Thursday, March 4, 2010

Opening Closed Doors

Going to SKK from Baneda can be a bit challenging. Even though there's a tempo that leaves for the village, it only moves when its full. Besides, there's no set time for its arrival or departure. So Shantaji has adopted a free system of transport - hitching a ride with commuters heading in that direction. Usually we ride on scooters, Shantaji and I on one, Nikhil on another. It's safer for us that way, two women staying together. Nikhil is capable of fending danger by himself, being the macho man that he is.

The majority of the day was spent in preparation for March 6. The event is planned to be held at the Kalyanpura school since the building is between SKK and Kalyanpura. Upon receiving this info, residents of SKK made excuses, saying it was too far. Others flat out refused to attend, claiming that no woman from their village would go. Our event will be held in our village, not theirs. I sensed some internal politics. Our village needs help, they always get the money intended for us, an elderly woman complained. We tried to explain that there was no money being given to either village. This was simply a celebration for women, a day when they could take pride in who they were and get to know us better. The more people support us the more we can better the village. The message was lost in their stubbornness. Even when we returned to SKK in the evening and went door to door, it was clear which women were agreeing to attend just to say it, and which women meant what they said. I felt this resistance was the result of various factors. One, they didn't know us. Two, they didn't believe in working with the women of Kalyanpura. Three, the women didn't seem to have much decision-making power; that was something reserved for the husbands and fathers. Our two visits to SKK weren't a failure though. Rather, it helped me to better understand the sentiments of the community.

In addition to a largely negative response from SKK our visit to Kalyanpura's anganwadi exposed the pessimistic mindset of some that worked there, specifically the Nurse Midwife (NM). She comes to Kalyanpura on the first Thursday of the month. Surrounded by breastfeeding mothers with their semi-naked, fly-covered infants, NM Chanchal Sharma covered her mouth and nose with her sari. She strongly advised us against living in SKK. I've worked in this area for 18 years and nothing has changed in that dreadful village. The people are sick and they'll make you sick by sitting close to you and coughing. I was reminded o Dr. Jhaketiya's invaluable words of wisdom. * There are men from countless villages taht work in the Kashiya mines. Why don't they die? Why are most widows in Shreeji ka Kheda only? Because the men are drinkers. The Kharol caste makes liquor. It is slowly becoming clear how big of an issue drinking must be.

On our second day of field-work, I have many questions about the village, its politics, its motivation to improve, and our role in it. Much of its reality is still curtained behind closed doors. Slowly, I hope to build relationships that will further my understanding to open some of these doors.

* Chanchalji told Nikhil that Dr. Jhaketiya had called to inform her of a foreign NGO that would give her a visit. I guess that's us.

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