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Lavanya Bahuguna


Dropadi Escaped Abusive Marriage, Hunger, And Patriarchy To Tell Women They Deserve More

  • IWB Post
  •  July 16, 2019


It’s a fact that women activism is shaping our world. To accelerate social equality and put forth the policy agendas supporting their rights, women from all walks of life are uniting and forming small help-groups across the globe to ensure a happy life for themselves in and outside their homes.

One such woman is Dropadi Gavale, a Dalit woman from Marathwada, Maharashtra, who’s running a local campaign of her own. Years back, she made a promise to herself that she won’t let any fellow woman suffer on the account of domestic violence, livelihood struggle, and health calamities – something that she had personally struggled with in the past.

Dropadi was married off at the age of 16 but soon left her husband’s house when beatings of her and her parents became a routine in his family. She left in a rage along with her severely ill toddler son, breaking the marriage ties so she would never look back. This was in 1998.

In a hope to start a new life, she began living with her parents and younger brother in Latur district’s Patoda village. However, things turned sour when the family couldn’t afford the expenses of two additional members. After all, her farmer-father had earned a mere Rs. 7000 per year. That’s when Dropadi stood for herself and announced the decision to earn a livelihood, something very unusual for a woman of her village.

“Right after my marriage, my parents surrendered my ration card and my in-laws never cared to get my name added to their family list. With no Aadhar or PAN card, I was technically non-existential for my country’s government and had no identity of my own,” she tells IWB.

Somehow, this ravening mother managed to get a job at a construction site where she was paid Rs. 50 every day. The struggle was real with the ever-increasing rates of pulses and cereals, but that didn’t deter her. Though uneducated, she kept looking for opportunities that would fetch her family a better lifestyle. Meanwhile, her father passed away, leaving the entire family’s responsibility on her shoulders.

Fortunately, NGO named CORO India got in touch with the laborers at the construction site she used to work for. This Sangathan is known for empowering people from the marginalized communities of India and transforming them into catalysts for society’s betterment. Dropadi saw this as a chance to expand her life state and get better at what she was doing at the time. Hence, she joined hands with the CORO India members and became a part of this organization’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program in 2011 to embark on a journey of self-realization. “Until this moment, I was under the impression that women are dependent on their fathers, brothers, husbands, and later, sons. CORO India leaders talked me out of that narrow mindset by sharing success stories of underprivileged women (like me) who believed in themselves to make it big in life,” shares Dropadi.

With each workshop and community program by CORO, Dropadi made notes in her mind about equality and justice that every woman deserves, irrespective of her social and financial status.

Today, it’s been eight years that she is associated with this group that also aims to propagate adult literacy in the slums of Mumbai and nearby areas. Under a module, they train Dalit, Scheduled Caste, and Muslim women to become Social Leaders, who later use their powerful stories to encourage those around them. A couple of years ago, Dropadi got selected for the same program that also pays her a handsome stipend for meeting and inspiring women who’re sailing the same unfortunate boat she was once into, two decades ago.

“I work at the same construction site – my first ever job – after which I go to conduct the CORO India programs in nearby localities. As a young, inexperienced girl, I was once very timid and had no courage of my own to even board the public transport without anybody accompanying me. Today, I travel all by myself to unknown rural areas and gather people with whom I engage in heartfelt dialogues. I don’t fear to go to the police stations or speak to the lawyers when need be. My ugly reality could finally change just because I decided to change it,” says a very confident Dropadi.

Her son is almost 20-year-old now and is preparing for college. She has collected enough money to support his education so he can become financially independent one day. “I am raising my son right. It’s very important to include men in your plan. When I go to the interiors, I make sure to speak to the men of the families, too. In this way, I ensure that they at least listen to the difficulties their women face, owing to their gender.”

She continues stating an incident, “A few months ago, I came across the case of a Dalit woman Sarpanch, who, even though held the highest position in her village, wasn’t allowed to sit amongst those belonging to the higher castes. She complained to me that 22 Dalit families in her village undergo the same treatment in front of the Brahmins and other upper castes during the community meetings and programs.”

To stop this cruelty, 70-something Dropadi initiated a protest with the help of 500 villagers, who challenged the societal norms and did a peace-protest to demand justice for the fellow Dalit families. “The protest was called ‘Rasta Roko.’ We questioned the area Collector and asked him to take immediate actions. This finally led to the arrest of 33 upper caste villagers who were slapping their norms on these poor families. The tension that we raised could finally result in peace in that village afterward,” she shares with a smile on her face.

Till now, Dropadi alone has successfully helped more than 1100 people access pension schemes and supported more than 200 women come out of abusive marriages. Not only this, she has been able to educate parents about not backing sexism and encouraging equality in their homes, for example, sending both son and daughter to the same school, providing them with same food nutrients, etc.

IWB thinks that we need more women like Dropadi, who, irrespective of her education or financial shortcomings, took a plunge to make the world a better place to live. For her, there are no boundaries whatsoever, what about you?

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