After completing my masters in Mass Communication I joined as an Intern with Pro Sport Development (PSD), an organization working towards holistic development of youth through sports. I was assigned to Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC), which is being jointly implemented by Martha Farrell Foundation and PSD. The programme gave me an opportunity to meet hundreds of youth across India through our sports camps.
While travelling through the pristine parts of the country and educating youth on gender and building leaders out of them through our programme, I witnessed the horrors of India, from caste based discrimination to the gender based discrimination in these 3 months of my internship.
I still remember my first camp in a village called Tikarpar near Japla (Hussainabad) in Jharkhand. Tikerpar is a remote village in Palamu, one of the most backward districts in Jharkahand. While our Gender through Sports workshop was in progress the dominant issue girls wanted to discuss in every game was sanitation. While I wondered why, in a discussion with the youth we have learnt the pathetic situation of the women of Tikerpar.
I learned that Tikerpar is completely drowned in poverty and infested by the caste system, where the lower castes have no dignity of life and labor. Thakurs, the upper caste, have framed rules and regulations which often deprive lower castes of their rights. Through conversations with the youth I learned that lower castes are not allowed to construct toilets as the Thakurs, the upper caste, consider it a bad practice for the lower castes to have the same lifestyle as them. Both men and woman practice open defecation.
A 17-year-old female Indu Kumari said “It is an everyday thing for us; we openly defecate due to lack of toilets and most of the boys in the villages tease, peep and engage in such other voyeuristic acts. It’s time we need to construct toilets and use them.”
Not just because they cannot afford a toilet, but afraid of the Thakurs, women of Tikerpar still search for a bush to protect their modesty, or rise from their beds even before the sun to attend a natures call.
While this is the situation in Jharkhand, a recently held Gender through Sports workshop in Sehore a town hardly 45 kilometers away from Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh has shaken our hearts.
While the whole country is trying to accept menstruation and removing the taboo attached to it, women in Madhya Pradesh dub it as ‘Mahawari’ which literally translates into ‘Epidemic’. Menstruating woman are seen as sinners who cannot touch anything, or enter or exit the house and barred from religious rituals. During a session 17-year-old female participant Payal Vishwakara stood up and said “While we menstruate we are not allowed to touch things, go out, we cannot attend religious rituals, and we are treated more or less as untouchables. Everyone needs to understand that it’s a natural process.” These lines of her indeed left the whole group scandalized
Sehore district has a high child marriage rate, cases which often go unreported. We hosted a victim who fought for her rights in our 3 day Gender Through Sports workshop. 18-year-old Pooja Parmar was engaged to a man when she was 12 years old; when she voiced her opinion and rejected the marriage she was subjected to violence; when she wanted to go to school she was grounded; she had to fight for years with her parents to get back to school. There are many more Poojas’ in India today.
Writing about how their lives, Madhu Maheshwari, an 8th standard student wrote, “I’m being forced to get married. This might be the last year of my studies, but I want to study, get a job. May be this dream of mine will ever remain unfulfilled.”
By the end of this KBC 2017-18 I hope to see the women of Tikerpar fight for their rights to build toilets. And witness Payal educating everyone in her village about menstruation, and to look at Pooja fight for other child brides.
This journey is perhaps the most beautiful one, looking at lives changing and witnessing leaders being made. I wish to document more of these stories in the coming 3 months and I hope that soon these stories become a thing of yesterday.