Lucknow, March 12, 2008: Thirty three years old Manjuma Iqbal and 65 year old Duiji Amma are women of courage, grit and determination. Not one to be daunted by circumstances these two women from Uttar Pradesh have faced danger and challenge bravely to come out trumps. They both present before the world the true face of womanhood. The fact that they hail from disadvantaged groups makes their efforts all the more laudable.
Varanasi resident Manjuma is the recipient of 2008 President’s Uttam Jeevan Raksha medal for saving four children from meeting a watery grave. Duiji, one of the 1000 women who were nominated for the 2005 Nobel Laureate award is a ‘Kol’ tribal who has fought against exploitation of her tribe by mobilizing her community against caste-based oppression and injustice. Both these women are trend-setters in a state besieged with many ills.
Manjuma still shudders whenever she recalls that hot afternoon of May 27, 2004. She had just finished her cooking when some neighborhood boys rushed in, “Aunty please come out, Shahid is drowning…” She rushed out only to find her nine year old boy and six other boys being washed away into River Varuna. The hand pulled rickshaw that they had been sitting on and playing was being sucked in by the powerful waves. There was no time to think or call for help, Manjuma just rushed to their rescue. With a Herculean effort, she managed to save four of them: Shahid, her son was unfortunately not among them.
With tears rolling down her face and the pain still lurking in her eyes Manjuma says, “Memories of my son still haunt me. I often sit up at night and cry. I have so many times said sorry to him for failing to save him,” her voice breaks off.
But to the families of the four children she saved, Manjuma will remain God’s messenger.
Duiji Amma can inspire anyone. An illiterate, tribal woman, who has in 12 years changed her entire village.
An agricultural labor, Duiji lived a life of slavery and hunger. Kols were treated as sub-human by the upper caste. She was married off at seven, bore ten children, and was widowed at 27. She worked as a laborer, digging, breaking stones, spading the land to fend for her family. She protested against the low wages.
In 1998, Duiji met members of the Mahila Samakhya programme who taught her about legal rights and the law. This empowered her to take on the land owners. Soon other laborers joined her and together they succeeded in getting their wages raised.
Today caste-based sexual violence is practically non existent in her village. The Kols are no longer afraid of approaching the police and courts for redress. The literacy rate has shot up and the women participate more actively in community affairs. Duiji has arranged for hand pumps and the women receive a 15-day training course on how to repair them. Furthermore, most children now attend school. The community’s overall economic situation has also improved. Duiji stays updated on various welfare schemes for the old and the handicapped, and helps people access welfare schemes that the government periodically announces.
“First health then education” is her guiding line. She is now training women to exercise power and clout. A true king-maker, Duiji is now going all out to ensure that more and more village headmen are women.