How did Asha Devi, who had studied only up to 10th class, become the embodiment of Nari Shakti (Women Power) and a strong spokesperson for women’s rights? She is from Chitvania village in Shivgad block of Raebareli. She was married off immediately after she passed 10th class. However her life became a life of struggle from day one of marriage. Her husband had liked her. However, since she was black in color, her mother in law did not like her. Therefore, even on the day of marriage when she reached the in-laws house, she was not received as per the custom. She was not allowed to enter the home and had to wait outside along with her husband in the vehicle till morning and allowed in only after the Pradhan of the village interfered. The purposeful harassment of her by the in-laws started that day itself. They schemed and bet her up many times so that she would leave them and go away to her mother’s place and thus they could end the marriage. However Asha continued to suffer these harassments. She joined the SHG in her village in 2009. The members of SHGs gave her the needed courage. In the year 2010, the harassment reached the peak and the mother-in-law one day poured 15 litres of kerosene on her body and was about to light the match. However her hands shivered and by that time, the husband snatched the matches and ran away. Thus she was saved of a bride burning incident. The Village Organization of SHGs and the whole women of the village helped to settle the harassment forever, and Asha got it written in a Rs. 100 stamp paper by the in-laws that they would henceforth never harass her.

Her fighting spirit and courage increased through her own experience and she became strong leader among women who could stand and speak about women’s rights. She led many collective actions by SHGs towards this. She led many movements like bank gherao, police Thana gherao, etc. all for meeting out justice to the harassed women member of SHGs.

Once the family matters were settles, she started to strengthen her family.

Her economic empowerment through SHG was also striking. She took Rs. 20, 000 from her group and released the mortgaged land and the in-laws and they started realizing her value. Then he borrowed Rs. 1,00, 000 from her group and released another land belonging to the family, which was also mortgaged. Then she borrowed Rs. 2,00,000 and invested in agriculture by developing the land, making it suitable for agriculture, constructing well and irrigation facilities. Lastly she took Rs 1,50,000 and constructed a house. Through income and surpluses of agriculture she repaid the loans. She also borrowed Rs 28,000 from SHG and helped her husband to start a provision store. Subsequently because of her popularity, the branch manager of Bank of Baroda branch got the job of ATM guard for her husband.

She is providing leadership as a Community Field Officer in Jagatpur block of Raebareli currently. She has also volunteered as a Community Health Trainer under the health program of RGMVP and is also an agriculture specialist.

She has derived benefit and power through her SHG platforms and she is supporting RGMVP in strengthening the learning and empowering process of women so that these women also would become empowered likes her. She is a powerful change agent.

P S Mohanan, February 2019