Among Chattisgarh tribals, women are equal to men

Updated: Jun 19, 2011, 14:12 PM IST

Kanker: The age-old bias against women in our society is a part of our social-economic and political reality. Discrimination that begins even before the birth of a girl-child and dogs her throughout her life as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a widow and a mother. This is unfortunately the state of affairs one hears from large parts of the country.

What is it that fundamental flaw in attitude and in the way society is made up that upholds this inequality, this degrading and downsizing of women? It may be complicated to understand in all its ramifications but perhaps a study of contrasts would help.

In the largely tribal society of Chhattisgarh women are considered equal to menfolk in all respects. Women and girls live out their lives largely unhindered by oppressive social mores, which perhaps elsewhere remind them that they are fundamentally inferior beings.

Yet these age-old cultural and social values do not exist in a vacuum and often, especially in recent times we see the influence of ``outsiders``, those unfamiliar with the core composition and mores of tribal societies.

Here it is different and perhaps it is time we learn to celebrate that difference. Attitude which denigrate and lower the worth of women is palpable as tribal mores come into contact with and engage with the rest of mainstream society Still the influence is not enough to unseat this fundamental belief of equality between the genders around which our society has evolved.

Lata Usendi who heads the ``Mahila Kalyan`` department hails from Bastar, home to the Gonds, Halbas and several other tribes is a woman in position in her own right. Sumitra Markale MLA from Kanker in the Assembly is also a high-profile woman in a position of responsibility.

Arguably, you find women in such positions all across the country. But in Chhattisgarh, there is a difference. Here it is not restricted to women who come from privileged or cushioned backgrounds who have made it to such positions.

Rather it is like a running thread in society, which makes them access resources and leverage opportunities, no matter which level of society or segment they happen to hail from. The sense of discrimination, even fear, of fighting the odds to ``make it in a man``s world`` that characterizes many a successful woman``s journey in any field is not the storyline here.

Closer to the ground, in Kanker, the President of the Nagar Palika is a woman, Bela Lalit Thakur. Across the country, one hears of how women in local governance are mere ``puppets`` pirouette by their menfolk in their family.

Sordid stories of ``Pati Sarpanch`` who call the shots in all matters related to his wife``s position and discharge of duties. Bela Lalit Thakur laughs as she totally refutes this allegation, even a suggestion of it. `` I run the affairs of the Nagar Palika on my own terms, my judgment. There is no question of seeking or abiding by directions from the menfolk in my family in this area".

Perhaps this is the philosophy, the mind-set that has made it possible for Chhattisgarh as a state to establish a wide network of health workers called the ``Mitanin``, which makes available the rudimentary medical aid as well as the basic medicines for common ailments in rural areas.

These women drawn from the villages itself are given the basic training and a ``medical kit`` to detect and distribute largely ``Over-the-Counter`` medicines to arrest infections, stomach upsets, fevers and treat small injuries of the people in the allotted ``paara`` or sub-village.

They are also given the task of taking care of pregnant women in the village by providing them nutritious ``ready-to-eat`` items and khichdi to little children. They play a crucial role in the administration of polio drops. Apart from this first-aid role, there a system of referrals, for serious cases in the village beyond their ambit of operations.

They are part of an entire system, carefully and innovatively put together at the level of the state government with resources from social sector organisations, a kind of private-public enterprise, an umbrella body called the ``State Health Resource Centre (SHRC)

The system is multi-tiered with trainers and supervisors at every level from the head operations at Raipur to each district, panchayat, ward, village and paara. Yet it can be said that the singular reason for the success of this massive and laudable initiative is the dedication of these village women, very often from tribal communities who undertake this work, on a voluntary basis, completely free of charge.

What is equally laudable and indeed heartening is the social acceptability of the ``Mitanins`` by first their family and village community. Their work does not invite the disapproval much less the ire of menfolk in the family. Instead, they go about freely, managing their time between their domestic duties and this health work.

It gives them a sense of identity, of worth in society. This itself speaks a lot for the enabling environment, is a reflection of the tribal mind-set and social mores.

There are immense societal benefits accruing from this. The system of institutional deliveries, which provides for a fixed amount to be paid to the woman and her family members as an incentive has received a huge fillip with the intervention of the Mitanin. She goads and cajoles them, knowing the local mind-set as well as the benefits of institutional deliveries. Underlying her efforts is acceptability within the village community, a trust in what she is saying, and the way she is pointing to them.

We all need to learn from this. We need to move beyond pre-conceived notion of womanhood, of merely refuting patriarchal and discriminatory attitudes to a more holistic view. .

Yes the equality of the genders is the first and most fundamental step but we equally need to recognise the dedication, energy and often-unique combination of social skills that makes a woman successful.

The Charkha Development Communication network says that there is no doubt that given even a sliver that opportunity, they will continue to do wonders in their homes, the fields, in industry, in their professions and be equal partners in the progress of our society and this nation.

ANI