'Gulaba Bai led the 1st all female Village Association in Mandla. Her story inspired others'

Gulaba Bai, Paudi Village, Mandla, M.P

Medical Treatment of Sulochana Shirvadekar in Reliance Foundation Mobile Van
  • “Paudi” is three hundred year old tribal village in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. 70% of villagers in this small village of 82 households, has a land holding of less than 1 hector. The male members of these small and marginal farmer families had to migrate in search of livelihoods. The women and the children had to stay back in the village alone. The problem of alcoholism and feuds between households had cast its shadow over the village. These made the situation worse and it seemed tough to organize a village institution in this area.
  • Keeping eye on the issue and challenges of village, RF BIJ representative prepared a road map for mobilising villagers to form Village Association (VA). But problems cropped up due to absence of the male members in the VA meetings. Instead, the wives of these members started attending the meetings. This led the BIJ team to register the females of the households as members of the VA, instead of the males. Despite protests, a woman, Gulaba Bai, was chosen to head the VA because of her skills and dedication to work. This VA became the first woman headed VA in Mandla. As she puts it, “I was very excited when I was selected as the President of the VA and started working quite well with the help of other VA members. But when I was first invited to attain meeting at Mandla, I got nervous as I saw that all other VA presidents are male! I kept on thinking what these people are thinking about me. But gradually with encouragement from the RF team and other VA representatives, I felt good to work with them. Now I am confident that our VA will prove itself as the best one in Mandla.”
  • The female members got a platform to voice their ideas and opinions. The BIJ team arranged for their visits to other project areas of the programme so that they get more exposure, and their thought processes and ideas are enhanced. In their words, “Badhar, Banjar tola, Jargi villages are nearby, but we did not get a chance to visit these villages earlier. Thanks to Reliance Foundation for providing us with this opportunity. It helped us to understand better. We have now advanced from a state of mind where we only thought that our work is limited between the kitchen and farm land.” This women led VA proved itself as more efficient than other male dominated VAs. Any problem of the village and the villagers were taken care of personally and quickly resolved. The decision making process was much more transparent since the decisions were collectively made by all the VA members and not only the VA head. It was easier for the RF team to disseminate information to the members and households of Paudi as compared to other VAs due to high efficiency of these women members.
  • The BIJ intervention in Paudi not only improved the economic condition of the households, but also brought the women to leadership position for the first time in this tribal village. It marked a major shift in the mind-set of the people of the area and the lives of these women who got empowered to make correct decisions for the betterment of the village and the villagers.