequality and at the same time are constantly challenged by the unequal liberties given to men and women in India. Looking at these empowered women, who earn their living and who speak their mind, and who work towards a stronger community by enriching peoples lives, it is astonishing that society tries to tie them down with rules that are old and expired.
The low male-to-female ratio of 1000 to 940 shows the decline of female offspring in India continues. An estimated half-million female foetuses are aborted each year, because people believe women cannot earn money to provide for themselves and their families and on top of that have to get married off for incredible sums of dowery money. The misconception needs to be broken.
We hope one day all women have the choice to study, earn and lead life on their own terms. Our Community Correspondents whether female or male will continue to speak out against the inequalities, systemic oppression and violence until the differences are negated and equality wins the day.
Happy Women’s Day!