Two reporters, one bike and a 500-km ride across Bundelkhand. For Gaon Connection reporters Jigyasa Mishra and Pragya Bharti, these seven days were a mix of fun, adventure, learning and some serious journalism. They visited many villages and tried to understand life from women's perspective. This journey was about understanding their lives, struggles, hopes and aspirations of women living in villages.
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
Their lives seldom take drastic turns, but that does not stop them from taking risks, making attempts or dreaming big. Their battles may not be life-altering ones, but they put up a brave fight, every single day.
During the course of our 500-km, seven-day long Bundelkhand trip on our bike, my colleague, Jigyasa, and I met many interesting women. What I loved about them was that they were full of optimism and positivity.
Our first stop was Kemasan village in Panna district, Madhya Pradesh. We visited a girl's school and met young Roshni there. She has studied till class 10th. She had to quit school after that because she fell sick. Her family married her off soon after. While we were leaving, her grandmother caught hold of us. She asked me if I was married. I denied. She was aghast and started questioning me. I told her very politely, "Marriage is not the soul purpose of my life."
And then I met so many women who advised me exactly the opposite. They told me to live my life to the fullest and not marry at all. These contradictions made this journey lot more exciting.
(1) Dipti Bai, Rajola village, Uttar Pradesh
On our way back, we crossed Rajola village in Uttar Pradesh, 7 kms from Chitrakoot. We met Dipti Bai, a shy and reticent girl, who was hesitant to even talk to us at first. But when she opened up, her confidence and determination took us by surprise. "I want to be a bank manager," she told me while adjusting her bright red shawl. Her parents married her off after she completed her 12th. But she continued her studies. Currently, she is pursuing her bachelors in commerce. "It's not easy to manage both home and studies, but my husband and in-laws have been more than supportive," she said.
(2) Vandana Dwivedi, Barua village, Madhya Pradesh
We next reached Barua, a small village en route Satna. We met Vandana Dwivedi – a 12th standard student at government high school, Pindra, she has to walk for 3 kms every day to reach her school. The only school in her village has classes only until 8th. Hence, she has to walk 6 kms every day. She would have to move out of her house to Majhgawan, Satna or Chitrakoot after she completes her 12th as there are no good colleges. "I want to be a police officer," she said. "Majhgawan is 8 kms from my place, Satna is 60 and Chitrakoot around 25. I will have to take a bus. But, it's not safe. Besides, the drivers don't stop for students because they feel we don't buy tickets. We usually have to hire a private car if we have to go and write our 12th exams. Those parents who can't afford to pay for one, they discourage their kids to study further."
He elder sister is married. She has three younger siblings – two sisters and one brother. Every day she wakes up early in the morning, cooks and then goes to her school. She has to prepare dinner for her entire family after coming back. She offered us some. I had never had such sumptuous meal in my life. "Villagers are after my parent's life to get me married as I have two younger sisters. But I will make sure to complete my education," she said.
(3) Chunnu Vaadi Bagri, Mahkona village, Satna, Madhya Pradesh
We met Chunnu Vaadi Bagri in Mahkona village. She is a widow; her husband passed away many years back. She has two sons; one is differently abled. She lives with her relatives in a 10 X 10 feet room. There was a cot lying in one corner and there were two plastic chairs. That was all the furniture that they had. I was feeling too scared to sit on the rickety cot, but she said, "Don't worry, you won't fall. I didn't get time to fix it."
Her son is paralysed waist-down. He is completely dependent on her and someone has to be around all the time to look after him. She is illiterate and has no job. Her life is full of struggle, but she wakes up every day in a hope that things would fall in place.
When we left from Satna to go to Panna, we were told the roads were not safe. They asked us not to ride post sunset. So, we drove really fast and reached Panna by 8 pm.
When we left the next day early in the morning, we were surprised to find so want women walking down the same road that was not considered to be safe. It was still dark, but scores of women, including young girls, were out for work. Few were holding babies in their arms.
These women live in villages in and around Panna. Every morning they wake up at 5 and leave their homes to collect wood. They sell it and return by noon. Then after finishing their household chores, they go out in the jungle, collect wood and sell it the next day.
(4) Keshlaki Yadav, Manjha village, Satna, Madhya Pradesh
Meeting her was a pleasant surprise. She was running a shop in the middle of nowhere on our way to Panna. We met her on the outskirts of her village Manjha. She was selling biscuits, savoury, water bottles, paan and gutkha. "My son helps me out sometimes. Though my shop is close to the national highway, I have never felt scared."
(5) Maya Yadav, Tamsangarmohalla, Manjha village, Madhya Pradesh
Maya Yadav runs a tea stall outside her village. "Outsiders are not a threat, but sometimes villagers pass comments when my daughters come to the shop to help me out. But I don't bother. I want them to study," she said. Talking to her made us realise the any kind of fear in within us, and it's something that could be dealt with, if we want to.
For instance, we were travelling in a region that's not considered to be safe. But we never faced any kind of problem.
(6) Ramkali, Bidi colony, Panna, Madhya Pradesh
She was clearly the most free-spirited lady I met in my entire trip. She never married and has lived alone all her life. The society was not too kind, but she never regretted her decision. She lives in Bidi colony, Panna, close to where the diamond mines. She has bought a strip of land from the government. Since past four years, she comes here every single day, in a hope that she would find a diamond, which would solve all her problems. Her efforts have gone in vain, but this hasn't stopped her from looking. I loved her optimism and determination.
Her parents passed away when she was quite young. She has been living alone since then. When I asked her if she wanted to get married, she blushed and said, "No, it's fine. Now I don't want to. I keep meeting interesting people like you all and that keeps me going. I don't bother about what people have to say. I am on my own and I am happy."
It was enriching to meet these women who are true fighters. They wake up every morning with dreams in their eyes. And they hope, every single day, that their dreams come true.