The book I just finished reading is “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. It is a memoir by a young woman, who, losing her mother, goes on a destructive spree and regains control of her fast unraveling life, by undertaking an excruciating one thousand one hundred miles trek across the Pacific Crest Trail. As she crosses the mountains and deserts with her “Monster” backpack, losing toenails and skin and handling the most challenging of routes, one step at a time, she masters the inner demons. She becomes the woman that her mother had always wanted her to be.
A lot of women walk through life, with symbolic “Monster” backpacks of burden. For some it could be psychological baggage, for others perhaps emotional issues, financial deprivations, lack of support from near and dear ones at critical points of life. You can extend that metaphor quite widely. But a lot of us are blessed that we have strong women and men to inspire us, guide us, love and nourish us at the time of our need. Certain institutions do that too- they nurture us by supporting us publicly.
Appreciations came to team Barabanky on several occasions- when we received the national level award for implementing Rashtriya Swasthya Bhima Yojana (RSBY) in 2013. It was followed by Late Rajeev Narayan Foundation award for public service in 2013. When Hindustan Times chose me for HT Woman 2014, it was a moment of sheer bliss for the whole team. It was our team effort which was being felicitated. It was a moment of pride to be in the Public Service.
The initiatives my team tried at Barabanky in the period of 2012-2014, were primarily focusing on women empowerment. It was a woman prisoner, who when I did my routine Jail inspection with my colleagues, asked for “some occupation.” She was a qualified MBA, and wanted “books” to teach other inmates. Perhaps I am too much of a movie aficionado, but ‘Shawshank Redemption’ has always been my favorite. The young woman was booked for murder, by the way.
That request led us like a Kindly Light. We ended up with Project Sahas– with prisoners both male and female, stitching high quality uniforms for girl students studying in Government residential schools. We extended it to the women undertaking “knotting” of scarves and stoles for the thriving local industry in Barabanky; with the help of local entrepreneurs. Soon tasty’ buns’ were being fired in the British era ovens that went to feed the poor patients who were admitted at the Government Hospitals , sponsored under available hospital funds. A library with more than 1000 books was set up, with the kind contributions by good Samaritans and literacy classes began in full swing. An eye camp ended up with effective cataract operations and hundreds of spectacles being distributed. I was blessed with highly efficient , enthusiastic team members of the district administration in this joyful endeavor. I should mention the warm support of the Judiciary and Corporates, who pitched in, in a most heartening manner.
That made us courageous to replicate the “Mahoba ” model by setting up a sanitary napkin production and distribution unit, staffed by poor women in the locality. Project Subah was sponsored under the funds available with the Panchayati Raj department and the consumers were the young girls and women in Government schools and hospitals. We simply copied a best practice that DM of Mahoba had started, and we had our successful unit up and running in six months time.
Another very satisfying pat on the back came from the Honourable Election Commission , when we received on the Voters Day, 2014 January 25th, an appreciation for the work the district did for increasing the gender ratio among the voters. When a woman goes out to vote, she has her Voter Id, an identity, a voice, a say in the future of her country. I remember my team, brain storming on ways and means to tackle the low gender ratio- often sitting late with sheets of data , working out the finest details to encourage more women voters. For two consecutive years 2014 and 2015, team Barabanky won the Election Commission award, for work done to empower voters, especially women.
HT Woman 2014 was a turning point for me as a woman and also as a professional. Like all women, I had carried my share of the ‘Monster baggage ‘ – the burden only strengthening me in the journey. The HT Award was a ‘Touch of Grace’. It has made me a better person, determined to be authentic and be unapologetically, her own true self. My determination to work for women and the oppressed has been reinforced by the award.
I am looking forward to publishing my first two books in Malayalam this year. One is a spiritual poetry translation from English. The second is a translation of Sri RamKrishna Upanishad from Hindi. The first is dedicated to a father figure and the second to my late teacher. Without the blessing of loving souls, no woman is complete.
I wish HT all the very best in their constant endeavor to nurture talent and service. May your tribe increase!
* (This article was published by Hindustan Times, Lucknow a week before their HT Woman 2015 awards.)