The widow who broke free

The widow who broke free

When Moti lost her husband to an unknown illness in 2007, not only did she decline to remarry, but she made up her mind to work to support her three sons, single-handedly.

Nine years later, this feisty tribal woman is a senior health worker with a non-government organisation that runs three clinics in remote villages of Salumber block in Udaipur. She spreads awareness about health and nutrition, educates women on ante- and post-natal care, follows up on tuberculosis patients during the community outreach, and counsels walk-ins at the clinic at Berawal gram panchayat.

Moti and her husband had worked hard to build a life together, which abruptly came to an end with his untimely demise. When she had gotten married in 1997, she used to stay in a joint family with her parents-in-law and her husband’s two younger brothers in their village, Manpur. When one of his brothers got married in 2001, her husband decided to move out of the small home. While he routinely visited Ahmadabad to find work, eventually, he managed to get a job with a non-government organisation closer home. He helped them organise literacy camps in the area.

It wasn’t easy to make ends meet on his meagre salary of Rs 1,000, so when in 2006, an anganwadi centre was to be set up in Manpur, Moti and he decided that it was time for her to step out of the home. “There were only two educated women in Manpur at the time. I have studied till Class 5 so I got the job as the anganwadi helper while another woman who had completed her education till Class 8 became the anganwadi worker. I got Rs 500 per month to cook, do the dishes, clean the campus and generally assist the anganwadi worker. My in-laws didn’t object to my working because my husband was there to support me,” she recalls.

But soon, her husband fell ill and his health started deteriorating rapidly. Moti was working at the anganwadi when she heard of her husband’s passing. “Within four months of marriage, I had lost him. Even today, it’s very painful to relive those days,” she shares. What followed his death was no less tormenting. The family elders pressured her to get married again and when she refused outright, she was subjected to domestic violence. One of her brothers-in-law beat her up but thanks to support from her parents and other villagers, she was able to resist.

A new start

Fortunately, around that time, Aajeevika Bureau came to her village to organise a health camp. “When people from the NGO came and spoke to us about healthcare and invited volunteers, I said yes,” she elaborates. Aajeevika Bureau, a non-profit working in the remote villages of Salumber block, runs a family empowerment programme for rural women. “It is aimed at increasing the capacity and agency of such women so that they can take greater control of their lives and the well-being of their families,” says Abha Mishra of Aajeevika Bureau.

Her decision did not go down well with her in-laws who threw her out the house and refused to look after her boys in her absence. Her parents, who live 35 kilometres away, stepped in and also supported her financially. In March 2009, she underwent a two-day training at Aajeevika Bureau’s office in Salumber.

On returning, she immediately jumped into her work as a health volunteer commuting every day from her native village to Manpur. She would organise meetings of women in her village, tell them about family planning measures, spacing between children, contraceptives, as well as ante-natal and pre-natal care. For this, she earned Rs 500. “But I realised that I needed to study further if I hoped to get ahead,” she says. Consequently, Moti sat for Class 8 examination as a private candidate in 2009 and later passed her Class 10 from open school system in 2012.

Raising awareness

In 2012, she was given the opportunity to go for a nine-month paramedic training to Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh. Whereas this stint enabled her to upgrade her skills, it didn’t auger too well for her sons who had to live with their paternal grandparents for that period. Her eldest, Jayanti, dropped out because the elders abused him and told him to work in the farm instead. After some days, he ran away to Moti’s parents. When she came back from the training, she tried to put him into school but it was too late. Now, her other two sons, Kailash and Shravan, are in Classes 8 and 4, respectively.

Today, Moti is posted at Aajeevika Bureau’s Berawal clinic. She has 15 volunteers reporting to her; most are illiterate. She gets a salary of Rs 9,300 and is happy. “I don’t want others to die as my husband did. My team of health volunteers and I have raised awareness levels in villages about health issues,” she says proudly. Moti now wants to train as a nurse and is  studying hard to pass her Class 12. “When one steps outside home, one’s knowledge increases. Now I want to know everything!”

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