Initially, some upper-caste Hindu women refused to accept Chaggi’s leadership because she is a tribal woman. Her strength and ability soon made them come round.
Chaggi Bai Bhil (born 1958), a single woman and a tribal, left her husband because of his violence, and became part of the women’s movement. In 1999, when the Association of Strong Women Alone (Aswa) was formed, Chaggi was an integral part of the process. Today, she is one of the organization’s pillars, helping other single women gain access to their property, resist physical, sexual, and mental torture, lobbying the government for widows’ rights, and using the law to prevent social stigma and branding of single women.
Chaggi Bai Bhil comes from a small, marginal farming family belonging to the Bhil tribe. A determined woman, Chaggi left her husband when she realized that he was not going to stop beating her. She got a job with a church-affiliated organization, where she worked with women’s groups. With this began Chaggis association with womens groups and the larger women’s movement. In 1999, when Aswa was formed, Chaggi was an integral part of the process. Rajasthan has about two million widows and separated women-it is estimated that at least 1.2 million are impoverished. One of the major foci of Aswa is getting widows their legal right to property. Male relatives-often even unrelated men-believe that a woman alone cannot assert her rights and, therefore, seize her land with impunity. Beside being denied access to property, widows and separated women are also subject to social stigma. Through the use of law (the “defamation” section in the Indian penal code) and community meetings, Aswa, under Chaggi’s able guidance, has been able to curtail the practice of abusing single women as “witches”. Chaggi is also helping Aswa deal with cases of physical, sexual, and mental atrocities against single women. Furthermore, Aswa and Chaggi have been lobbying the government for increases in pension payments, and for changes in rules and regulations regarding widows’ pensions. In the past 20 years, Chaggi has mobilized and organized thousands of low-income women; she is currently an unusually strong force at the regional and state levels.
Association of Strong Women Alone (Aswa)
South Asia | India