July 13, 2020

A day in the life of: An Adivasi leader

A survivor of domestic violence herself, an Adivasi woman from rural Rajasthan is helping other women who face violence seek justice, along with helping them access entitlements.


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6 min read

I live in Kherwada, in Udaipur district, Rajasthan. I work with Aajeevika Bureau, organising 12 Ujala Samoohs—women’s groups—through which we help women access government entitlements as well as raise awareness, and help people recognise their rights. The women of each Ujala Samooh decide which issues are important to them. Helping members of the Samooh access entitlements such as the Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, PDS, and other schemes is a large part of my work. A lot of my work also revolves around domestic violence, which has been increasing due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

I’ve been trained to deal with cases of domestic violence, and I have also experienced it first-hand. Here, alcohol is involved in most cases of domestic violence, particularly now, when our villages have been under lockdown and there is no money coming in. Men suspect that their wives have money saved up, and intimidate them to try and get money to spend on alcohol.

We often try and counsel the men ourselves before taking legal action. Two or three of us women will go and try to reason with the man. A lot of women even forgive their husbands, but if the men make domestic violence routine, and continue the abuse despite warnings, we help women register their complaints with the police. My training has also given me the courage to take these cases further, speak with the authorities, and push for legal action if needed.

I help people in my village access loans from microfinance companies, and am the bookkeeper for an SHG here as well, for which I have to attend four meetings a month. Before the lockdown started, I also worked at a government school, cooking mid-day meals. I try to prioritise my work on the basis of urgency. If an urgent meeting comes up, or I get a call from a woman in an emergency, I have had to leave the school and rush to assist the caller in need.

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I like keeping busy. If I stay at home, I get bored! I enjoy talking to people and interacting with them, and I prefer heading out and working rather than staying at home and running the risk of getting into arguments with my husband.

Kokila sitting and filling out a register among a group of women-domestic violence

Kokila Devi at an Ujala Samooh meeting.| Picture courtesy: Aajeevika Bureau

6.00 AM: I wake up and freshen up, and then start cooking for the day. I have three children—two sons (12 and 11) and a daughter (5). My in-laws also live with us, so there are seven family members in our household. Once I am done with my housework, I usually set out to go to the school to help with the cooking there. Due to the lockdown, this has stopped. The kitchen is shut, and we gave some leftover rations from the school to the ration shops. The leftover rice was given to the anganwadis, from where families with younger children are still getting some rice.

9.00 AM: I set off to make a few visits to women from the Ujala Samoohs. Our group meetings have stopped during the lockdown, but individual communication has continued. I visit each and every house, speak with the women, and find out what problems they are facing.

A few weeks ago, it came to our notice that some of the neediest families had not received their entitlements.

A lot of households did not have rations or money. I tell women about the five hundred rupees that should be deposited in their bank accounts, through the Jan Dhan Yojana. Most people do not know about the scheme at all, and don’t believe me when I tell them about it—they cannot fathom that they would just be sent money—and many are surprised to find it in their accounts. Despite receiving messages on their phones about the deposits, people think it is a mistake and the money is for someone else.

Some households are also entitled to the INR 1000 benefit from the state government and INR 1,500 from the central government. However, for some, the amount still has not been credited. A few weeks ago, it came to our notice that some of the neediest families had not received their entitlements. At the same time, money had been credited to better-off families. I checked the entitlements lists online, using my mobile phone, on the Jan Soochna portal, to investigate. Some panchayat sahayaks, sarpanches, government teachers, ASHA workers, and others have been receiving this money, but the more needy households have not. We’re going to conduct a survey within the Samooh to investigate this issue further.

12.00 PM: I go to visit another woman from one of the Samoohs. Earlier, I helped her check whether she was eligible for entitlements. Now, she tells me happily that she has received her money. We’ve been able to help around 50 people access their money through the Jan Dhan Yojana. However, it has been very difficult to actually get this money in hand. The bank is 5 km away, and with transport shut, everyone has to travel there by foot.

Some people have had to walk to the bank on five consecutive days, and still could not access their money. On one day, names are enlisted. On another day, a token number is given, and people line up in a queue. The bank has drawn a line of circles for people to stand in, to maintain physical distancing. If their turn does not come, they have to go back and return the next day. Even when their turn comes, a lot of people have been facing KYC and Aadhaar linkage issues. Senior citizens have told me that going to the bank on foot and waiting in queue all day, for many days at a time, has been very challenging.

Kokila Devi attending to some plants-adivasi leader

Kokila Devi attending to some plants. | Picture courtesy: Aajeevika Bureau

3.00 PM: I get a call from a woman who is facing trouble at home. Since the lockdown started, I have handled about 10-12 domestic violence cases. I go to the woman’s house, and we have to talk quietly, behind the house, in hiding, since her husband is at home. I listen to what she has to say, but don’t intervene right away. I share her situation with some other women from the Samooh, and later, we convene to help counsel the woman and explain the legalities of the matter to her. We ask her not to be scared, to share her problems with us, and tell us how she would like to handle the situation. A lot of women join us when they see the work we are doing.

Often, women are scared that they won’t be left alive if their husbands go to jail. But gradually, we are realising that we cannot live in fear forever, and so we are raising our voices.

Doing the work we do, there is bound to be backlash. Many people don’t let me work in peace. Some men have tried to provoke my husband, saying, “Your wife is creating trouble between other couples.” Some even threaten me. Once, when I visited the panchayat office to get inquiries about NREGA applications, a panchayat sahayak went up to my husband and lied to him about seeing me loitering with another man. But I asked him to trust me, and made it clear that I am going to continue my work.

My husband and I chose to get married young, but later, the abuse started. Once, it got so bad that I had to leave my home and trek through the jungle in the middle of the night to reach my parent’s house, which is 15 km away. With my family, I registered a few complaints against my husband. After the complaints were resolved, I went back to living with him, but the same patterns of abuse repeated. This time, I refused to go back to my parent’s house because of my children. I will wait to see what happens in the future, but the women at the Samoohs and my colleagues have helped me get through all of this.

I share these women’s pain, their problems, and want to help solve them. There is violence against women everywhere in this village, and when I can help stop this, I feel happy. If women are happy, households are happy. We do labour, we send our children to school, toil all day, and then go home to take care of housework. Despite this, we don’t get basic respect. But together, we get through it.

As told to IDR.

Know more

Do more

  • Share these steps that you or any member of your community can take to support a survivor of domestic violence.
  • Reach out to the National Commission for Women’s emergency WhatsApp helpline (7217735372) if you or anyone you know is facing abuse.
  • Help circulate lists of helplines across India for domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Compilations of helpline numbers can be found herehere, and here.
  • Write to [email protected] to share more ideas and practices to combat domestic violence in remote, rural areas in India.

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Kokila Devi

Kokila Devi is an Ujala Mitra in Kherwada block, Udaipur district. For the last five years, she has been a part of her village’s Ujala Samooh, a woman’s solidarity group supported by Aajeevika Bureau. Kokila has been overlooking Samooh meetings for 12 groups and has been instrumental in ensuring people’s linkages with social security schemes. Kokila has also gone out of her way to help women facing violence at home seek justice, and is a survivor of domestic violence herself.