Travel; a catalyst of women empower in this village near Pune

“I spoke to a couple of women at the restaurant and realised they had come with friends to celebrate International Women’s Day. I was surprised and excited, as in the village we are used to meeting our friendly regularly.”

“We often travel with families for pilgrimage and return home immediately. The Kolhapur trip enabled us to spend time with our fellow women from the village, understand them, play together and strengthen our bonds, which is generally not possible in our daily lives.”

“I was awestruck to see such a huge marketplace. We shopped for Kolhapuri chappals and ejoyed the local food.”

“The Kolhapur trip has been very encouraging for all of us.  Our families and villagers appreciated this initiative. It has motived women to come together, reorganize and works towards a constructive plan to focus on some key areas.”

Sitting under a mango tree on a bright sunny day, the women of Ravangaon were sharing their experience of a recent trip to Kolhapur. A casual conversation with Vandana Randhvan and her ability to convince first two participants gave birth to The Bus Ride of Dreams for 11 women from this village, some 80 kms away from Pune.

Sitabai Atole summarised, “ Many leaders have visited our village. But development of women and addressing our problems was never on their agenda.  Padmakar organised this trip without any personal agenda. Our trip has become a catalyst of women empowerment in our village.”

Women of Ravangaon gathered together on a bright afternoon to share their travel experience

Five years ago Padmakar Kamble, a student of political science and a journalist, moved back to his village from Mumbai. His conversations with local women led to this unique experience.

I spoke to Padmakar, my college friend, to understand why he decided to plan this trip:

On women empowerment….

My thoughts were always inclined towards feminism. But how do you define feminism? Speaking to some women from my society made me aware about a hallow in their lives. They had everything but something was missing – it could an unfulfilled dream, family issues, marital problems, etc. While studying for civil service exams or researching for my contributory articles for Loksatta, leading Marathi newspaper, my awareness about women’s issue increased. I felt their issues are not adequately addressed in India, there is lot to be done. Women still lack the freedom of expression.

In India, generally women empowerment is often confined to discussions around 33% reservation, 50% representation in politics, local self-government bodies, etc. However, women empowerment truly begins from our own homes. As an individual how do I interact with my friends or colleagues who are women? What is my social media behaviour?

Writer Hamid Dalwai was once asked – According to you what does women empowerment mean? He responded; Women empowerment will be achieved in a true sense the day an Indian women is able to give birth to a child without getting married.

Sowing the seeds of change…..

When I moved back to my village, people here knew my family background. Gradually, they realised I understand their problems, know the challenges they face. Unlike in the city, journalism is not a glamorous career here. Villagers are closely connect with the local administration.  However, slowly they understood that a journalist is well read, a good communicator, aware about socio-political issues and can help in addressing their problems.

My increasing participation in the village brought to fore the need to address upliftment of village women and development of girls. A woman candidate that I supported became the village sarpanch. Slowly, the village women started trusting me, seeking advice. Taking ahead this bond, I started greeting village women on International Women’s Day. These wishes became a critical bridge to educate them about the significance of this day, to inform about women’s rights and the available opportunities like starting self-help groups.

Seeding the idea of travel……

We are a progressive society. But rural women still strongly believe in religious practices and rituals. Their travel is limited to pilgrimage with the families. They would have not agreed to go on a picnic. However, I realised they may show interest in a pilgrimage to Kolhapur or Tuljapur. Hence, I started planning this visit to the Mahalakshmi temple at Kolhapur.

My intention was not to take them on another pilgrimage. I wanted them to explore the world beyond their village boundary. On the trip I shared about the significance of Kolhapur region – historical importance, the economy, its contribution in Maharashtra’s rich history and legacy, etc.

The travel experience….

Most of the 11 women on this trip travelled outside Pune District for the first time.  They saw the Krishna River and Koyna Dam for the first time. Likewise, I urged them to observe the local culture, the people and the language they spoke, etc. At the restaurant they saw women dining with their friends and clicking pictures. It was a novel experience for them.  This trip opened their minds. Now women and men in our village want to plan a similar trip to Pune or Mumbai.

I found the clear sky and the green fields appealing as I spoke to the women over a video call. One of women noted, “It’s like city people find the rural life fascinating. For us it was the reverse.”

Truly, a small step, a simple gesture or even a one-day trip can help us discover our winning spirit. Do you remember such moments? Please share in comments.

Nurture Winning Thoughts!

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