Saturday, December 19, 2009

[ZESTCaste] Woman of substance

Woman of substance
18 Dec 2009 10:45:58 GMT
Source: DanChurchAid - Denmark
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this
article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are
the author's alone.

Soneydee in front of her house in Ballabhgarh village. Photo: Priyanka Mukherjee
Sonedeyee is a 55-year-old Dalit woman. Her gait reflects her
boldness and her razor sharp eyes take an appraisal of everything
around. Sonedeyee is not literate, but her mannerism and speech
command respect. She is the elected Sarpanch (leader) of the
Ballabhgarh village council, and one would think that the
constitutional position would help her wield authority. Not quite,
because Sonedeyee is not only a woman, but also a Dalit women. In
India’s patriarchal hinterlands, the double burden faced by lower
caste women is evident in the large numbers of cases of atrocities
faced by them. Ballabhgarh village with 4.000 members on the voter’s
list is a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes, and Sonedeyee
was elected as the leader about one-and-a-half years ago after the
previous occupant of the office, Hardeo Koli, had been intimidated,
thrashed and blinded by upper caste Jat ruffians. Attacked in broad

Sitting tall amidst her fellow villagers, Sonedeyee narrates the
brutality of the abuse she and her son faced a morning in January
2009. “I was returning back from the village primary school after
making payment for a kitchen set. I had close to Rs.20,000 with me. It
is then that I and my son were attacked with rods and sharp edged
weapons. We suffered wounds and fractures to our head, arms and
legs.� She went ahead and pressed charges against the upper caste
perpetrators under the SC/ST Act, but they bribed their way out. Later
on, one person was arrested and three more fined. In a twist of
events, the upper caste Jats injured one of their own children but
accused the Dalits for being responsible. So now it was a cross case
and the police took side for the upper castes.

“I refuse to be a puppet�But not being the one to break down under
pressure, Sonedeyee went all the way to Jaipur. She sought help from
CDR and also met the highest ranked police officer.

Ballabhgarh village, Rajahstan. Photo: Priyanka Mukherjee.
“The real problem is that I refuse to be a puppet. There are many
people in this village who support me, but there are a few upper caste
families, who cannot tolerate a Dalit woman taking the lead role.
These goons want to dictate their terms to the village Panchayat and I
won’t have it. They want access to the muster role under the
government approved NREGA scheme and I was beaten up because I
didn’t give in to their cohorts. In fact it has made me even
stronger. But I have learned my lesson, so now I never go anywhere
alone. I always have 8-10 people around me, because I know I may be
attacked,� says Sonedeyee.

Opposition from within
Violence against women

A study entitled ‘The State of Panchayats: 2007-2008’ by Institute
for Rural Management (IRMA) highlights that sexual harassment and
physical violence against women Panchayat leaders belonging to
Scheduled Castes is widespread
Sonedevee has achieved a lot for Ballabhgarh village: five community
kitchens to cook mid-day meals, ensuring everyone gets job cards under
NREGA, and ensuring no lower caste gets beaten up in the village. The
village is segregated on caste lines and she now wants to put a hand
pump near the Mehter (lower caste community doing menial work)
dwellings. She even crossed the bureaucratic hurdles to get it
sanctioned. But she faces opposition from within. “The upper caste
wants the hand pumps placed near their dwellings. I can’t allow
that, but neither can I stop it either, so I told the Mehters to
approach the court and get a stay order.� She used to get beaten up
by her husband for being outspoken when he was alive, but that
hasn’t dented her spirit. “My blood boils when I see injustice.
You can say I have very high blood pressure. I fear no one. I guess I
was always like this! There are many women who spend their lives
contemplating the future; I am not one of them. I just do what I think
is right and what my heart tells me,� says Sonedeyee. By Priyanka
Mukherjee, Documentation Officer, DanChurchAid, New Delhi India

[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not
of Reuters. ]


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