CAMPAIGN IN MAHARASHTRA

The campaign in Maharashtra was focused in 20 gram panchayats of Satara district. The issues taken up during the six months included women’s access to political spaces, joint ownership of property and promoting gender equality.

The campaign involved activities and engagement with college students, men and women from villages, panchayat representatives and government officials.

With the support from 25 women change agents from these villages and from an equal number of young girls, the campaign was taken to the masses.

Among the village women, awareness regarding joint ownership of property was spread through community meetings. They were explained about their rights. The campaign for `Ghar Doghaanche’ (house is for both) or 8A, as it is known, was taken up in selected villages of Satara district in the previous year. When the campaign was launched, hardly anyone in the villages – including the gram panchayats - were aware what the resolution was and what it meant for women. In the same year, a special Gram Sabha was convened to inform the people about the resolution and its implication for the women. As expected, there was resistance from some men, others took some time to understand, while there were some others who welcomed the move. The draft of the application, to be filed before the tehsildar (local revenue officer) was distributed, and the Gram Sabha passed a resolution to implement in letter and spirit the `Ghar Doghaanche’ which would make the lady of the house a joint owner.

In 2016, door-to-door campaign was carried out to create awareness about the ‘Ghar Doghaanche’ scheme and subsequently families were assisted in filing applications for giving women an equal share in landholdings.

During this campaign, it was also spotted that many houses had started writing the names of both the husband and the wife on their main doors to promote gender equality. These names on the doors send across a strong message of co-ownership of the property. Women of these villages have started feeling empowered and benefitted from the campaign. They also pointed out that husbands have become supportive and even insist on joint ownership now.

`Ghar Doghaanche’ is a reality in most of these 20 villages in Satara and any new house built, mandatorily, is in the name of the couple. Even banks in the district now insist on co-ownership before sanctioning loans.

Through the Samata Yuva Jagar, students from different colleges were engaged in discussions around gender equality. Students realized how grave a problem child marriage is and also raised questions about the same in their families. The exposure to issue based films and discussions was also an enriching experience for the students.

To view photographs from the campaign, click here.

The following case studies were documented during the campaign. They highlight the concerns of the general masses who were a part of the campaign and their take aways. Some of these also reflect attitudinal change that has taken place during the campaign.

Breaking the social belief around property ownership by women, a simple villager Naneshwar Mhardekar of Ozare village was the first man to come forward to grant equal share in whatever little property he had. In fact, he had to convince his wife Kamal Mhardekar that whatever he was doing was important and for her good.

Ozare, in Jawali block, is a predominantly Maratha dominated village where women have little or no voice at all.

The sarpanch, though a woman, too, does not speak against the male domination. Surekha Chauhan does not speak against her husband who opposes the land reforms and does not believe that women need rights. There is so much pressure on women that no woman turns up for meetings where information about women’s rights is likely to be discussed. Women’s rights are not even spoken in whispers in the absence of the men folk. Such is the extent of resistance.

Six men had filed the application for granting equal rights to women in property but withdrew the applications under pressure.

The DMVM will take a legal recourse wherever necessary to ensure that women get an equal share in the property.

Sapan, a college student, is the first generation literate in the family. When he tried to tell his family to send his three sisters to school, they dismissed it. But he was adamant and made it clear that even he would not study if his sisters were not allowed. This strategy worked and the girls were allowed to go to school and along with them 8 other girls in the neighbourhood also got permission to study.

Students admit exposure to films, and other similar exposures help them deal with their lives better.

The Yashwant Rao Chavan School of Social Work in Satara had been witnessing some anxious moments when Sanjana, a student of class XI announced that she would be leaving school to get married. A bright student, Sanjana had been enrolled in the boarding school meant for tribal students since class 1 but she did not want to leave the school – certainly not to get married.

When the school authorities got to know about it, they tried to reason out with her mother but she was adamant saying that the alliance had been fixed and the wedding date finalized.

Finally, the Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal was informed about the marriage which was illegal since Sanjana was only 17-years-old. When the girl’s mother and two elder sisters came to take her back, advocate Varsha Deshpande reached the school and tried to convince the family not to go ahead with the marriage.

However, the mother said she had taken a loan of Rs. 50,000 for the wedding and all preparations had been done, and that there was no way the marriage could be stopped. The would-be groom was a 23-year-old boy employed in a private college.

Even as the mother claimed she was taken ill after all the ``stress’’ she had been put through, advocate Deshpande spoke to the would-be groom and informed him that the girl was under-age and the marriage could not happen. The would-be groom claimed he was unaware of the girl’s age.

Some policemen in plain clothes also intervened in the matter but despite all the counseling when Sanjana’s mother refused to call off the wedding, advocate Deshpande warned the mother that she would come to the wedding venue with police and legal action would be taken against the two families.

This warning worked and the wedding was called off. The school authorities have been given clear instructions not to let Sanjana leave the hostel.

Sunita’s husband had a drinking problem which often resulted in domestic violence. She realized she would have to think of a better way of dealing with the issue than just arguing with the husband. So, one day Sunita along with her two children told the husband that he would have to choose between liquor and the family. This was the turning point. He chose his family. Sunita’s family life is very peaceful now and she attends college regularly.

The 97-year-old prestigious Rayat Shikshan Sanstha, the first educational institution in rural India which was founded by reformist Bhaurao Patil, have also taken help from Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal for running a basic course on gender equality. The Samata Project was launched on October 2, last year which is basically about non-violence, equality and empowerment of girls with the involvement of men.

This has helped change the mindset. When the girls go back to their homes in villages, they carry the message of equality. They make the youth aware and even take up gender issues of gender bias, and eve-teasing with the sarpanch.

Professor Suvarna Kamle of Arts and Commerce College says she was so impressed with the gender equality project that she spoke with her Principal and the college got associated with the movement. ``It is important to understand gender equality, gender sensitivity, female foeticide, honour killings and khap panchayats,’’ she says.

The students are also made to understand the difference between love, friendship and togetherness to pull down the walls and misconceptions about relationships between men and women. They are told about caste-based discrimination and even provided any legal and social `Sairat’ – meaning caste—is a film which was shown to students to bring them out of the caste system that they’ve grown up in.

Smita Ranadive of the Arts and Commerce College says sex education is needed to bring about equality and openness. The Samata Project is a platform for expression. Age is no bar for enrollment in the project and teachers and students are encouraged to participate because ultimately it is these young people who will change the society.

Sonabai Laxaman Shelar, Sarpanch of Okhavadi village in Jawali block is a change agent who has transformed her village.

From the time when the village had no drains and no toilets, to now when it is the winner of several awards, Sonabai has had a pivotal role to play.

It was years ago when the women in the village got together and demanded toilets. Some men contributed from their savings, others took loans and got toilets made. This was followed by kitchen gardens where the waste water was drained out. The village is zero-open defecation and has received the Nirmal Gram Puraskar for 2007-2011 and has been awarded by the state government as well.

Even now the practice of community participating in keeping the village clean continues. Every Sunday, one member from each family contributes in cleaning the village – drains, roads, gardens, public space, and use of organic matter instead of chemical fertilisers among others – and, if for some reason, a family cannot participate, then two members of the family have to work to compensate for the absence or pay a monetary fine. This rule is adhered to strictly by the villagers who brook no violation.

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