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Giving Voice to the Women

In two districts of Madhya Pradesh (Tikamgarh and Mandla), where poor and tribal women are accustomed to their rights being trampled upon regularly, IAS officer Harshika Singh has given them a new hope. A series of incentives launched for their betterment is giving these women fresh and powerful identity.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Until recently, the tribal women of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh didn’t speak for themselves, nor did they have much knowledge about any of the government’s schemes in their district. Now the scenario has changed. One can see women sitting in groups learning how to write and calculate and plan. Talking and discussing about their rights. All this has only been possible because of an IAS officer whose motto is giving back “right of expression’’ to the woman. 

The palpable changes in Mandla started taking place few months ago, with the arrival of 2012-batch officer Ms Harshika Singh as its District Magistrate (DM). Barring wildlife enthusiasts, not many people outside Mandla would be much aware of the place; it happens to house the administrative headquarters of the the world famous Kanha Tiger Reserve, which is situated nearby.

Ms. Singh secured 8th rank in UPSC 2012

Literacy and Health Awareness, the Keys to Women Empowerment

It all started with the success of ‘mahila myanalayas’ (learning centres for women) in Tikamgarh, and Ms Harshika Singh continued with the initiative in Mandla as well. Before coming to Mandla, Ms Harshika Singh opened 110 `gyanalayas’ in Tikamgarh and roped hundreds of women in the movement. But what exactly is this `gyanalaya’?

In an interview with Indian Masterminds Ms. Singh gave details of the `gyanalaya’, and also opened about her journey till now. The journey started from Teekamgarh.

Situated in the Bundelkhand region, Tikamgarh is one of most backward districts of Madhya Pradesh in terms of education and sex ration. When Ms. Singh came here as the DM of the district, she first did a research on the demography and issues of the area. While going through the documents, what struck her the most was its highly skewed sex ratio. In most of the areas of the district, it was very low but surprisingly in one village the sex ratio was better. Ms. Singh was curious to know the reason behind it, so she visited the area. “I went there and got the correct version of what I had thought was the case. Actually, in most of the houses there were five or six girl children. The reason was clear; the parents wanted a boy but they were good enough to not kill the girls. But in many other villages, female foeticide was quite high. Along with this, there were several other problems faced by women. They were being dominated with their family or in-laws and didn’t have voice of their own”, said Ms. Singh. During her recce, she also got to know that quite a significant number of women in Tikamgarh were educated. Some were graduates while many others had cleared intermediate school levels. 

A Woman for the Women

It became clear to the DM Ms Singh that the solution to the women’s problem was simple: just educate themselves. And this is what she set about doing. Said Ms Singh, “If the women muster courage to speak up for their rights, they will get rid of a whole lot of problems affecting their well-being. So, I first roped a few educated women, and thenasked them to visit the villages and talk to other women. This opened up a productive communication channel for the hitherto silen women. With the help of Self Help Groups (SHGs), we started giving them training about their rights as well as various laws that were there for their betterment.’’

Ms. Singh during a holiday

Soon, hundreds of women became part of the empowering campaign. But now arose the need for a proper infrastructure to impart these lessons. To sort this out, Ms. Singh used the spare rooms of `gram panchayats’ and thus, ‘mahila gyanalayas’ were formally started. Such was the impact of these training sessions for women that very soon over hundred `gyanalyas’ came into existence. Even though Ms Singh is no longer in Tikamgarh district, the training centres for women are giving new voice to them. 

Carrying on the Good Work 

In Mandla, Ms. Singh couldn’t not start the `gyanalayas’ due to Covid-19. So, in place of that, she started with ‘Nirakchharta se azadi abhiyaan’. This was especially for the tribal women who didn’t know how to count. Firstly, around 1700 women became part of this program and used to learn the counting and reading. Subsequently,They were given basic banking skills, to enable them to avail the benefits of various Government schemes. Since the unlock 4, she has also initiated the process of forming `mahila gyanalyas’ and 21 of these are now functional in Mandla.

In yet another initiative, the district administration of Mandla under the leadership of Ms Singh has started driving classes to the tribal girls. Ms. Singh and her team-members are also working for an extensive health care program for the women in the coming months. 

When asked about the challenges of working in tribal area she said, Ms Singh replied,“ Since I am from Ranchi, so I am kind of familiar with tribes. They are closed to nature and have their own way of living. As an administrator, we shouldn’t just enforce our idea of development. Rather, we must try to make their lives comfortable without forcing them to give up their roots.”

Ms Harshika Singh is convinced that if women are educated then problems like foeticide, domestic violence and dowry will come down in our society. First Tikamgarh, and now Mandla, are witnesses to the successful implementation of Ms Singh’s vision.


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