Band of Earth Warriors
Inspiring Saga: Band of Earth Warriors, 50-Year-Old Meera Chaudhury, Movement Against Alcoholism. From being a loving mother-of-six and a hardworking farmer, 50-year-old Meera Chaudhury of Janakpur village has transformed into a seasoned union leader.
Today, when the whole world looks at India as a country that is unsafe for women, it is women like 50-year-old Meera Chaudhury who represent the feisty women of India, who know to stand up for their rights.
From being a loving mother-of-six and a hardworking farmer, 50-year-old Meera Chaudhury of Janakpur village has transformed into a seasoned union leader. The first time that Janakpur took notice of this feisty woman was around five years ago when she led a movement against alcoholism ensuring that the age-old tradition of fermenting mahua fruit to make country liquor was eliminated.
This drive earned her the title of ‘commander-in-chief’ of Meera's Sena, a group of rural women and men that raises its voice against all cultural, social and government policies that do more harm than good. Farmers’ rights, livelihood issues, especially rural women’s access to work and land, and gender equality, are priorities for Meera Chaudhury and her group.
Livelihood concerns have been dogging the local farming community for a few years now. Climate related risks in the form of floods and droughts that hit this region with frightening regularity have been responsible for this, as crop failures and loss of livestock become a part of life.
Understanding the need of the hour, Meera’s Sena has taken it upon itself to ensure the implementation of livelihood schemes in their area and has, on occasion, even confronted officials who create unnecessary hurdles. Recalls Satyendra Kumar Tripathi, a farmers’ rights activist and project officer with the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a non government organisation that works with the local community and provides support to the farmers’ union, “On one occasion, Meera took the local bureaucracy head-on when she boldly asked an official, who was demanding a bribe, whether he hadn’t received his salary from the government that month.”
Of course, Meera’s brand of activism is centred on women. That’s because she knows that not only are they central to the home economy, they are the ones who are critical to the success of climate change adaption strategies, which can ensure a more stable future for the next generation. Gender inequality is what drives her to work tirelessly. “Both women and men are part of the same society but they do not enjoy the same rights,” feels the union leader, who has been a keen observer of women’s rights for over a decade.
Why is Meera seeking to change women’s fate? She is driven by the belief that while the problems faced by Indian women in general are multiple, those emanating out of acute poverty and anonymity have made life for rural women even worse. Till date there are no official records of women owning productive assets, especially agricultural land.
Despite the fact that nearly 70 per cent of the female work force in the country is engaged in agriculture, only 10 per cent of women farmers actually own land. In Uttar Pradesh, the situation is even more alarming – just 6 per cent women farmers hold land in their name, less than 1 per cent have participated in government training programmes, a meagre 4 per cent have access to institutional credit and only 8 per cent have control over agricultural income.
Supporting her in her crusade is GEAG. “Awareness is the key to any social change,” believes Tripathi. Meera herself has been a beneficiary of this approach, having been associated with GEAG for many years. She says, “There was a time when I was afraid to even look at the men in my family. Today, I am ready to take on any man, including government officials.”
Women like Meera and her friend Putla Devi are the pillars of the SHG movement in Janakpur. Taking time off from tilling, sowing and harvesting -- common activities that local women are engaged in – they get down to other business like improving access to credit for poor women who are now perceived even by the mainstream financial sector as credit worthy.
Meera’s determined army is well on its way to building a more environment-friendly and gender just life for themselves, but much still needs to be done.