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The Story of an Old Tribal Woman

I met an old Barela tribal lady from village Jamasi in Bagli Tehsil of Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh in India. Her name is Kunjaribai. She has many children still alive. She is a small farmer and very active lady. She always works with her husband in her farm and produces many things for their daily life. There is a small hut full of useful things; like vegetable seeds , grain seeds, ground nut seeds for sowing in the next season along with a box for keeping her farm’s ownership paper. First she took me to see the farm that has fruits, vegetables like methi and explained everything about them - how she grows and sells for her every day’s need like - sugar, oil and salt and some time she buys dry fruits like coconut and kharak and methi from her garden. She prepares this homely medicine and keeps it carefully in her control and eats it for her fitness in the winter season. This is agood food habit of the tribals in winter time. However, all women do not get this chance in their household consumption due to poverty . The custom is to share and eat with the family members. Especially, the children cannot be deprived, so women prepare winter food as much as possible. This is called Khurak, which means good food consisting of Methi seeds, cooking oil and Jaggery along with coconut and Kharak or dried dates. Kunjari bai doesn’t ask her son to provide things for her survival, even though , she always gives excess products to them from her field . While explaining, she quickly picked a guava and gave me to taste.
We came back to her hut and sat on the floor. There her husband, Ranjee, was sitting on the cot and cleaning coriander seeds. He was very happy to talk with me , saying that his sister-in-law, Sursi bai, had been in jail for four months in connection with a case falsely put on her by the police for opposing the Government and he has provided surety for her bail and she had come back to her village yesterday. Then people had gathered and take her into their community because going to jail is not considered decent by the Tribal community . Hence, four chickens were sacrificed to appease their main Gods and ask them to take Sursibai back in their community. Then only she entered in her house.
Kunjari entered the hut to light the Chulah or wood stove and prepared tea for all of us . She called me inside the hut saying that the door is low and I will have to enter carefully . She became a little bit angry at her husband and cited that this hut is very small as no one can sit inside the hut when she lights the Chulah . The smoke spreads all over the hut. She doesn’t feel comfortable making chapatties or corn bread inside the hut. Ranjee didn’t respond and seemed reluctant to construct a larger one. She has already lost one eye when she was pounding gram in the pestle two years back. She wants to get her eye cured hence she had gone to the camp for an eye operation in the nearby small town of Udaynagar. There she was told that she would have to get herself admitted for four days in a big hospital .There was no facility to operate her eye in the camp. She assumed that money would be needed to take treatment, so she is planning to sell her cow and go to the big city of Indore. She has the freedom to tackle her problems on her own in small matters but for serious matters the whole family has to chip in. Every woman has some things, like chicken, goats, milk and vegetables to sell and spend for her requirement. She was telling me that a relative is in the big Government hospital in Indore who is working as an agent between the patients and the doctors. He may help Kunjari . She wanted to know how much money will be required for curing the eye. I was unable to tell her the exact amount of expenditure required in the hospital.
While taking tea, we were busy with our discussion inside the hut that was filled by smoke. She opened the box and took out her farm’s papers to show to me and asked how much land had been written on the papers. About three hectares of land had been written on that paper but no one exactly understands what is meant by the measure hectare. She stared at me and then questioned me as to how much lands were there in the local measure which is bigha. I also could not convert immediately as i did not know the local measure but she explained that she had a ten bigha farm. She keeps this paper always with her because her sons may transfer the land in their names and cause trouble for Kunjari . She had only one new sari that she wears occasionally. Her hut was small but very special, made from and covered by stalks of plants. The hut was around five feet in height in the middle part and six feet in length and the door was separately made by cotton stalks and covered by plastic bags. The stalks have been covered with mud and so the hut is air tight almost and when the wood stove is alight becomes full of smoke. She had everything required for survival in this hut. She was finding it difficult to take the things out and keep them properly due to the shortened space of the hut. She was very keen to show me whatever she had in her hut. Then we came out from the hut and started collecting fresh onions, coriander, green chillies and garlic from the field amidst our continuing discussion . Ranjee left his work in the middle and came to the mala or water stand. First he washed his hand and drank water. He stooped and entered the hut and came out holding a sickle. I thought, he is going back to work in the field again. We were engaged with our funny talk. After half an hour he came back with a plate full of the meat of chicken and told Kunjari to cook quickly and then he went missing again.
Again Kunjari lighted the Chulah and started pounding the chillies, garlic and salt in a pestle and mixed only cumin seeds for taste . First, she put the meat for boiling in the utensil and then asked a grandson to bring cooking oil from her old house. He was a six year old boy who was sitting in the shade and eating green grams. The old house was about a kilometre away from her hut on the farm. A young granddaughter was cutting coriander seeds in the farm. Kunjari called her and sent her to make corn flour chapattis. Once again she came out and checked that her husband was not present there. Getting a good chance, Kunjari started talking of personal matters about that why she is staying in the hut on the farm. First, she bitterly complained that her husband went searching for alcoholic drinks. Her husband has become old but his mind is like that of a young man when he takes liquor he is ready to come with her and that is why she has left her old house because there family members sleep together in the house. She pointed to a thick bamboo stick which she uses to control her husband. She keeps it near her cot while sleeping and when her husband creates problems, she becomes aggressive and raises the stick telling him that she will break his head with it if he comes near. She is older than her husband as this pattern is common in the tribal community but even then she and other such women are under the control of their men. Her husband after that does not have the courage to bother her but mutters the whole night. She laughed continuously while relating this to me.
After boiling the chicken she fried it, put more water in it and left it to cook for twenty minutes. This discussion was not simple, it raised a number of questions about all couples since every woman cannot behave like Kunjari ,. After all this is also not right way for a couple to live their life. How do couples manage their sexual life without discussing between themselves? There is no conversation about sexual requirements between most couples as men tend to override the women. How this hardship for women will be removed in our society since no one can talk about their sexual relations openly . Women spend their lives suffering in silence so as to maintain familial and social peace .This situation is not new as thousands of women, given an opportunity speak of this problem all over the world. There is no sign of any satisfactory change in the patriarchal structure of our society which has created this unacceptable situation for women. Being unaware and lacking in empowerment most women are forced to support this male bastion. Even women who are aware about their sexual and reproductive rights also sometimes do not have the courage to resist the oppression of their male partners.

Comments

kellyannaustin's picture

so much!

This is indeed a story! A beautiful one. You very eloquently point to so many issues in your post and offer gentle commentary on some of the predicaments of a woman like Kunjari.

Your forthright comments about communication regarding sexual intimacy were provocative and challenging. Good for you!

With gratitude for your story,

Kelly

kellyannaustin's picture

P.S.

I wonder if you would be willing to compose a piece about digital issues for our Women Weave the Web Campaign? The isolation from technology seems a day-to-day reality in your post. I'd love to hear your response and thoughts about how technology affects your life and the lives of women around you. After all it is through technology that you've shared this story! You can find out more information about it here, http://worldpulse.com/campaigns/www/how-to-participate It would be fabulous to have your voice join others as we think through issues around digital access in all its complexity.

As you may know, there is also a prize that will be awarded to an outstanding grassroots woman and visionary voice using digital tools to effect change and advance her community work. The prize will include the 2014 Lynn Syms Prize title, a $20,000 monetary prize to be paid out over two years to support her community based work, a feature profile on WorldPulse.com, and an all-expense paid trip to speak her message in New York City. You can find more on the website, http://worldpulse.com/campaigns/www/www-women-weave-the-web-campaign-prizes

Wishing you peace,

Kelly

gunu_k's picture

thank you

Dear Kelly,
thank you for the appreciation. I will try to post something about my relationship with the web soon because that too is a very tortuous story!!

Subhadra Khaperde
India

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