“Peace and Community Harmony in the Gandhian way”
MALATI CHOUDHURY TRAINING CAMP OF MAHILA SHANTI SENA
Rashmi Mohanty and Bhanu Panigrahi (Unnayan)
The world is changing fast and along with the rest of the world India is changing too. But some of these changes create fear. People wanted a peaceful life after the British had left, but they are not getting it. The average person has a better life because there are more physical conveniences now. A more comfortable life is not necessarily a happier life. A happy life needs peace and security first of all. Both are somehow missing. Pervasive insecurity is a dangerous thing… People want bread but they also want self-respect. One cannot be denied for the sake of the other…. There is only one way out of this total crisis ---- participatory democracy and Mahila Shanti Sena…. The village community needs an army of peace workers, who will not fight among themselves but willing to solve problems and resolve conflicts and disputes peacefully. In this task of neighborhood building, women are likely to do better than men. That is the rationale of Mahila Shanti Sena. (Acharya Ramamurti)
Gender dominance and the consequent attitude of the society towards women, women’s relatively low awareness level in the unorganized sector give them little space to play their role in governance and decision making processes. Irony is that there are women in rural unorganized sectors with potential strength and talent of delivering to the society, who are least utilised in bringing about a positive value oriented social change in their domain. What they require is a little recognition as social change agents, appreciation for their popular participation and empowerment by information, awareness and skill development training through possible means. To discharge their responsibilities to the democratic society they need to be built up properly.
While there have been efforts at various levels to boost the status of women in Orissa with political and economic empowerment, the purpose is not reaching the desired ideal as programmes focus on segments and smaller space. We at Unnayan perceive that unless and until women are organised, groups are formed and linked with larger networks, they cannot truly lead a peaceful development in their neighborhood. The Gandhian philosophy and ideology, in the present context, seem to be the pathfinder in bringing women to the forefront in the development process. Examples are many where the Gandhian approach to women’s development towards ensuring a peaceful and harmonious neighborhood through cooperation and solidarity has succeeded in Indian States. These successful models, if can be replicated properly in different areas, the scenario of women’s development would be different altogether.
In this context, a three-day training programme of Mahila Shanti Sena was organised by Unnayan in its operational area in Mayurbhanj district during the last week of August 2005 with the aim of initiating the process in Orissa, the foundation of which was laid by Acharya Ramamurti in Bihar in February 2002 and has spread to several other states in India since then. The training was named after Smt. Malati Choudhury, the great freedom fighter and social worker from Orissa.
Venue, Participants and Facilitators:
The training was conducted at Unnayan’s training center in Kakbandh village of Amarda Gram Panchayat in Rasgobindpur Block of Mayurbhanj district, Orissa. The training was residential in nature.
A total of 54 participants (42 femaleand 12 male) including 9 Unnaya’s staff members took part in this training. The participants were selected from the women groups organised by Unnayan in the surrounding villages. 4 women participants were from Balikuda Block of Jagatsinghpur district where Unnayan is also working. These participants were involves in order to orient them on the concept who can initiate and expand the process in their locality. (List of the participants is enclosed.)
Sri Uma Shankar Chaturvedy and Sri Sneh Kumar from Shramabharati, Khadigram, Bihar facilitated this three-day training programme. Smt. Rashmi Mohanty and Sri Bhanu Prasad Panigrahi of Unnayan helped in interpretation of language for the Hindi speaking facilitators in order to ensure clear understanding of the proceedings and components by the participants.
The facilitators adopted the following methodologies in conducting the training:
§ Sharing of experience
§ Group Discussion, and presentation
§ Contextual examples
§ Situational Analysis
§ Interpretation of historical and mythological stories and events
§ Simulation games
§ Question – Answer
Smt. Rashmi Mohanty, Secretary of Unnayan inaugurated the training camp by kindling the lamp. Then, the women participants presented an awareness song in chorus. This was followed by introduction of the participants.
Then the facilitator sought participants’ expectations from this training. Each participant presented his/her expectation, which can be summarized as below:
§ To know and understand what is Mahila Shanti Sena
§ What can we do by forming Shanti Sena
§ How can we establish peace and harmony in our villages/panchayats
§ How can we maintain peace in our neighbourhood and in the larger society
§ To learn something that would help us in our progress
§ To learn the ways and means for solving the village problems
§ Specific role of women in maintaining peace
§ What is the relation of Shanti Sena with social service
§ How can we apply peaceful methods by ourselves
§ How can the organised power of women be increased
§ Which weapon can bring peace in society
§ What is the power of peace
§ How can the atrocities on women be prevented
§ How can women avail equal rights
§ How women’s problems can be solved by women
The subsequent sessions of the entire training programme then continued in finding satisfactory answers for all the above-mentioned questions, which proceeded in a very participatory and coherent process.
Giving examples and interpreting the events from present society, history and religious scriptures, the facilitators made it clear to the participants that all those great people, or for this matter, all the great women, who are remembered by generations have been retained in the memory of others because of their special qualities. Among many other examples that the facilitators put forth, the example of Sita and her four special qualities are worth mentioning here. Sita is considered as an ideal woman, because – she was firm enough to take her own decision by herself (eg. She went in exile to forest with her husband Ram that was her own decision), She was a good mother (eg. She took all possible care of her children and provided them with the best education despite of many adverse situation while she was in Valmiki’s ashram), she always maintained and asserted her self-esteem (eg. She did not return to the king’s palace when Ram realized his mistake and called her back, and she was also physically strong because her father did not have any gender bias and nurtured her properly.
The participants discussed about the problems of women in the present society. The problems of health, education, income, torture etc featured in this discussion. Then citing many examples from the traditional to the contemporary society, the facilitators provided a historical account of discrimination against women, atrocities on women, male chauvinism and male dominance. It was also realized by the participants that it is not only the men but also the women who are responsible for the anguish of women in the society.
The participants were divided into 5 small groups and were given the task of finding out as many problems as the women face and encounter with in the society. The training ended for the day after this exercise leaving the presentation to the next day.
The first day’s proceedings set the ground for further brain storming by the participants on the wide range of issues and problems faced by women. The second day started with the recapitulation of the actions of previous day by presentation of report by Indira Mohanty. Then the groups presented their task given to them on the first day. A big list of problems was presented. Then the same groups sat down in an exercise for 1 hour to find out the solutions for each of the problem they had highlighted and it was followed by presentation by respective groups. Then there was an elaborate discussion on each point of the problems and solutions. It was observed from the presentation and sharing by the participants that they tried to go to the root cause of the problems and a finding their role in the vicious circle of the problems. The participants spontaneously came out and made the introspectory remark that women are equally responsible for the problems faced by their own community.
At this point the facilitators made their pragmatic remark that it was a good sign that participant women have started thinking about the solutary measures of their problems though it would be unwise for them to expect the results immediately. Some actions may take several years to bring about the results. But the actions should start immediately the results of which may be reaped by our future generations. So the actions, however small they might be, should start right away.
A very pertinent question was raised here. Reports established that women’s own relatives cause about 81% of the atrocities on them, both physical and psychological. So whom should they fight with? How can they fight against their own relatives? What would be the strategy? Again, violent battle would never bring delight even for the winner of the battle. So one should fight this battle in non-violent way where one can be happy after winning the battle. Giving this contextual outline, the facilitators grounded the concept and philosophy of MAHILA SHANTI SENA.
The facilitators presented about the origin and growth of the process of Mahila Shanti Sena. They gave a sequential representation of the progression of Mahila Shanti Sena starting from Vaisali Sabha in February 2002 till this training camp in Mayurbhanj. A brief presentation about Acharya Ramamurti who pioneers this process was made.
At this point, the Panchayati Raj System and role of women in local self governance was discussed.
Then an elaborate presentation on the following was made by the facilitators:-
· Why Mahila Shanti Sena?
· How will the Mahila Shanti Sena be formed?
· Structure of Mahila Shanti Sena starting from hamlet to the state level.
· What will Mahila Shanti Sena do?
· What Mahila Shanti Sena will not do?
· The importance of training for Mahila Shanti Sena.
· Importance of good and effective leadership in Mahila Shanti Sena and election of leader
· System and sources of fund raising for Mahila Shanti Sena
· Importance of skill development and income generation for women
· Code of conduct for the Shanti sainiks
A printed brochure prepared in Oriya by Unnayan containing the above concepts that was translated from the original Hindi literature prepared by Shramabharati was distributed among the participants which was referred by them to understand clearly.
After this sharing the participants were made into five separate groups and a practical exercise was conducted for election of leader in each group. After the exercise was over the facilitators asked the members to present in the next morning why they had selected the person as leader in their respective groups. Thus the second day’s process of the training came to an end.
In the evening the participants conducted cultural programme by staging plays on issues affecting women in the society, i.e. dowry system, addiction to liquor, female foeticide, discrimination towards girl child. Participants also presented folk songs of Orissa in this cultural programme session.
The third day began with report reading of second day’s proceedings. Then the members of each group made the previous day shared about why she had elected the person as leader of her/his group. Various leadership qualities were presented.
The facilitators then concluded that among various other qualities there are three most important attributes that a leader must have, and those are 1. Courage 2. Patience 3. Self-confidence.
Then management system of Mahila Shanti Sena was discussed. Three most important aspects were emphasized upon, i.e. regular meeting, discussion and consensus for management and smooth operation of the group.
Then the facilitators declared the characteristics that will not allow a woman to become a Shanti Sainik and asked the participant women to think over it and then decide whether they are willing to become a shanti sainik. They then gave a short break and asked the participants who will take decision to abide by the code of conduct to reassemble in the training hall after the break.
All the participants reassembled in the hall after the break. The facilitators expressed their contentment on the turn over. Then the women were asked to stand in a semi-circular form and Smt. Rashmi Mohanty, Secretary of Unnayan, was given oath by Sri Uma Shankar Chaturvedy as the first Mahila Shanti Sainik of Orissa by reading out the manifesto in Hindi. Just after that Smt. Mohanty gave oath to other participants by reading out the manifesto in Oriya. All the participating women wore the saffron scarf on this occasion.
Then each participating woman did a plan of action for next three months. The action plan combined together is given below:
· Neighbourhood building with 902 families
· 327 meetings in the villages of different participants
· 459 new Shanti sainiks will be prepared in their neighbourhood and villages
· 81 Panja (group of five) and 32 Dasta (group of ten) will be formed
· The next meeting of the Shanti sainiks was scheduled for 29 November,2005
Then the facilitators put light on some of the concepts relating to Shanti Sena and explained their meaning, i.e. Shanti Kshetra (peace zone), Shanti sabha (meeting of shanti sainiks), Shanti marg (putting courage in mind and achieving one’s right through silent and peaceful way). Characteristics of rapid action force of Mahila Shanti Sena were also discussed.
With this the three-day training programme was ended with vote of thanks to the participants and the facilitators.