Womanhood rallying for change

Womanhood rallying for change

Women empowerment is spoken in the same breath as technology today, but there was a time, not very long ago, when this word was unheard of, especially in Tier-2 cities like Belagavi. It was in 1972 when a few women from Belagavi came together to bring other women in the city for some meaningful initiatives, they formed Sharadotsav Mahila Society. The founding members included Anutai Kittur, Rajnitai Shidore, Rohinitai Gadgil, Ushatai Gogte, Mandakini Desai and Ushatai Lele among others. They formed the women’s collective that aimed to provide women with a platform to exhibit their talents for five days in a year. It was apt that those five days became the first five days of the Navaratri festival and eventually, Sharadotsav came to be associated with women’s empowerment and Navaratri in Belagavi.

Today, however, it has spread to other facets of women’s lives, or even having a Chaitrostav (Spring festival). Members of this group have motivated other initiatives of women in Belagavi as well, like the Vasant Vyakhyanmala (a spring lecture series organised by women), Manthan Mahila Sahitya Sammelan (literature fest for women), Aavishkaar (an annual exhibition by women entrepreneurs during the Dasara and Deepavali season), etc. The founding members were determined that women from all strata will participate in the programmes. Sharadotsav began by hosting three lectures by inviting eminent people from across India.

There were competitions for women, one testing their intelligence and physical fitness, and the other was a stage competition. Interestingly, for nearly 50 years, they have conducted programmes based on unique themes.

Once every three years, the women stage a ticketed three-act play to raise funds. The members comprise bankers, professors, playwrights, entrepreneurs and other professionals. Today, there are around 40 Mahila Mandals who participate in Sharadotsav. During the five-day celebration, an exhibition with stalls is also organised by women members themselves. 

A new outlook

Women have handled roles, right from volunteers to fundraisers and anchors. They feel empowered by managing these roles and seeing a difference it made to their lives and that of others. I recall my mother purchasing a season ticket for the festival and handing me over to my grandmother for that duration. The plays staged, the competitions held, the massive work that they handled, definitely gave them a lot of confidence, which they would have rarely got otherwise back then when Belagavi was still a calm but conservative city.

The Sharadotsav Mahila Samiti unanimously elects its president and other office bearers once every three years. So far, there have been 16 presidents who have worked relentlessly towards this cause. Initially, the venue would be provided free of cost by sponsors or patrons. However, over time, they have to spend a major amount for the venue, for the sound and accompanying expenses. Still, the enthusiasm of the women is palpable, right from the time the meetings are held to decide the themes to the time when the celebration is over. 

Sharadotsav has made a marked difference in the lives of many women in Belagavi. It gives a sense of meaning to not just the members but to hundreds of women who throng the festival these five days. These activities seem to have lent a hand to women empowerment in the past five decades.