One Step for Wasima, a Giant Step for Rural Women
by Juba Pratim Gogoi

“Kadam badhaa ke chalna hain toh pao pasaare mat baitho…” (If we want to move ahead, let’s not remain idly seated), rings a determined voice of Wasima, from a small hamlet in Bahadurganj block of Bihar. True to her words, rural women from Muslim communities in North East Bihar are bringing change, one step at a time, for justice and equality.

“Gaon ke baahar akele pehli baar aayi hoon” (This is the first time that I have ventured outside my village all alone), the excitement and nervousness quite visible in her voice. Wasima was at the block headquarters, some 30 kilometres away from her village to attend the Self Help Group (SHG) foundation training. Stepping out of her home, without being accompanied by male member(s) of her family, was something unfathomable for this mother of four children from a conservative household.

“Wasima boli, himmat karkay chaltain hain, toh main bhi himmat juta pai”, says Praveena

(Wasima said let us gather some courage and go. So, I gathered some courage)

The SHG foundation training was just the first step for the women of the Anjali group. What began as a tentative beginning is today a vibrant collective of women from poor households belonging to diverse backgrounds. As the group norms were set and regular saving and inter-loaning began, the women realized that the group was much more than merely an instrument for financial support in times of need. It was the first time in the village that women from different castes and religions were coming together. Women were meeting (not as a laborer in the farm of big landlords but at a common place in the village) and discussing issues pertaining to their lives and their village and taking action. They now aspired for a different and a better life where they are the masters of their own destiny.

“Logon ka bolne se pet nahi bharega na…!” (People who pass comments will not solve my problems), says Wasima explaining how she no more cares about unwarranted comments coming her way as she challenges entrenched societal norms.

Wasima was on an exposure visit on rug-making at Gaya, which is about 400 kilometres from her village. Four hundred kilometers without being accompanied by a male member of the family!

In the weekly SHG meeting, she shared her insights from the visit to Gaya. Incredibly, the women of this SHG are now planning to pilot something similar in their village. It is a brave ambition for women who are supposed to look after their households and work in their farms.

As they wrap up the meeting, one cannot but help feel their sense of quiet confidence as Wasima and her friends break one stereotype after another. It is still a long way to go for this collective but the women of this village and across rural India are finally breaking barriers and leaping ahead, one step at a time.