The girl on the swing
Jhoola is the story of a young woman who turned the tide of alcoholism away from her village and brought the smiles back. Neelesh Misra uses the powerful medium of storytelling to spread awareness about how giving up alcohol can have miraculous consequences.
गाँव कनेक्शन 27 Feb 2022 6:02 AM GMT
It was as if Radhika had lived in this village all her life. The young woman had come here newly married to her husband just a few months ago, but she had immediately felt at home. She would sit on the swing someone had strung from the branches of a tree, humming songs, soaring to the skies and back. Children on their way back from school would run to push her swing higher and faster.
Radhika gathered around the children of the village. She helped them with their homework, and also taught them new things. She loved this new home of hers with its fertile land, bright skies and warm and friendly neighbours who were like family.
Radhika's days passed in a pleasant blur, but she was disturbed the change that came over this seemingly idyllic village as the sun set. The raucous chirping of birds would die down, and the fragrance of the flowers would be smothered by a foul smell. It was the stench of alcohol.
Most of the men in the village drank as the evening shadows deepened. Suddenly loud voices would erupt as someone lost their temper or argued hotly. There would be quickly suppressed cries. The following morning at the water pump Radhika would meet the other women of the village. Some would avoid meeting her eyes, others would try and cover bruises on their arms.
In the beginning Radhika would ask what had happened, but slowly she began to realise it was not something the women wanted to discuss openly. It dawned on her that alcohol was corroding the lives of these women and their families. In some families the girls were not sent to school. In others, children dropped out. Meanwhile, the women carried on tight-lipped. After all, they were wired to 'keep quiet', 'have patience', 'be tolerant' and 'know their place'.
As it grew dark, the men under the influence of liquor emerged outdoors, staggering around, drunk, loud, abrasive and offensive, while women stayed indoors, with their children cowering against the walls of their home. Sometimes there would be physical abuse, the marks of which were often observed by Radhika.
Meri Pyaari Zindagi campaign
Jhoola, written by Anulata Raj Nair, tells the story of how a young woman decides to do something about alcoholism that is destroying lives in her village.
This audio story is a part of collaboration between Gaon Connection, India's biggest rural media platform, and the World Health Organization South-East Asia (WHO SEARO) for a social campaign against alcohol abuse. The campaign takes the form of a series called Meri Pyaari Zindagi, made up of audio and video stories. The stories are narrated by Neelesh Misra, the founder of Gaon Connection.
So, Radhika decided she could not stay quiet anymore. She invited the women of the village to meet her at her favourite spot near the swing.
Will the women turn up? Radhika wondered. After all it meant taking permission from the elders in the house, putting aside some household chores… where was there any time to call their own. But, soon Radhika could see in the distance a flutter of green, blue, yellow and pink approaching. Like a rainbow of hope, she thought to herself with a smile. The women agreed to do something about stopping their menfolk from drinking.
In the coming days, it became obvious that it was not an easy task they had in front of them. Sujata's husband threatened to send her back to her parents' home; elsewhere a daughter was forced to drop out of school…('we don't want her becoming literate and disruptive like Radhika,' was the excuse).
But, Radhika was not about to give up. Along with some of the women and her husband Radheyshyam, she visited each house, conducting a survey on whether the village inhabitants wanted drinking to stop in the village. They discussed the ills of alcohol, counselled the families and persuaded the men to give up drinking…
Funnily enough, even many of the men who drank were willing to listen to them. They understood the advantages of getting off the bottle. Some of the younger villagers joined hands with the brigade as did the sarpanch (village head) and the gram sabha.
A change sets in
After a few months, the gram sabha declared that buying and selling of liquor in the village would invite a hefty fine. For those who were addicted, counselling was made available. Gradually, selling and buying alcohol in the village stopped completely. Groups of people would go around the village at different times of the day to ensure no one was drinking.
Drinking had led to loss of money, then health and finally all dignity. But now, thanks to Radhika's mission, the complexion of the village changed.
In the evenings instead of the sound of angry arguments and sobs, there was the sound of laughter and the tinkle of bells as the cows came home. In the mornings, instead of avoiding eye contact and covering up bruises, the women laughed and sang out loud. There was enough money now to even send the girls to school.
Families ate their meals together.
As the years went by, children studied better and as a result found good jobs. There was more economic stability…
Radhika on her part remained her old self. Swinging on the jhoola, singing to herself, playing with the children…