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Chitra Patil’s life was never easy. She had to fight her family to study and start working. But she didn’t let that stop her from working for the rural women
Chitra Patil was born the eldest of three siblings in Dhanora Gaon, Ambejogai, Beed, Maharashtra. She lost her father, an alcoholic, when she was in class ten.
Her mother struggled to support the family by working as a farm labourer and Chitra was left with no option but to be married at an age when she didn’t really understand what it meant.
As was customary in her village, a married girl didn’t leave for the in-laws house unless she attained puberty. At sixteen, Chitra Tai (as she is fondly called) still hadn’t. This gave her husband an ‘excuse’ to marry another woman.
However, the incident didn’t deter the resolute woman from pursuing her studies. Unfortunately, she studied only till the second year of her graduation when she had to drop out due to the lack of funds. The break cost her many a lucrative job opportunities, but destiny had other plans for her.
At the age of twenty two, she started working with an NGO that addressed health issues in adolescent girls. It was during this time that she found out about the opportunity of working as an ASHA worker (Accredited Social Health Activist).
She didn’t have too much support from her village head but she went ahead and applied to be an ASHA worker. Says Chitra, “By this time I had completed my graduation, despite resistance from my family. Resistance, was not new to me, challenges were welcome.
My work entailed travelling, even outside the village, and being a single woman did not help much – it instigated matters. For me, my focus was clear: I had to help others, and that was all that mattered.”
A fellowship from CORO, the Committee of Resource Organisation, under the grassroots leadership development programme, changed her life. It gave her the expertise, exposure and knowledge to find solutions to the challenges women face irrespective of their backgrounds.
“The fellowship made me feel like a human – a different kind of a feeling than ever before. I felt I was someone, who could make a difference to the lives of others. It made me feel empowered. I was independent in the truest sense of the word, including the financial aspect. Can you imagine that I saved money and bought my own plot of land?”
The sense of pride could not be mistaken. She went on to explain how her brother wanted her to register the plot of land on his name. She also talks about how after her refusal, he insisted that she nominate his son as the heir.
But Chitra stood her ground: she decided to live separately from her family – a bold step, but one that allowed her peace of mind. She recalls how constructing a house on her plot had not been an easy task- women never visited construction material or hardware shops.
In fact, she is the first one from her village to live alone, without anyone’s support, except that offered by the Ekal Mahila Sanghatana. Her family visits her some times.
In her village, Chitra Tai motivated women towards ‘shramdaan’ instead of sitting at home. Through Mahila Mandals, Chitra Tai reached out to various women, encouraging them, and serving as never-ending motivation.
These women collectively worked towards solving many issues, both on an individual and collective level. This included matters pertaining to property rights, domestic violence, remarriage, and pension among others.
One of their achievements- together as a group of 250-300 women, they build a check dam with the help of the Paani Foundation. She even received an award from the foundation for this.
“I think the challenges I faced prepared me to embark on a journey as a leader to address women empowerment and equality. This cause means everything to me and I plan to dedicate my life to it while continuing to work with CORO and Ekal Mahila Sangatna in the future. I also plan to use my home as a shelter for deserted and single women like me, for which I am in the process of initiating my own trust. The journey I had should be used to the benefit of others. This is all I want. Women need to appreciate their value. It is then that others will,” said Chitra with a smile.
Picture credits: Flickr
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Sarah Berry brings with her more than 20 years of diverse professional experience. She hails
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