Anchal's artisans celebrated this year's International Women's Day (IWD) with great enthusiasm on March 8th, 2014. Along with the 90 artisans Anchal supports, over 200 women gathered to share in the festivities at Vatsalya's Udayan, a children's village for orphans. The following is an account from Jaimala Gupta, our friend and partner at Vatsalya & Anoothi.
Its February only and we begin getting phone calls and messages from women - “What is the plan this year on IWD?” They already want to start preparing for a journey of 2-5 hours, want to decide what they will wear, want to advise us about the program on the IWD and make their sweet small wishes known to us, regarding the menu, sports, gifts and awards, etc. …:) They don't want to miss anything and want to make sure that they have a memorable day filled with joyful reunion, learning and growing! On March 8th, Vatsalya campus in Achrol is all ready to welcome over 200 Anoothi women who are members of Self-Help-Groups created by Vatsalya.
Welcoming the Anoothi Women!
Until about 5-6 years ago, the Anoothi women could only timidly say their names in barely audible voices, could not imagine venturing beyond the four walls of their homes or till the end of their village boundary. They knew only one life-that of submission, ignorance and abject poverty. Today, not only they speak their mind in a loud and confident voice, they also have learnt to dream and, have the COURAGE to follow their dreams! They have learnt to collaborate in a development process that has changed the way they look at themselves. Slowly and gradually, skill training that was imparted to these women, empowered them economically as well. Today, these artisans earn anything between Rs. 3000 to 8000 per month. Their products are appreciated and admired world over. Anoothi/Anchal women; from complete dependence a few years ago, today have made their way to a life of dignity and independence. Not only they are able to support themselves, they pay the school fee of their children, cover medical bills of their ailing parents and parent in laws and some of them even support the total cost of living as their husbands are unable to work due to illness. Our proud achievement is to see their glowing faces, beaming with joy as they confidently walk with their heads held high!
Medical and Health Check-up
At about 11am, they began arriving, adorned in jewelry, very bright and colorful Sarees, Kurtas and Odhnis. Children accompany; some as young as 3 months old babies, safely tucked in their mothers' arms, wrapped in pink and blue cotton fabrics. The women are escorted straight to the health and medical check up area where a team of doctors from National Institute of Medical Sciences comprising of an ENT Specialist, a Gynecologist, a Pediatrician and a General Physician are ready to examine and assist them. When the check up is done, they proceed to 'buy' medicines at the medicine counter. Their expenditure on medicine will be reimbursed back to them during the monthly meetings in coming days. This is done with a hope to ensure that they will consume the medicines they purchased themselves.
The Martial Art Expert
Next on the agenda this IWD is a Self Defense Workshop; something we have been wanting to do since long and something the women demanded last year during the IWD function and deliberations later. Richa Gaur, an amazing and inspiring young girl is our resource person- a world champion and winner of half a dozen gold medals! Her father very proudly shares as to how Richa; who found her passion when she was barely 10, pursued it in spite of initial dismay and disapproval of parents. They belong to a conservative section of Indian society where a girl is expected to learn to 'behave' in a certain way only and must invest her time and energy in learning cooking and other household chores. But soon, Richa's father shared, they knew there was no stopping Richa and as loving parents they decided to support her 'strange' passion. In last one decade, Richa; from a small neighborhood of Jaipur has made her presence known in international arena of Martial Arts. Not only she has several awards and recognitions to her credit, she has trained thousands of young girls, women and police personnel through her Martial Art Academy. Richa; this inspiring girl, is just 20! The Self defense Workshop
The Self defense session begins after the refreshments at about 1pm. Richa invites volunteers to participate and learn it first hand. We have 12 persons; age ranging from 10 (Shivanshi of Vatsalya Udayan to 62; Lada Mai of Shampura village) as enthusiastic participants. Next one and a half hour is spent with Richa showing them different tricks and technics of self defense and attack. The participant volunteers take their turns playing an attacker and then learning to defend themselves when attacked. We all watch and learn, awed and inspired, feeling delighted and strong, cheering and encouraging as they perform some of the moves perfectly and then, all laugh joyfully when some awkward mistake makes a participant fall flat on the ground.. After about 80 minutes of the session, we hear some noises-children are fidgeting and getting restless. So we decide to stop there and Richa invites 10-12 persons for a special 15-20 minutes exclusive session.
As the large group of about 200+ women and children began disbursing and the small group with Richa was getting ready for another brief training session, we noticed some commotion again, this time with some alarming cries. We turn and see some honey bees hovering over and around us. Our initial reaction was to ignore them and stay calm so as to let them fly away to wherever they were going. But soon, we notice that they are in the hundreds and actually attacking us. Everyone panicked and ran for cover but before we could reach any safe place, many of us were stung by angry bees. For the next one hour, all of us could talk to each other from our safe hidings on our mobile phones only. Everyone was trying to call, enquiring into the status as to who was where, who was bitten, what was needed to be done and so on. We were removing the stings from hands, heads, faces and necks of persons who were bitten severely and several times. It was quite painful for some. After about 30 minutes, a team of our Vatsalya Udayan children decided to handle the bees and the staff took charge of taking the victims to hospital. It was an unimaginable chaos; one we were not prepared for. We we have lived with those beehives for years but they have never troubled us before. Later we were told that it was a migratory swarm that was on its way to somewhere and was perhaps attracted by the overpowering smell of perfume of the gathering. Nevertheless, after one hour, as some of us were still sitting in a room, trying to assess the situation, we heard loud DJ Music- The women were back! Everyone was back and dancing, even those who had been stung by as many as two dozen bees! They all left after a sumptuous meal of Dal-Bati-Choorma at about 4.30pm.
Another adventure waiting en route
One of the public transport buses that were taking the Anoothi/Anchal women home to Ajmer was stopped by an angry private bus owner. He apparently was upset at loss of business since women get to travel FREE on March 8th as per government orders. The driver of the private bus not only stopped the bus in which our women were traveling, he pulled the driver out of the bus and began beating him up. Seeing this, the women got down and told the driver to behave himself or else be ready for consequences. This man could never have imagined what was about to come when he hurled abuses at the women and threatened them. Not that we endorse violence but this driver asked for it and was given a nice thrashing by our women. They also told him that he had chosen a wrong day and wrong bus to show off his attitude! Having settled the matter, they boarded the bus again but there was more to come. This rowdy fellow telephoned some more hooligans like himself and, after the bus had travelled 15 km, it was stopped again by 20 men. They surrounded the bus and began shouting and threatening our women. And, again, all our women, except those with small children, got down from the bus and beat up all those drunkard, ill-mannered, abusing ruffians. Shocked and surprised, it did not take more then a few minutes for them to call it quits and vanish! Anoothi/Anchal women could not believe their luck that they would get an (unwanted and undesirable) opportunity to try their self defense skills learnt just a few hours ago. Not only they did, they came out winners! However unfortunate the incidence was, it sure is remarkable how our women learn and internalize the learning. No wonder, the strength of the women has grown in just couple of years...
The final confrontation
The grateful bus driver who was supposed to drop them somewhere in the city, drove 10 extra miles and dropped our women right out side the Jaipur bus station. Triumphant and proud of their ability to practice what they had learnt, the women were eager now to reach home. But, there was yet another hurdle- The window clerk refused to give them free passes! It was obvious that he did not want to loose his share of profit from sale of tickets that day and so was giving tickets only to menfolks. Tired, angry and bee stung, Anoothi/Anchal women demanded to speak with the manager. And, a few minutes later, the manager personally escorted them all to an empty bus and ordered the driver to take to them home!
Our final thoughts
Looking back at the March 8th of 2014, we have mixed thoughts - Those of happy reunion, learning a remarkable new skill and achieving some outstanding results! Regarding the driver bashing episodes, there is a little sadness - Why it is so difficult to share life gracefully and gratefully? We do wish to let our readers know that most of women who were bitten by bees have completely recovered except a few of them, who continue to be under medical observation. The doctors are taking good care of them and have assured us that they will be absolutely fine in a day or two. We have decided to reward some of the women for their courage and boldness in taking lead for defending their rights and protecting other women and their children. Two of Vatsalya children have already been rewarded- Shivam 12, and Rohit 14! When everyone was panicked during the bee attack, they were carrying the small children to safe places. They were later patrolling the campus, making sure if everyone was inside and also later, reporting victims to the medical assistance team. They then lighted fire at several places to create smoke which only made it possible for all the women to not only have their lunch peacefully but also dance a few steps on Bollywood songs before leaving! Thank you for your time and being there for us, as always...
The International Women's Day at Vatsalya was sponsored by Anoothi-US and Anchal Project, USA
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAURA KANTRUD