Dotting the shore of the Mangaldoi River; Chandowalpara and Khoirabai villages in the Darrang district of Assam looks like an idyllic neighbouring village hamlets where the tranquility of the green meets the simplicity of rural life. Yet behind the veneer of innocence, there exists a communal relationship fraught with mistrust and resentment. This bitterness between the Koch community of one village and Dekas and Mondals of the other village has its roots in a feud over organizing a kirtan (a religious cultural gathering). One village was not invited. Small things piled on and eventually it reached a point where the respective community members altogether stopped talking to each other. This was several years back.
Fast forward to the year 2019 – about 30 women sat in a circle on a common ground. The meeting begins and ends with a prayer invoking the Almighty. Interspersed between are words like unity and togetherness.
“Prabhu Korisu Pronati, (We request Almighty)……..
………Prabhu Korujay Unnati” (Almighty we want to progress)
When NGO SeSTA, in the year 2017, under the ITC CSR project “Mission Sunehra Kal” collectivized the women of the five nearby hamlets (2 villages) into an Agriculture Business Centre (‘ABC’) model, there was murmur of resistance from the communities of Chandowalpara and Khoirabai hamlets. Nonetheless, the desperate need of investment on both mechanisation and new technology to keep farming sustainable compelled to put old hostilities to the back burner. The first meeting of the ABC was held at a neutral hamlet. Awkward silence interposed the meeting. When a farm demonstration was proposed at Khoirabai hamlet, awkward silence gave way to incessant bickering. A neutral hamlet was chosen again. However, by the time family based livelihood planning interventions under the auspices of ABC were carried out, women who had evaded each other for years spoke directly for the first time. Barriers melted as rapidly as they had been erected!
166 Baideus (women / sister) from five different hamlets associated with the ABC realized the power of their collective. So many women coming together was a force to reckon with and they decided to test their mettle.
The earthen road connecting the two erstwhile warring hamlets to the rest of the world had large potholes and resembled a paddy field after every rain. They wanted this road issue to be resolved. As a first line of protest these women ironically organized a road-block on the road that had lost its resemblance as a road. Also, someone reported in a newspaper the following day of women planting paddy saplings in the middle of a former road. There was another complaint filed with government officials.
Although success eluded them, it was for the first time in the entire area that women were coming out of their homes and speaking out. With every meeting of ABC, with every demonstration plot and with every new agriculture skill learnt, they grew in confidence. And when after a burst of early monsoon shower, they were forced to pull their saris till the knees to avoid the soggy dark mud, they had enough. Sixty women from Chandowalpara and Khoirabai reached the office of the MLA. They were not backing down