She drove me tentatively as we passed through the town. As she crossed the main highway, she breezed through, letting me talk to the wind. Mohini was riding me for the first time. I was really excited to reach the interiors of India on my maiden journey. After a ride of an hour, she reached her work place. Mohini, an engineering graduate with a management degree from Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) embarked on the journey of rural development in the year 2016. Her workstation is the radius of 25 kilometres in Narharpur block of Kanker district in Chhattisgarh. She works in PRADAN with indigenous tribes in some of the poorest and isolated villages of the country.
I was left wondering at my alternative prospect: Where would I be if Mohini had accepted the offer to join a bank instead of PRADAN?
I must say I have already seen many emotional roller coaster events. Mohini’s parents visited and they were left wondering what their highly educated daughter was doing in such a remote place. I liked the awe on their face when they met other young and educated professionals in the team who were working in Kanker on poverty alleviation.Mohini has spent much of her time in mobilizing women of villages into Self Help Groups. These are small informal mini-banks of poor families to access easy credit and save.
Mohini, today, is organising a village level meeting on improved agricultural practices. This is the peak of summer before the monsoon rains. Women in the village are eagerly waiting for her. Some of them even admire my looks and colour.
However, I must say the roads are very bumpy. I like the ride though. Children rush behind me as soon as I reach their village. Little girls climb on me, as the agriculture training commences, at a distance.
One girl chirps, "I will also buy a scooty when I grow up"
The monsoons have arrived. I like staying out and getting drenched.
We reach the village again. It was quite muddy on the way but I don’t mind. Mohini is training the women on improved farm practices. I see her teaching new techniques to women farmers by demonstrating in the farm itself. She does this in every village that she goes.
As I wait, it drizzles a little; washing away all my mud.
The rains lashed last week but I was sturdy. We visited many villages and worked with women farmers on pest control practices. The Self Help Groups have started inter-loaning. I overheard a woman say, “We have our own bank now!”
Today, the sun is peeping out. We reach the village where Adivasi women are waiting for us. They hold Mohini tight to tell her that the crops are in a healthy shape. The new System of Root Intensification (SRI) technique and organic pest management seems to be the reason for their happiness.
Earthen roads in the village are today strong and durable as the sun has been beating down.
The Self Help Groups have now provided micro-credit to poor families to cater to needs in agriculture, buying school uniform for their children and even medicines.
The harvest is also done. New agricultural practices adopted by women farmers have ensured year round food security. Families have earned significant income from new techniques of vegetable cultivation.
I overhear some happy villagers, “There has been bumper rice production this year”.
Another astonished man remarked, “Women from our village are selling vegetables in the market”.Ah! I almost forgot. Mohini even tried teaching some women farmers how to drive me when they came to the PRADAN office.
This has already been a mind boggling journey for me. Women who had never ventured out of their houses are speaking up now. Many still suffer from poverty and marginalization. But Mohini keeps pushing every day. It is such a difficult area and at times, I am at loss of words to talk of triumphs and frustrations, of alienation and reclaiming their lives and rights, of annual Mahadiveshans and women power, of new agriculture techniques and vegetable farming, of difficult living conditions but happy camaraderie and team work, of deprivation and food security, of silent suffering and fighting for elections, of family visits from home and creating new family links with communities, of Holi and Diwali, of erratic rain, monsoons and irrigation, of mango orchards and poultry farms, of walking miles, from being driven to meetings to taking the driver's seat.
I feel happy. I am also a co-traveller in this journey of development in some of the poorest villages in India. And tomorrow, I look forward to another exciting day of many smiling faces and aspiring better lives.