Pinky Markam: The unstoppable
Story & Photos by Prabhat Priyanshu

“I choose to be unstoppable. I am bigger than my concerns and worries. To inspire others, inspires me to work harder. I focus on my goals. I trust my intuition and live my dreams.”

Reading these lines, my mind wanders to 22-year-old Pinky Markam. “Are these written for her and many like her?” I wonder.

Pinky, a young, motivated girl, grew up in a remote tribal village called Kharkhabharri in the Nagri block of Chhattishgarh. Her family mainly depended on agriculture and forest dwelling for a living. Though a bright student with big dreams of becoming a doctor, Pinky gave up her studies when she was in class IX. All of 17 and in love with Deepak, the two were soon married and Pinky settled into domesticity with her husband and in-laws.

By the age of 22, Pinky’s family had grown. She now had two small children and a lot more household work, but the fire to dream big had not died down. She did not want to lead her life just as a housewife. She wanted to fulfil her dreams. The dreams she had been nurturing since her childhood. The first concrete step she took was to complete her education till class X from an open school in Nagri. Much to her joy, Deepak, her husband, supported her.

The next big step Pinky took changed her life. She became a member of the Jai Khada Baba, a self-help group (SHG) promoted and nurtured by PRADAN. She soon realized that she didn’t want to be just a member, but play a proactive role. A PRADAN professional encouraged her and she began helping out by collecting documents from the SHGs members of that area. The task was small, but it gave her the confidence she so needed.

It is rightly said that there is no substitute for hard work. Couple that with the passion to learn and the result is magical. Within no time Pinky became eligible for becoming a community service provider (CSP) for the community. There were many literate members, but Pinky was the only person willing to take on the challenge of helping and empowering others.

Her baby steps soon became leaps and Pinky became unstoppable! She became a part of several trainings like membership training, agriculture training, account & auditing training, among many others. Today, she is a master trainer herself and provides training to other SHG members. Apart from that, she is the secretary of the Matri Shakti Cluster level federation, Dugli and an accountant of the Jagriti Mahila Vikas Sangathan village organization.

Pinky motivates other women to speak for themselves and encourages them to be active SHG members. Be it helping women to fill application forms demanding work under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act) or creating awareness among people about various government schemes, Pinky always takes the lead. She is urging villagers to use biogas and is fiercely fighting against alcoholism in her village.

All the exposure has made Pinky wise and smart. She took a personal loan of Rs 80,000/- at the rate of 3% from her SHG primarily to set up a bore-well and marry her brother-in-law. She repaid the loan in no time by taking a little money from the family’s farming income, some through MGNREGA and the rest by her earnings through training work and SHG auditing.

“I will not be stopped!” seems to be Pinky’s motto. Her journey has been incredible, though far from easy. Initially the backlash she received from the community was hard to digest. Pinky recalls the nasty comments of the villagers.

“People would say, look at her shamelessly going out to work while her husband is at home!” she recounts with a tinge of sadness. “They would tell my husband and in-laws to stop me from going to work.”

It wasn’t easy for her to leave her small children behind when she went for trainings. “I would worry whether they would have eaten or not and I would miss them terribly.” Then adds with pride, “It was all worth it. I have reached here through sheer hard work and today I have my own identity! It feels great!”

Pinky is grateful to both her husband and PRADAN professionals for guiding and supporting her through this journey. The dream of becoming a doctor and serving people may not have been fulfilled, but Pinky has become the role model for several women. Today, her family is proud of her and so is the community.

As I watch Pinky riding her brand-new scooter, maneuvering through the potholes and going from village to village on work, my heart fills with admiration. It is not a common sight in that area to see a woman riding a scooter. It’s a privilege mostly men enjoy, but no longer. From a pillion rider, Pinky has become the woman in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically.

Prabhat Priyanshu, a Masters in Social Work from TATA Institute of Social Sciences is pursuing Development Apprenticeship with team Dhamtari.