The Modi Sarkar is planning to close down Mahila Samakhya, a flagship programme for women’s education and empowerment with which many of us have been associated.
The programme stands out for its commitment to translating feminist principles into reality on the ground. It has supported 1.5 million rural women in raising their voices and exercising their agency to transform their lives and their communities.
Postcards to Modi: Bihari women and ‘Mann ki Baat’
“This is the Save Mahila Samakhya-National Postcard Campaign,” one of the women explained to the curious onlookers. “HRD minister Smriti Irani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi want to extinguish the most successful women’s empowerment programmes in India. Mahila Samakhya (MS) has reached out and empowered countless numbers of women over the past 25 years. In Bihar, our federations and women’s groups associated with the Mahila Samakhya programme reach out to over 2 lakh women and 2 lakh adolescent girls. In 11 states across India, MS covers 22 lakh women and 10 lakh adolescents from the most disempowered sections.”
The prime minister may broadcast his ‘Man ki Baat’ to the nation once a month, but many women from rural Bihar are in a mood to give him a piece of their minds.
Representatives from federations in the 21 Mahila Samakhya districts in Bihar had one challenge for Modi: Come clean and tell us why you want to shut down one of India’s most successful women’s programmes?
The women’s voice is direct and unambiguous, said Vibha Devi from Muzaffarpur. “Modiji can give Bihar his ‘sava lakh crore’ package later. First give Bihar’s two lakh women and two lakh girls their rightful funds of Rs 13 crore, which should have been disbursed in April 2015,” she said.
Sharda Devi from Bettiah declared, “Just a few examples of what we have done over the years. Bihar Mahila Samakhya has trained 5,000 girls in karate, trained 500 women as masons who have built 50,000 toilets through rural Bihar, stops domestic violence and solves family problems in 72 nari adalats. Bihar Mahila Samakhya innovations such as ‘Beti Janam Utsav’ to address the declining sex ratio and teaching girls to ride bicycles were later adopted by the state government.”
Sumitra Devi from Sitamarhi chimes in, “Now the prime minister wants to shut down what has been empowering lakhs of women and adolescent girls in Bihar. Why doesn’t he mention this in his Bihar rallies? What’s the meaning of quietly stopping our funds and shutting down Mahila Samakhya programme?”
Rajkumari Devi from Sheohar posed a question, “Modiji, is the reason behind shutting down the programme that 98% of its members are women from backward, mahadalit, minority and adivasi communities; surely that’s not the reason?” Meena Devi from Bhojpur asked whether the ‘good days of the Modi Sarkar’ meant the shutting down of one of the most successful women’s empowerment programmes in its silver jubilee year?
“Mahila Samakhya representatives have met HRD minister Smriti Irani and minister of state Upendra Kushwaha several times in 2014-2015, and put forward our concerns. They appeared sympathetic, but now we have this sword hanging over the future of Mahila Samakhya,” said another woman.
Premlata Devi pointed out something significant, which perhaps the politicians should be aware of.
More than 5000 women from our Bihar MS-linked federations have stood for panchayat elections and over 1200 women have won and are in different panchayat bodies. “Since August, we have sent about a lakh post cards to the PM. But that’s just the first step.
The women of Bihar will not be silenced. We’ll go to New Delhi if needed. We may be village women. But we know our rights and power. We won’t let a patriarchal system or a short sighted government beat us back!”
Interesting times ahead!