Updated: Sep 16, 2022
Adivasi women face numerous challenges throughout their lives for their basic rights and needs. The intersectional identity of being a woman and an Adivasi, often places them at a position of double victimization. Kavita Marandi, in the following article talks about the challenges she had to face as an Adivasi woman while discussing about the role of her mother in her fight, for whom the road was even more difficult as she challenged societal norms to provide education to her daughter.
My Gogo was adamant on providing formal education to us, even though she never got the same opportunity. Hence, she worked extremely hard to give us a chance at a better life. My name is Kavita Marandi and I wanted to discuss about my gogo, my mother who fought hard to not only survive in a system that discriminates against the marginalized, like the Adivasis, thereby pushing them towards a life without dignity and economic resources; but also, to improve our life conditions to access education and create better opportunities for our future. We belong to the Santhali tribe and reside in Bihar. My gogo once said, "I have never seen the school's front door. But I'll make sure my kids go to school." She of course ensured this. While we all have, at some point or the other, discussed about how mothers surpass even gods when it comes to their children; I actually witnessed that.
While growing up, the financial condition of my house was unstable. The conditions at my Mamago’s house (maternal grandmother) were better. Our village was surrounded by forests, not many children accessed education as schools were far and there were rumours about Odangas (kidnapers), kidnapping children for their organs and other markets like sex work. Hence, I was sent to my mamago's place to access education.
Although my mamago was a kind woman, she was conventional in her thoughts, which always put us at confrontational positions. She would often say, "What will the Kudihopon (girls) do by learning to read and write? After getting married, you will have to run the kitchen. Men get food served on their tables without lifting a finger. Women can't do that. You should learn all the household works because that is what will be useful at your in-law's place." I used to get furious at such remarks, statements and suggestions. Since I was a girl, education was not seen as a necessity for me, it held no value in the eyes of others. Learning household chores was considered more important. Hence, after returning from school every day, I had to do the dishes first, even before I could eat. I felt angry and helpless. There were times I used to cry. I distinctively remember often desiring to be a boy, a man; that way I could have had an easier life.
Lack Of Education Never Stopped My Gogo From Helping Me:
There was no one to help me with my studies. I was among the first generation of people in my family receiving education. Gogo could not read books but used to help me out in everything else. She helped me get ready for school on time, woke me up during my exams and constantly talked to me about the importance of education. She taught me to be self-reliant. She shaped my beliefs and core values. She taught me the importance of independence.
My road to education was not an easy one. People around me, including my relatives started questioning my gogo about my education. My going out, associating with boys, accessing education and competing with men was not liked by many. Everyone tried to convince my gogo to not let me out of the house and focus on household works. But gogo did not listen. She had faith in me and believed that education was the only path to emancipation. Apart from these social pressures, we were also facing financial issues. I did not have money for books and notebooks. My gogo sometimes could not pay my tuition fees on time. She used to collect leaves from the forests to make pattals (plates) for a living.
My First Job: How My Career Began:
I was quick to learn since childhood. There were ten girls in my class. In class 10th board examination, all the girls failed but I managed to pass. Shortly after that I secured my first job as a tutor. One day I went to a shop, where a man saw that I was good at calculations. So that man asked me to tutor his three children. This was a big opportunity for me. It meant that I would be able to afford buying books and other supplies for school. Since then, I have never looked back. I started teaching in private schools. I also worked with NGOs. I did radio programs and learnt to shoot documentaries with an NGO named Pradan. Currently, I work as a project manager with an NGO named Sinchan. I am also associated with Lahanti Club, a youth organization in our area. It was because of my gogo that I was able to educate myself and reach here.
Tribal food: The Valuable Teachings Of My Gogo:
Gogo also taught me about tribal food. Tribal food and drink depend on forest produce. There are many benefits of greens, vegetables, flowers, fruits, kandmool etc. collected from the forests. But today an increasing number of people go to the markets for processed and commercialized food items. The number of forests has decreased over time. The ways and methods of farming have also changed. Pesticides, fertilizers, etc., are used in most of the farms. Nowadays everyone cultivates paddy and potato. Makai, Bajra Janhe-Gundli, Maduwa are not cultivated anymore, as they are not cash crops. Due to the change in diet and agricultural practices, many problems have arisen. Today's generation does not know the benefits of the tribal food that has been consumed since time immemorial. How will they know? Adivasi food practices are not mentioned in books or taught in schools. My gogo taught me about the wonders forest has to offer. How to identify edibles, which vegetables are available in different seasons, what are the benefits of eating them and so on. I used to go in search of vegetables in the forests with my gogo. As Gogo would look for vegetables and collect them, I would observe her.
She also taught me how to cook. How many people will I cook for, what size utensils should be there, how long does it take to cook food, etc. I can recall the day I cooked food on my own. I lit a fire and poured water into the dikchi (utensil). I cooked rice and made vegetables. But when we all started eating, I realized that rice was soggy, and the vegetable too was extremely salty. I was expecting a rebuke, but gogo didn't scold me. She taught me again and said that one learns things by making mistakes. My gogo guides me about everything from the management of home and family to management of money. She also taught me about the ways of the world.
The Changing Adivasi Society:
Elders are important in our society. They have the experience to guide us through many things. But many things are changing and not all of them are good changes. In the school where I teach, I have often heard children's parents say, "We had to go out because of work. So, we took the children with us, and they could not attend school. We live separately from their grandparents, so we did not know where to leave the children.” The children suffer loss in studies because of this. Often the first child is not able to progress because he/she has to skip school in order to take care of younger siblings or help at home. If there are elders living in the house, these problems would not occur. Grandparents like taking care of their grandchildren. Children would not have to miss school due to above reasons. Daughters-in-law can also go to work. Nowadays, not only living separately is a trend but parents in their old age are also sent to old age homes.
Women Are The Pillars of Society:
My gogo tells me, “Parents should teach good values along with education to all the girls. Girls play an important role in the progress of home, family and society. They should learn everything and should be independent.” Young men and women from our society often migrate to cities in search of work. They come to me for work that requires dealing with calculations, reading, technology or work related to bank and money. When our people go to market, brokers often take advantage of their illiteracy and try to dupe them. Today, I am able to help people in my community because my mother made me capable. She invested time, hard work and money on my education. She taught me the value of community. She made me self-reliant. No one can take the place of a mother. My mother is the biggest warrior of my life, she kept fighting for me throughout her life so that I can move forward. I will not be able to pay my mother's debt for the rest of my life.
Note:- This article was written as part of Project Kurumutu, a skill development space organized by Sinchan Education and Rural Entrepreneurship Foundation
About the Author :- Kavita Marandi is an undergraduate student from Govindpur village , Bihar. She is a teacher in Laxmi public school and also part of Lahanti club.