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WOMAN OF WISDOM

When we went in the predominantly tribal pockets of Birbhum, in Bengal, we noticed that it was the women who were the backbone of the community. The hard labour involved in feeding families was in evidence everywhere. It was the women who were harvesting the rice, threshing it, parboiling, drying it - often by spreading it out on the roads - and it was women who were hauling home heavy loads of precious food grain from ration shops. They were the ones who were refurbishing the walls of their homes with fresh clay and performing the numerous back-breaking chores like ferrying water or washing clothes by the pond side. But here was the paradox: while women were central to general well-being, their status was abysmal. For instance, female literacy in Birbhum, when compared to levels in Bengal's other districts, was among the worst.

It is in such an unlikely scenario that Kanak Murmuru, a Santhal tribal women from Kamarpara Village, Aamkhoi has emerged as a community leader. Not many Santhal women, living in the remote village of Kamarpara, in Birbhum, have been able to perceive the hypocrisies of their society with the clarity that this mother of two teenagers has. Kanaklata instinctively understands the feminist principle of the right to Education and points out that keeping a woman tied to her home is like cutting off the wings of a bird.

What helped Kanak understand the world beyond her village was the Swabhimaan Center(adult literacy center) which was started by the Rotary India Literacy Mission in collaboration with Nayantara Memorial Charitable Trust with 30 adult students.

'Khub shahajjo pelam ekhan theke, saradin bashae thakle onek kichu jantei partam na' (I am really grateful that this center has been opened, just by staying at home I would not have come to know that so much is happening beyond my village) said Kanak with a never dying enthusiasm which sparkled in her eyes.

Her day started with collecting cow dung for making dung cakes which would be used for making fire in her 'unoon' (oven), rearing cattles, nurturing her children, making food for the family, cleaning her house, making hariya for her man and later in the evening she along with her neighbour comes to the center.

In the 21st century when we are talking about industrialization and development, we should also keep in mind the ground reality that 25% of the country doesn't have access to electricity. Kanak lives in one such village, however this has not deterred her indomitable spirit. Kanak along with other women from her neighborhood goes to the Swabhimaan center where they use solar lamps for studies and they are also incurring various skills which they are being taught from the center and these skills are helping them in their daily lives.

Since the classes started there was no stopping for Kanak. She led protests and even confronted the president of the block directly on various issue. She even opened her own bank account and after learning how to sign from the Swabhimaan center she never did her bank work using her thumb impression. 'Ami jokhon taka tulte jai, babu ra amae murukhu bhabe kintu ami oder dekhie diechi murukhhu ami noi' (Whenever I go to the bank, the people over there think that I am illiterate but I showed them that I am not by signing papers).

Interestingly, when we asked the residents of Kamarpara why they considered Kanak someone worthy enough to lead them in every problems they face, they replied that it is her own confidence that gave them the confidence.

On asking Kanak from where did she gain so much of confidence in her, she said 'education should never be ignored whatever the situation demands, it will always help you to keep your head, it puts you on the similar platform as that of the privileged class of the society and it also makes me aware of my own right.'

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