By: Sohini Bhattacharjee, Officer Communications
Story of Ramvilas and Gauri sowing seeds of Gender Fairness in remote Uttar Pradesh
Braving the early morning rain, the two of them rushed to the small office of Gramin Vikas Prayas Samiti (GVPS), a local NGO in Mau district, Uttar Pradesh. As we started our conversation, dressed in vibrant red sari and a welcoming smile, she was the first one to speak. Gauri is in her mid thirties and has lived all her life in Kopaganj village. Ramvilas on the other hand, has a stern presence. The deception though was broken soon as the soft spoken man sat down for a conversation. The morning witnessed a candid sharing by the couple about battling gender stereotypes while making an attempt to establish a just home in a small village of Uttar Pradesh, which is traditionally considered as the bastion of patriarchy.
Gauri does not follow a linear path of communication but she is a riveting conversationalist. The first thing she spoke about was her functional literacy classes. She shared that how she is to write her own name now instead of making thumb impression, dial mobile phones and bargain in the market. Gauri believes this to be one of her biggest achievement which has increased her confidence manifold times. She narrated with equal enthusiasm one of her recent mobilization efforts, where she led a group of 100 women to upstage the construction of a building on the community space, which was obstructing the mobility of the villagers and their connectivity with the main road. As Gauri would slow down a bit, Ramvilas would try to fill in the space. He said that his wife was leading change in the community, but she was not able to articulate all in exactitude. The harmony was evident, but basis on their own admission, the scenario was completely opposing, a year and a half back.
Ramvilas and Gauri were living in abject poverty. With his income from daily wage earning, Ramvilas was struggling to care for and feed his family of eight comprising his children and the two of them. However, bred in a patriarchal milieu, control came naturally to mindset. He insisted that Gauri’s place belonged within the threshold, amidst the household chores, and even if they starved of penury, she was not allowed to go outside even for work. The family life was disruptive and sad, Ramvilas and his wife would constantly engage in filthy arguments and this would vitiate the home environment. Growing up amidst family quarrels was also impeding the development of children.
Things would not transform overnight, though when GVPS team started working in the Kopaganj village as part of implementing ‘Positive Fatherhood Programme’, change started seeping in the mindset of villagers like Ramvilas. As part of grounding of this intervention, regular meetings were held with communities involving men and women concerning discussions on the importance of creating a gender just society. Even though Gauri attended the meetings hiding away from Ramvilas, he would get furious every time he came to know about her participation. An agitated Ramvilas asked Gauri one day that what do you gain from this meetings, I do not see any visible benefit. Gauri amazed him with her reply, she said, ‘I expand myself through knowledgeable interactions and exchanges with my fellow villagers and the animator didi (sister), we talk of new things, which is wrapped in my soul and with a shut vision like yours, which cannot see the inside, the depth of my growth will never be visible.’ Ramvilas was awestruck by the seething power with which his wife replied, it struck a chord with him and he decided to be part of the men’s group created as part of the intervention. Regular interactive discussions on understanding of Gender, importance of breaking taboos and role stereotypes, respecting the choices and spaces of other gender and becoming equal partners in their growth creates better homes, has had a constructive impact on Ramvilas.
Ramvilas now regularly helps his wife in the household chores like helping her in cooking, washing utensils and getting the children ready. They divide all work equally and all household decisions are taken on mutual consent. Under MGNREGA, Gauri has now found employment and with the earnings of the two people, there has been a gradual improvement in the economic condition of the family. However, Ramvilas shares that such blissful environment at home has had a positive bearing on his children. He has noticed that not only they stay happy and enthusiastic, their social behaviors has also improved and the children have started faring markedly well in their subjects.
Ramvilas shared that even though many a times he faces terse remarks from his male peers as a henpecked husband, but he will continue to be a champion of gender equality and advocate for GENDER JUST HOMES.
We are implementing the ‘Positive Fatherhood Programme’ through our partner organization GVPS in Mau district, Uttar Pradesh. In Delhi, the programme is being implemented through direct intervention approach. Though partners in Ghazipur, Mau and Allahabad districts in Uttar Pradesh and Thoubal and Wangjing districts in Manipur.