She is a ‘seventh standard passed’ simple housewife. Not being able to bear the shock of her husband’s death, she spent the whole day sleeping, for nearly a year. For a woman whose hands would quiver when she had to sign something, she showed remarkable leadership qualities, once she stepped out of her house. Through Swayam Shikshan Prayog, she helped a number of women to stand on their feet, and led the Indian delegation to seven countries. This is the story of Godavari…………..
“Twelve years ago, I had to attend a programme in Amaravati.
I was so confused that I came home and said that I am going to America. My sister laughed. She told me the difference between America and Amaravati. I had never imagined that some day I would be going to America. But during the past five years, I was able to travel to seven countries besides America. All this was possible because of the women’s organisation that I work for.”
One can see the confidence on her face and her voice, while she’s saying this. Godavari comes from village Gandhora in Tuljapur taluka, Osmanabad district, Mahrashtra. This village, which is 20 km from Tuljapur taluka, is like any other village. Godavari has been working with Swayam Shikshan Prayog for the past fifteen years at the village level. Swayam Shikshan Prayog has been working for the upliftment of rural women for the past twenty years. Besides six districts in Maharashtra, this organisation has been working in the states of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Orissa. The main aim of the organisation is to bring about economic, social, political and mental progress in the lives of women through self-help groups.
Godavari’s early life was like that of any other ordinary rural girl. Though her father was a teacher, she studied only till Standard VII. In keeping with her rural background, she stepped out of her house only when absolutely necessary, and that too accompanied by someone. According to the prevailing rural customs, she was married very early. When her children were very young, she lost her husband in an accident. The shock was so great, that for a whole year, she hardly got up from her bed. To help her overcome this tragedy, her parents took her home to Gandhora. Her older son was four and a half years old, and the younger one, barely a year old. Her mother tried her best to get her to talk, go out, but to no avail. Around this time, that is in the year 2000, her mother who was a member of a bachat gat (self help group) started taking Godavari for the meetings. Initially, Godavari would just sit quietly during these meetings, but slowly she got interested. Shri Balasaheb Kaldali of Swayam Shikshan Prayog also attended these meetings. He encouraged her a lot. He told her, that being educated, she should come out of her sorrow and start working. She was slowly influenced by his advice. As she was educated, Godavari was given the responsibility of the self help group. She agreed to take up the offer. She grew in self-confidence. On her own, she started three self help groups in the village. Seeing her leadership qualities, the organisation started calling her for self help group training programmes. She was placed in charge of nearby areas, which was a group of nearly ten villages!
Her work was to form women’s self help groups, call meetings, prepare their training programmes, check their records and so on. She started understanding the problems in various villages. She got guidance from the organisation on how to solve them. The volume and speed of her work increased. To receive increased financial assistance for the self help group, the organisation started a women’s federation. Godavari was part of the Tuljapur Taluka Federation and became its Secretary. She started ensuring that the neighbouring self help groups and federations returned the finances borrowed by them. The result was that the women’s federation started earning more and more. Looking at the work done by her, the bank gave a loan of nearly Rs. 5 lakhs to begin with to fifty self help groups. When the self help groups received financial assistance from the bank, she tried to find avenues for women’s employment. Her work was not limited to establishing self help groups; she started working on women’s health, employment, education, gram panchayat, agriculture, water projects, village cleanliness drive and other such issues.
Around the same time, the organisation started similar work in other states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu and Godavari started working with the women from these states. In seven years, Godavari’s self-confidence grew tremendously. There was a certain professionalism in her work. She took the lead in talking to women, understanding their problems and helping them stand on their feet. The women too felt a close affinity.
Godavari got her first chance to travel abroad in 2007. There was a conference in Kenya on AIDS. It was a conference of various women’s networks working on HIV in rural areas. Ninety women from 27 countries were invited for the conference. India was represented by Godavari. There were HIV infected women delegates also. They spoke about their experiences. Generally, HIV is not spoken about openly. Here it was being discussed in detail. Godavari spoke about the work being done by the women’s organisations.
Next, Groots India Committee was established. Godavari became its Secretary. There were women from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Bihar in this committee. This committee did work in the fields of health, agriculture and leadership of women at the village level. Soon, Godavari got a chance to travel to Sri Lanka for a conference. Discussions took place on the work being done in the self help groups in India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan women undertook road work and group agriculture and this is what Godavari got to learn.
In 2008, a workshop was conducted by the Huairou Commission in Philippines on emergency drills. The workshop was attended by 70 delegates from 15 countries. India was again represented by Godavari. Here stress was laid on and emergency measures. Godavari spoke about the earthquake that had struck Latur and Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra in India, work done by women in 1200 villages, rebuilding houses and repairing/ strengthening existing homes. Women from self help groups and gram panchayats spoke about the plan to provide facilities to these villages.
In 2009, there was a conference in Rome on food security. Before attending the conference there was discussion with hundred women from ten villages. “Why don’t women get good food?”—reasons were sought for this. Women do not take part in sowing crops. Money obtained from selling crops is never given to women. Women earn less from labour. Poverty, addiction, illness are other reasons.
This was followed by a conference in Nepal of South Asian countries on emergency facilities. Fifty women from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, India and Nepal attended. Information was given on the measures taken to build their homes and the emergency arrangements made. Also the work done by women’s groups in tsunami hit Tamil Nadu and earthquake hit Gujarat was discussed. A committee comprising seven women, who worked in rural areas, was formed. Godavari was the Indian delegate. There was a lot of sharing of information on the experiences and problems faced by the women who work in rural areas.
Godavari’s journey has been an eye-opener. Who could have imagined that a woman who had often worried about would happen if a bus did not halt at the bus stop, despite showing your hand to stop it, would one day be India’s delegate at the South Asian level? In 2011, Godavari was India’s representative at the Women’s Conference in America. This was the greatest moment in Godavari’s life! Who could have imagined that a woman who did not know the difference between Amaravati and America would one day be known as ‘foreign returned sister’?
Godavari started working among rural women to overcome her sorrow. The organisation guided her at every step. Godavari says, “Upamanyu Patil and Vikas Kamble from the organisation taught me how to talk, what to say, how to stand. That is why I’m able to give information confidently about my work in America.” Leela Somvanshi from the organisation while praising Godavari says, “Godavari does whatever work she’s given with interest. She never says that it is not possible. She doesn’t shirk duty and is not devious. Till now, she has helped a number of women stand on their feet.”
Godavari’s close friend, Jayashree Kadam is proud of her friend’s overseas travel. “She knows how to handle official plans. She has a lot of patience and tolerance. If someone insults her, she doesn’t take it to heart. She forgets everything and involves herself in work.” Godavari’s friendship with Jayshree evolved out of sharing each other’s pain. Godavari says that she has learnt about financial planning from Jayashree. Godavari’s parents are happy that she has managed to forget her sorrow by engrossing herself in work.
Godavari’s elder brother was initially opposed to her going out to work. He was worried about a woman, that too a widow going out alone to work. But once he saw that Godavari’s work was helping a lot of women, his stand mellowed. Now he is proud of his sister’s work. Even the children are proud of their mother. Godavari regrets that she was not able to devote much time to her children in their initial years, but her dream was to educate her children well. Godavari is proud of the fact that her illiterate mother taught her how to stand on her own feet.
In the future, Godavari wants to work for women and children. Now that there is an organisation to help depressed women like her, Godavari wants to carry on the legacy.