A Marathon

Author : Hema Rawat

Date : 18/09/2023

Heading towards their paddy fields to complete the day’s task before the sun set appears a mundane task to an onlooker. In a dainty village of Tikanpal in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, the walking pace and body language of three women farmers capture attention since it resembles swiftness of a marathoner. Meet Chameli Kaushal (28), Buddho Kashyap (35), and Ramvati Kashyap (35), who also advance in life like a marathoner.

Supporting their husbands to boost respective families’ income, they work hard 365 days a year in fields to reap different crops. “We hope bright future and prospects for our children. We toil here to provide them essential things,” said Buddho Kashyap. The trio earns an average of 5,000 INR per month individually through farm activities.

Their husbands, who work as drivers and sometimes as semi-skilled workers, bring home salaries, which is insufficient for regular sustenance of a family. Sowing and reaping produce round the year to feed their families as well as generate extra income are a mammoth task undertaken by these women. A decisive moment came to their life in 2018 after attending Parivar Chaupal and Maitri meetings of the Mocho Mangun program – a community-based programme that encourages SHG women to work towards improving food, nutrition, health and sanitation aspects among rural women, adolescents and children.

The Maitri meetings lent them a perspective on achieving healthy body and mind; educate their children to make them independent and confident individuals; and access institutional services and entitlements. This is how they started having sense of fulfilment in their marathon resembling life.

“We no longer make our kids support us working in fields. In addition to food, nutrition and good care, education will open their doors to a better life,” said an elated Buddho Kashyap, who has sent her teenage daughter to her parent’s place in an urban space of Bastar district to gain quality education in a government school offering free of cost education. This decision created a ripple effect in the family and she got other two children admitted in a government school in Tikanpal. Buddho will send them off to her parents’ place ensuring quality education for all kids at a certain age.

The Poshan Sakhi and Krishi Sakhi in Maitri and Chaupal meetings are helping them to find unique solutions to resolve issues in family, with adolescent children and in fields. “Chaupal meetings means constant learning about various aspects of family, life, food, health of children and nutrition,” said Chameli with a sparkle in her eyes.

The trio developed a strong bond with children and enjoyed a pause in their life that crept into their lives during COVID 19-induced lockdown in 2020. They yearned for Maitri meetings during lockdown. “Of late, we are learning how to take decisions together with our husbands in Maitri Baithak. We seek husband’s advice and also ask their support if we are unwell or do not feel confident about something,” said all three in unison. Having robust emotional attachment with children make festivals and local rituals a lot more joyful and vibrant.

Earlier, the male head in the family used to arrange water supply, during water scarce duration, in paddy fields with the help of a rented water lifting machine. By applying the message of seeking support from spouses through Maitri Baithak – all three of them sought support from their spouses in gaining knowledge and learning nitty-gritty of renting water lifting machines from a contractor. Now, the trio have become pro in arranging rented water lifting machine for sowing paddy in fields during rain deficient period. This action amplified the trio’s morale. Now, they feel confident in getting UIDAI cards made for children, going to their schools to meet teachers, selling the produce, travelling alone and so on.

Another significant and immersive change they made in personal life is eating right amount of nutrient rich meals in time. “We bring packed cooked food to the fields instead of going back homes to eat mid-day meal and lunch. Nourishing our bodies is our priority that we understood through Maitri and Poshan meetings,” said the trio.

They have been regularly participating in VHSND, vaccination drives as well as consuming IFA tablets along with food rich in vitamins and minerals to keep diseases at bay.

Women like Chameli, Ramvati and Buddho are improving lives –physically, emotionally and mentally- by consistently applying messages that they learn in Chaupal and Maitri meetings. Indeed, the qualitative impact of Mocho Mangun programme is pervasive among women in rural communities – who are able to hold victorious sentiment in life that mirrors a marathon!