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The Man Who Launched a Thousand Feminists

I scraped through my high school examination in 1986 in third division. So I couldn’t get a government job like others from a poor socio-economic background like I, who had done better. There was family pressure to follow tradition in rural Chhattisgarh and get married. I did not want to become the chattel of a drunkard and get regularly beaten up as was the fate of most other women including my elder sister. So I stubbornly continued to subsist by rolling bidis or handmade tendu leaf cigarettes. This was drudgery as rolling a thousand bidis in one day would bring only Rs 7 at that time. So I also looked around for other opportunities and enrolled for a training programme for rural youth being conducted by the NGO Prayog. As luck would have it I was selected after the training programme to run a creche for children of bonded labourers who had been freed from bondage by legal action undertaken by Prayog in the Supreme Court of India. I was to be paid Rs 300 a month all found which was princely compensation compared to what I was earning breaking my back rolling bidis.

I joined Prayog for a job without any consciousness about the social, economic and political factors responsible for the disempowerment of the poor and especially women in rural India. However, after joining Prayog and attending many training programmes my eyes were opened in this respect. These trainings instilled a resolve in all of us to fight injustice and oppression. Prayog was started by Mr P. V. Rajgopal a Gandhian activist from Kerala who came to central India to inspire youth to work for societal rejuvenation. The great achievement of Rajaji, as he is popularly known, was in mobilising young women from indigent socio-economic backgrounds to work as rural activists in large numbers. He would personally conduct the trainings and listen to the problems being faced by these women in their work. Over the years over a thousand women like I have become feminist activists in this way. Many of us later struck out on our own and are now fighting for women’s rights independently. Rajaji has always been supportive of our efforts to work on our own and so it can verily be said that he has held our hands and launched a thousand feminists to fight the deadening patriarchy that stifles Indian society.

Comments

jadefrank's picture

A thousand feminists

Dear Subhadra,

I love this story as you have shared your personal journey in rising from poverty through empowerment. And as a follower of your journals, I know how things turn out in the end - how you have risen to become such an advocate and leader for women's rights in India. It was so special for me to learn about how the journey began. So thank you for sharing.

And it's encouraging to read about men in the movement - men like Rajgopal - who is holding thousands of women's hands as they learn to stand up and fight against patriarchy. I love this image you have created in my mind!

Love,
Jade

gunu_k's picture

the image of holding hands

the image of holding hands was suggested by the my story competition organisers. I only gave flesh to it!

Subhadra Khaperde
India

Nelly2.0's picture

Strong

You are very strong and courageous. It was a plus when you became one of those women who were empowered. Thank you for sharing, Your story is an inspiration for the rest of me not to relent and not to settle for less than humane treatment.

More interesting is the fact that a man started all this, way back in the 80s. He is a hero.

hugs,
Ada

gunu_k's picture

There are sensitive men

Rajaji is one of those few sensitive men who believe in helping women to find their feet in a man's world. Even though there are limitations in his own organisation he recognises this and encourages people like me to set out on our own and even helps in the initial stages.

Subhadra Khaperde
India

Carrie Lee's picture

Loved Reading your Story

Dear Subhadra,
Your story gave me great hope for all the women who struggle to create their own authentic paths. When I read your story, it reminded me of my own journey in becoming loyal to myself rather than the collectives around me. Sounds like you've paved your own way too! It reminds me of a line from a David Whyte poem..."Are you prepared to live in the world with it's harsh need to change you? Can you look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand."

Many Blessings,
Carrie

gunu_k's picture

the great thing about this

the great thing about this forum is the strength that it gives everyone from sharing across the world. i have lost much of my loneliness from participating in this forum.

Subhadra Khaperde
India

Rita Banerji's picture

Brilliant!

Hello Subhadra,

It is wonderful reading your story! I am always looking for stories by strong women in India who refuse to be forced down the traditional path. It is one thing when you are born into a situation where your family gives you all the options. But when you fight for your options that is when you change not only yourself but you change society. You are a hero! Keep going! India needs women like you.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

gunu_k's picture

There are more heroines

Hi Rita,
I have found from my experience that when one revolts against patriarchy then one finds other heroines also who are brave enough to tread this path. I have been especially impressed with the spirit shown by some of my Bhil women colleagues who despite not having the luxury of a formal education have nevertheless taken the battle to the men with aplomb. I will write about some of them in my journal.

Subhadra Khaperde
India

Rebecca Snavely's picture

chain of empowerment

It's so encouraging to read your story, and how one man's work started a chain effect, where each person who's life he touched went on to affect and touch another person, until so many have been changed, and can change / overhaul a systemic way of life for the equality of all! You're part of that chain, especially by sharing your story here, so that others can be empowered and encourage even more.

Thank you for raising your voice and holding other people's hands.

Rebecca

gunu_k's picture

One in a million

Rajaji is a one in a million person. To have consciously chosen to empower women and especially young girls from rural impoverished backgrounds despite being an upper caste male is a life choice that few men in India have taken. Your metaphor of the chain is very apt. Let us hope this chain will succeed in breaking our chains of patriarchal bondage!

Subhadra Khaperde
India

Emie Zozobrado's picture

Cheers!

Hi Sister Subhadra! Patriarchy is common across the globe ... that's why women share tales of woe in double-standard societies. We have the same challenge here in my country ... although it has evolved in a much milder tone now. You see, it's a pride for men to have "other women" or mistresses because it sort of reinforces his manhood ... but it's a shame for women to do just that!!! And this reality cuts through rich and poor countries ... and that's exactly why we're here at World Pulse ... to make a difference and to see to it that it works for good!. Your Rajaji is a rare specie, and the likes of him is a real treasure!

Always.
Emie Zozobrado

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