Married at 8 and unlettered herself, 49-year-old Saguni Devi from Ajmer champions girls' education

Saguni Devi Bairva is an adivasi farmer from Ajmer, Rajasthan, and she so inspired another young adivasi, Arti Singh from Chhattisgarh, that latter made a documentary on her called ‘Kisan Hoon, Nidar Hoon’, which was recently screened at the Green Hub Central India (GHCI) festival in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Satish MalviyaSatish Malviya   9 Aug 2022 8:04 AM GMT

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Married at 8 and unlettered herself, 49-year-old Saguni Devi from Ajmer champions girls education

Saguni Devi, the tribal farmer is the protagonist of a film titled Kisan hoon, Nidar hoon. Photo: Satish Malviya

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Saguni Devi, a mother of four, is a farmer. But the 49-year-old unlettered resident of Sangaria village in Rajasthan is nothing less than a revolutionary.

"A tribal farmer, Saguni stands up to regressive beliefs in her village in Ajmer district and in the villages nearby and fearlessly speaks up against women harassment and gender discrimination," said Indira Pancholi, founder member and secretary of Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti, an NGO that works on women's rights.

Married off at an age of eight, Saguni Devi told Gaon Connection that she had no memory of her marriage. Both her husband and her in-laws were unlettered like her. But, despite resistance from the village and the rural society, Saguni went on to educate her three daughters.

"No one is educated in my family. Not me, nor my husband, nor his parents. Usually, people in villages do not send their daughters out to study. But I was determined to get them an education," she told Gaon Connection. Saguni has sent her daughters to the Malpura Kasturba Gandhi Awasiya Balika Vidyalaya, Malpura, 65 kilometres away, in Tonk district where they live in a hostel.

The 49-year-old unlettered resident of Sangaria village in Rajasthan is nothing less than a revolutionary. Photo: Satish Malviya

Also Read: The camera becomes an agent of change in adivasi communities of central India

Saguni Devi has three daughters. The eldest is Durga, a 22-year-old who was married off after she completed her 12th standard. Her other two daughters, Mona who is in the 11th standard and Sona who is in the 9th in Malpura.

Not only is Saguni educating her daughters, she also persuaded other villagers to meet the teachers at the Malpura Kasturba Gandhi Awasiya Balika Vidyalaya to learn for themselves how inexpensive and safe it was to send the girls there. "There were 15 girls from my village who had dropped out of school half way, and I convinced their parents to start their education again. These girls now study there," said Saguni. She has encouraged two other girls from her village to take up nursing and they are doing that.

A film on Saguni Devi

Saguni had never in her wildest dreams imagined that she would be the subject of a documentary. The tribal farmer is the protagonist of a film titled Kisan hoon, nidar hoon (I am a farmer and I am fearless), which was screened last month on July 16, in Bhopal at the Green Hub Central India (GHCI) festival.

The Green Hub Fellowship in association with Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF), through a 10-month residential programme, trained 17 young adivasi people in film making. The Fellows belonged to the Gond, Baiga, Bhil, Bediya Pardhi and other adivasi tribes in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. They were encouraged to make documentaries and tell stories about adivasi lives through their documentaries.

Twenty-one-year Arti Singh from Chhattisgarh was one of the fellows of this programme. She travelled to Ajmer in Rajasthan and made the film, Kisan hoon, nidar hoon, inspired by the life of Saguni Devi.

"I never thought anyone would make a film about me," 49-year-old Saguni Devi told Gaon Connection.

Talking about her experience of working with Saguni while she made her Kisan hoon nidar hoon, Arti Singh said she had never seen anyone work as hard as the woman farmer.

Arti's first film titled Kisan Hoon Nidar Hoon is on Saguni Devi (left), a woman farmer living in Ajmer district of Rajasthan. Photo: Nidhi Jamwal

Also Read: Madhya Pradesh: For the first time, a gram panchayat in Panna district elects an all-women panchayat

"She is out in her fields from morning to evening, makes sure her home is running smoothly and takes active part in the gram panchayat proceedings," Arti said. "For me, she became the face of courage and her life story is one that urges women never to give up hope and to stand tall and deal with adversities," said Arti.

While Saguni Devi is a farmer, she is also a member of the panchayat samiti in her village and participates actively in activities related to the village anganwadi and health works. She recently travelled to Bhopal to attend the GHCI festival, and also sang Rajasthani songs at the event.

Transforming the lives of women

The awareness about being a woman runs deep in Saguni Devi. "The documentary shows the lives of women who participate in every sphere of life. As farmers, we work as hard as the men folk, if not more. We are involved in every single aspect of farming from the sowing to the harvesting," she pointed out. "Besides this, we look after our household, bring up our children and tend to our cattle," she added.

When Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti, an organisation that works towards uniting and empowering women in Ajmer through collective action for social transformation held a meeting in Sangaria, Saguni Devi became a member. She learnt about organic farming, new progressive techniques of agriculture and began to train other women farmers in her village.

"Women should make their presence felt in agriculture and should adopt organic farming methods, grow more vegetables and also increase their income," Saguni Devi said. The woman farmer herself owns 10 bighas of land.

Also Read: Rich lands and poor Adivasis – how to address this inherent contradiction in tribal areas

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