Sunki Ben, from Barod village, Jhabua, shared that she previously owned a piece of land but after the death of her husband, his relatives conspired with the Patwari and captured her small homestead. As she had no source of income, this only precipitated her decline into poverty.
At his juncture, she met women from her hamlet who were attending the literacy classes being facilitated in her village by IGSSS. Hearing their positive experiences, she was encouraged to join the same. After attending the literacy classes for a certain period, she grew in confidence and was emboldened to share her experience of losing her land with the rest of the group members at a legal literacy session. She found out about the legal procedure through which she could begin processes of reclaiming her land and filed a complaint at the Tehsil office. The Tehsildar ordered the Patwari to immediately register the land in the name of Sunki Ben. But when she met with Patwari, he assumed that she was illiterate and hence resourceless, and started pressurizing her to pay him money. Sunki stood her ground and told him to do his duty, as per the order of the Tehsildar. She also warned him that if he failed to comply, she would call the Collector and register a complaint against him.
The Patwari was shocked and surprised to hear this from Sunki Ben and retorted by saying that that as an uneducated tribal woman, she should not be making such false claims. Sunki Ben then showed him the number of the Collector and said that the Collector Madam herself had given out this number at a joint gathering with the women of the literacy group. She had said that she would be on call to address any violation that happened on the ground – and that Sunki Ben intended to make good on this offer. The Patwari backtracked and did the needful immediately.
This story of reclamation of rights is not only of hers alone – many women in Jhabua have found the courage to reclaim their own spaces and voices in the troubled context. A common refrain has been that literacy, for them, becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which they deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
Written By : Mr.Prashant Thorat, Project Coordinator,Gender Programme, Jhabua and Ms.Tulika Jha, Execeutive Gender Mainstreaming, New Delhi.