Building a mass movement for women’s rights
Shanthi is 47 years old and lives at Perumuchi village ,Vellore district, Tamilnadu. She has studied up to 10th standard.
Shanthi who was keenly observing the caste atrocities and gender based violence around wanted to work against them. In 1985 she joined as a health worker in Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) and later started working with “Rural Women Liberation Movement”, started working on strengthening women socially, politically and economically.
She is determined to expand the working area of the movement to 350 villages. She has been organizing leadership programs for women. She facilitated processes to enable women for political participation by contesting in elections. As a result many women with leadership qualities contested in elections and got elected for local governance which led to women bringing in basic amenities and various welfare schemes to their villages.
She constantly involves herself in capacity building processes for women in the movement to demand land titles and actions against caste atrocities and violence against women. She also trains women to take up lead in the movement and address issues independently.
Shanthi was instrumental in initiating the women’s collective farm at Maharajapuram village where 30 women achieved land titles and started collective farming with Government support. She organized training on natural farming which resulted in this collective started practicing natural farming.
She along with the movement has identified a total of 1,322 acres of land that will benefit 939 women in the 19 villages. The movement is actively engaged in getting land titles for women and initiate more collective farms with natural farming practices.
Shanthi shares her engagement with other movements like State Alliance of People’s Movement (SAPM), in which they struggled against conversion of agricultural lands of 5300 acres for SIPCOT factories.
Shanthi’s journey for thirty years with the movement has brought her many victories to the people and risks for herself. She recalls a particular struggle of Rangapuram village in which Dalit people fought for access to the road that led to the Government school. The Dalit Children used to walk for 2 kilo meters to reach the school .At one point of time, the local Dalit youth had organized a meeting to address Dalit issues with the picture of Dr. Ambedkar. The other caste got threatened by this act, abused the Dalit community and physically assaulted them. This incident led to fencing the road which prevented children using the road to reach the school. Shanthi and the movement complained to the police but no action was taken. The movement decided to address the issue to the President of India. Mr.Abdul Kalam who was visiting the nearby area. Knowing this the police arrested Shanthi and other members of the movement. They faced a lot of physical and mental torture in the police lock up. With legal battle they got the bail and came out with the long lasting struggle the Government opened the access to school for Dalit children. Shanthi has many such experiences to share.
Shanthi also works with Mathamma women who are dedicated to the Goddess “Mathamma”. Young girls are dedicated to the Mathamma temple are helped to continue their education . Maathamma women are coming out of temple dancing and sexwork , have started pursuing other careers.One of them has become a village leader too.
Shanthi is happy to share that her family is supportive to her work with the movement. Shanthi travels to many other women’s / farmer’s conferences all over the world. She shares her experiences and brings the knowledge to her colleagues in the movement. Her story got published in Asian Women’s Travelling Journal “Our stories, our journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia”.
Shanthi has addressed many issues of violence against women and got justice for the victims.She was instrumental in getting land rights for landless women. She has promoted a women farmer s collective which is economically sustained itself and have started training many others in natural farming.Her efforts with Mathamma women have made them to give up temple dancing and sexwork and they have started pursuing other careers . One of the Maathamma woman has become a village leader too.She has built capacities of many Dalit women leaders and promoted for local governance structures.
She believes that building mass based movements definitely help for efficient advocacy of policy change.
She states that there has to be a transparent process of measuring lands and the assessment should be published and the Govt lands shold be distributed to landless Dalit women. The implementing mechanisms for legislation against violence on women should be sharpened. There has to be subsidies, loans and traning support to women farmers.