This is to share with you all the pleasure that Pradeep and I experienced while driving back with a group of eight victorious women from Yelavali on Thursday. No, they had not won any match or a dance competition they had won over their own inhibitions and perceived weaknesses. What we experienced was a celebration of self-empowerment and a sense of sisterhood and togetherness.

This was one of the paravs of a three year old desire to do something about a small illicit liquor business that was being operated by a person from Bhorgiri on the land that he owned in Yelavali. Few people in Yelavali drink but the number was steadily on the rise, this was making the women in the village uncomfortable. To add to this discomfort was a regular inflow of outsiders who would come to drink and create scenes in the village. The maker himself often created a nuisance, disturbing the peace in the village and spoiling it tranquil environment.

In many meetings in the past (some where we were present and others where we were not present) this issue was discussed and villagers felt that something was needed to be done, however no one was willing to take any direct action against the person for the fear of spoiling relations and creating conflicts in the community. Men were always less eager to deal with this issue than women.

A few weeks ago the women reached the zenith of their frustration when the person concerned in a highly inebriated state started foul mouthing the Yelavali villagers. One of the women, Sangeeta, decided enough was enough and announced that she will take action whether supported by others or not. In no time a group of about ten women led by Sangeeta and Usha geraoed the liquor brewing hut and upturned all containers with alcohol in it. This was followed by a physical scruff between the women and the wife of the brewer leading to some loss of gold and a few minor injuries. The women decided to file a case in the local police station, they asked for support from men, who decided to refrain from any action. Irrespective of this reaction from their men and supported by one man (namely Yamen) they decided to carry on to the police station only to find that it was empty! They then proceeded to Khed police station (despite it being late in the evening), only to be shouted at by the station in-charge. Women returned to the village disappointed and now facing regular abuses from the concerned family. An old acquaintance of one of the villagers suggested that they go to the higher police officers and report the case. The women, along with Yemen, then came to Pune and called Pradeep. Pradeep and I went to see them at the office of Superintendent of Police (Rural) on Pashan Road. After a long wait they finally met the SP and related their story (without any support from us). They had also brought along a copy of the application that they had submitted at Khed (duly stamped). The SP immediately called the Khed Police station and told-off the officer in-charge.

The following day the brewer was taken into police custody, he kept shouting that he had already paid Rs. 8000 to the Jamadar so why was he being taken in! The women were then called to Khed and received by a very humbled and polite jamadar, who asked them “why they needed to go to Pune when things could have been easily handled at this level!” They were royally treated, even as everyone else who entered the police station continued to be shouted and yelled at. This transformation was both awe inspiring but agitating for the women. They realized how much of one’s power was dependent on who one knows. They felt bad that they were being treated so well while others, like them, continued to be shouted at.

Pradeep and I picked them up from Khed as we were on our way to Yelavali and the entire journey was an animated discussion on the events of past few days and how good this success made them feel. The common feeling was “we can do many things if we try and if we are together”. It added to their feeling of triumph that much of this they had done themselves and not just followed someone else who was doing all the writing, preparation and talking on their behalf.

The same evening there was a meeting in the village, where the issue of liquor was one of the major issues for the women. Men however, didn’t think it was something that needed to be spent so much time on, and kept urging the women to stop talking about it and move on to other issues. Women remained unphased by this attitude of their men and went on to declare that anyone found drunk or creating nuisance after drinking will be fined Rs. 100 from now on.  Reaction from the men was mainly of three kinds, first those who were worried for their wives safety for taking such extreme steps, those who thought women were making a big issue of nothing and those who thought it was completely uncalled for as they have been the regular customers of the brewer.

The next day the brewer was released from the police station on bail, this made the villagers a little concerned who requested us to write about this incident in the local papers so that they get some support. They particularly would like to bring up the issue of corruption and bad treatment at the police station. They have written a statement for this purpose which we will help them get published in the local papers.

(Check out the Bhimashankar Conservation & Livelihood Programme to know more about the work done carried out by the KV Team Members)

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