Category Archives: Social

These posts will have write ups, opinions and news stories about social sector, health issues and something that is close to my heart – about indigenous communities, called as adivasis in India and tribals the world over

More people should use this zero sewage discharge toilet

The three-decade old ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ doesn’t pollute or need a septic tank or a sewage network. In fact, its output is a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

Daryapur 1

Toilets need a septic tank or a connection to a sewage network, enough water to clean and flush, and regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning–except if it’s the ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’. It looks just like a conventional toilet but needs none of these. Designed by someone with no formal degree in science, it even uses much lesser water when compared to the ones with a flush tank.

55 year old Sanjay Joshi, originally a small land holding farmer of Daryapur town in Amravati district, Maharashtra, developed this unique toilet which uses a bacterial culture to eliminate the need to dispose or treat human waste. In fact, its only output is a colourless, odourless nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

The man behind the game-changing idea

Joshi had an inherent interest in science but poverty prevented him from pursuing a degree and he had to abandon his studies midway. But his sense of curiosity would not let him sit still.

“I once saw a mistry (mason) building a septic tank and asked him about the two chambers. He was unaware and said that he was just doing a job. That made me think about the actual process of making toilets”, Joshi says. How many years will it work? How much can its capacity be? Will it stink? Will it need scavenging, especially manual scavenging? He read a lot of scientific material–in the 1980s pre-Internet, pre-Google days. In fact, at one point of time, it became difficult for him to find a bride as no father would agree to marry his daughter to a person who sold toilets for a living.

After some time, he finally zeroed in on the successful formulation of the bacteria.

The ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ is born

The innovative toilet has a conventional toilet seat with a small size tank (2 x 2.25 x 2.25 cuft). The tank design is configured to attain highly efficient in-situ decomposition of excreta with the help of a patented bacterial culture. What remains as an output is a reusable liquid–basically a micro-nutrient–that can be used as fertilizer/pesticide spray.

“The work is done by this culture. To put it simply, this bacterial culture eats the human excreta, and the colourless, odourless water that we get is that bacteria’s excreta”, Joshi says. Also, unlike output from a urinal or open sewage, this by-product prevents flies and mosquito larva from breeding. Those who don’t want to use it as pesticide can either sell it or simply drain it away in conventional drains. A toilet seat from the market is added to the specifically built tank which has the trade secret culture inside after which the unit is ready for sale.

A winning duo

Joshi’s friend Ravindra Ganorkar, a large-scale land holding farmer and a social worker from the same village, joined him a few years ago. The duo experimented with the make of the toilet tank and the look in general. It is thanks to their research that the output liquid is being used as a pesticide. Joshi is the brain behind the concept while Ganorkar helps in the logistics and management.

The first such toilet was installed almost 30 years ago. Earlier it was pretty difficult to convince people to use such a toilet. All it needed was one person from a village to start using it. Within months, Joshi would get orders for more toilets from the same village. Over the last three decades, Joshi has installed almost 12,000 such toilets across Amravati district and neighbouring areas. Publicity has been through word-of-mouth till date, which Joshi and Ganorkar now plan to change.

Inspired by the Central Government’s Swachch Bharat Mission, the duo has decided to go big and expand. This toilet has been installed at about 50 government schools in Daryapur tehsil. The first toilet was sold for Rs 840. Today it costs Rs 6,000 for one unit with the tank and seat. Convincing people 30 years ago was an uphill task but by now, scores of people in the area know about his product, so getting orders is easier. “My only dream is to make open defecation free India a reality”, says Joshi.

Besides this, Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation, Wardha, has certified that the tank used is hygienic and suitable for low-cost latrine usage. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur has examined the tank output and certified that it is safe for human health. Panjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola has certified that the output liquid has sufficient NPK contents and micro-nutrients to be used as organic pesticide.

Happy and satisfied users

Rajani and Rajesh Vasantrao Deshmukh from a nearby village Yevada, needed something compact for their small house. The couple, which has a four member family, installed this toilet about six years ago and since then has entertained guests during two marriages and one death. Another resident of the same village Kiran Jayantrao Deshmukh went in for this toilet about five years ago when she decided to re-construct her old house. “With the new house, I neither wanted a septic tank toilet which would need more space, nor a paver-block toilet which would need manual scavenging”, Kiran said as she proudly showed the combined toilet-bathroom in her compact courtyard.

Savita and her husband Uddhav Sadashivrao Hirulkar from the same village, installed one unit 19 years ago. Their kitchen and pooja ghar is about 5 feet away from the toilet beyond a half-wall/half-grill partition. “There is no smell whatsoever even though we cook our food close by. The best part is that there is no need of manual scavenging”, says Savita. Vouching for the efficiency of this toilet, Uddhav says, “We are a large family with regular flow of relatives and friends coming over. I got three of my daughters married from this home and we always had some 30-40 guests at a time. This toilet has worked perfectly all those times”.

Savings, savings and more savings

The advantages are innumerable. The use of the output liquid as pesticide spray, both before sowing and mid-crop cycle, reduces use of chemical fertilizers by 25%, the duo claim. When the toilet seat is fixed on the tank, there is no P-trap (it is a u-shaped or s-shaped plumbing arrangement that prevents odorous gas from drains/sewers from rising up through the toilet, sink or drains into homes). “Because we have done away with the P-trap and introduced a sloping smooth tile instead, very less water is needed. As against 12-16 litres of water needed during one flush in modern toilets, this uses just 5-6 litres of water,” Joshi adds. The team has provided a pipe for gas escape instead.

Open Defecation Free villages under Swachch Bharat Mission

Satish Shankarrao Sakhare, sarpanch of Maholi (Dhande) Grampanchayat has stepped in to bridge the gap. Among the 3,000 people of Maholi, there are about 350 households that do not have a toilet. A model of the Gramkranti Eco Bio toilet unit with a fabricated room-roof cover has been kept right outside the Grampanchayat building for prospective users to see. “We have decided to make our village ‘Open Defecation Free’ by December 2015. We will install the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet in all these houses. The government has already sanctioned Rs 12,000 per dwelling”, Sakhare says.

The government has identified 11 of the 115 villages in Daryapur tehsil under the Swachch Bharat Mission. Joshi-Ganorkar duo sells the tank-and-seat installation for about Rs 6000 plus transportation cost. The user needs to build a room over it. Certain experiments – as one model installed in front of Maholi Panchayat office – have been estimated to cost Rs 17,000. But despite the seemingly prohibitive cost for small land owners, their toilet has found takers. “There is lot of willingness to use a toilet,” Joshi adds.

But it is not only the Panchayat office bearers who have taken it upon themselves to contribute towards Open Defecation Free villages, but also other individuals. Pramod Joshi, a restaurant owner, and his family members are inspired citizens. When Pramod’s grandmother died about three months ago this year, it had rained heavily. “The route towards the smashaan (funeral place) went from near the godhari (designated open defecation place of the village). Pouring rain had already made the area muddy, slippery and the stretch near the godhari was stinking afresh after the rains. “I felt too bad that day. I thought, a person has to undergo this painful open defecation while alive but even when dead, he/she is not free from this trouble. There and then, I decided to help people build toilets and make my village Open Defecation Free”, Pramod says.

He had already known about the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet. Soon he paid for several units of these toilets. His family members too were inspired and started contributing. Till now, the family has helped build 50-odd toilets in the three months since. “There are about 500 houses in our village (population 10,000 approximately). We have decided to make our village Open Defecation Free by my grandmother’s barsi (first death anniversary),” he added.

Main advantages:

No solid waste output
Only colourless, odourless liquid output
Needs barely 5-6 litre of water
No need of sewer network
No need of septic tank, soak pit etc
Prevents water contamination in any form
Saves infrastructure cost for sewage network and treatment cost
Output liquid can be used as pesticide spray
Hygienic conditions prevents diseases
Can be used as public toilet catering to 250 people/day
Can be used in all terrains

This story first appeared on www.indiawaterportal.org on Nov 13, 2015. It can be read here

‘Manual scavenging-free India’ still a distant dream

Is the government really serious about rehabilitation of manual scavengers?

New Delhi: It is centuries old, most inhuman of the practices. And unfortunately, despite the rule of law, it is rampant in large pockets, including in the national capital of Delhi, across India.

Manual scavenging – what the Centre even failed to acknowledge exists till the Census 2011 figures held an unhappy mirror – continues unabated more than a year after the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’, which came into force in February 2014.



Manual scavenging practice from a village in Uttar Pradesh (Photo Credit: Safai Karmchari Andolan)

And circa 2015, the government is still not sure how many persons – almost all of them from lower and lowest of the lower caste – are engaged in this insensitive blot of a profession. While public in general are least bothered, the government is indifferent. Activist in this field are having a harrowing time even convincing the government to do surveys and rehabilitate manual scavengers. Allotment of funds, non-implementation of schemes and most important, lack of punitive measures for non-compliance have simply left much to be desired.

Government data claims there are only 12,753 manual scavengers


Manual scavenging practice in Bihar (Photo Credit: Safai Karmchari Andolan)

According to the information provided by Vijay Sampla, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment in the Rajya Sabha last week, manual scavengers are found in 13 states. The minister provided a table of state-wise data – contested by activists – which claimed there are 12,753 manual scavengers in India and over 10,000 of them in Uttar Pradesh alone.

The state/UT data as per the latest information available on the basis of survey undertaken in the States/UTs from 13 states is as follows:

 

State Urban Rural Total 12753
33 Uttar Pradesh 2404 7612 10016 78.54%
30 Tamil Nadu” 979 NA 979 7.68%
25 Odisha 386 0 386 3.03%
16 Karnataka 302 0 302 2.37%
28 Rajasthan* 284 NA 284 2.23%
19 Maharashtra* 139 NA 139 1.09%
5 Bihar 137 NA 137 1.07%
34 Uttarakhand 137 NA 137 1.07%
14 Jammu & Kashmir 119 NA 119 0.93%
35 West Bengal 98 NA 98 0.77%
2 Andhra Pradesh 89 NA 89 0.70%
27 Punjab 64 NA 64 0.50%
7 Chhattisgarh 3 0 3 0.02%
1 Andaman & Nicobar Islands 0 NA 0
3 Arunachal Pradesh 0 NA 0
4 Assam NA NA 0
6 Chandigarh 0 0 0
8 Dadara & Nagar Haveli 0 0 0
9 Daman & Diu 0 NA 0
10 Goa 0 NA 0
11 Gujarat 0 NA 0
12 Haryana 0 NA 0
13 Himanchal Pradesh NA NA 0
15 Jharkhand NA NA 0
17 Kerala 0 NA 0
18 Madhya Pradesh NA NA 0
20 Manipur 0 NA 0
21 Meghalaya 0 NA 0
22 Mizoram 0 NA 0
23 Nagaland NA NA 0
24 NCT of Delhi 0 0 0
26 Puducherry 0 NA 0
29 Sikkim 0 NA 0
31 Telangana 0 NA 0
32 Tripura 0 NA 0

A quick look at the table tells even a lay person how faulty and incomplete this data is. Uttar Pradesh has been candid to return a figure of 10,000 plus – although there are more persons involved, activists say – but other large states have either not given any data, resulting in NA, as in case of Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, or simply given nominal figures. For instance, West Bengal has 98 and Punjab has just 64 manual scavengers. More about other states later.

It’s no rocket science to understand that the sole cause for continued practice of manual scavenging is the existence of insanitary latrines. So, ideally, the task at hand should be to identify those places, people involved and rehabilitate them into other livelihoods. However, it is better said than done.

The government – smug after passing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 – is sitting on surveys, reports and requests by NGOs and activists working in the field that have provided documentary evidences about the ongoing practices.

For instance, as per the section 5 of the MS Act, 2013, construction of insanitary latrines and engaging of manual scavengers from the date of commencement of the Act i.e. February 6, 2014, is prohibited. The Act also provides for identification of insanitary latrines and their demolition/ conversion into sanitary latrines on a time bound basis.

“But our experience is otherwise. We have submitted number of reports, photo/video documentary evidences, taken officials from the Ministry to the field, but to no avail. The government does not even want to recognise such things exist,” said Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of Safai Karmchari Andolan.

As per the 2013 Act, the municipalities, Cantonment Boards and Indian Railways authorities have been mandated to construct adequate number of community sanitary latrines within a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation. And when that happens, automatically the persons working would be rendered unemployed. (Hence), the Act also provides for identification and rehabilitation of the existing manual scavengers.

So far so good. Albeit, as it turns out, all such good things remain only on paper.


Manual scavenging practice from a village in Madhya Pradesh (Photo credit: Safai Karmachari Andolan)

The rehabilitation will happen only when the manual scavengers are identified. Going back to the table above, if we are to believe the government, there are only about 12,753 manual scavengers in India. Only one state – Uttar Pradesh – came forward with a figure of 10,000, if not 100 % accurate but towards reality while the rest of the states either did not conduct the survey or did not do it properly.

For instance, bigger states such as Andhra Pradesh has just 89 persons as manual scavengers while Tamil Nadu has 979, Karnataka has 302, Jammu & Kashmir 119 and Maharashtra 139.

Who would believe that?


Women walking as part of the Maila Mukti Yatra (Photo credit: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan)


Women manual scavengers demanding a total ban on the inhuman practice walked to Delhi as part of the Maila Mukti Yatra (Photo credit: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan)

It was in 2010 when women across the country – who had carried out a Maila Mukti Yatra under the banner of Samajik Parivartan Yatra – had met the then Union Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik when the government had audaciously declared there was no manual scavenging remaining in India. As a result of this pressure, the government appointed four committees/task forces in January 2011 to enumerate actual number of people involved in manual scavenging. Things did not move as desired and the government remained reluctant, mostly in denial mode. Then, the Census 2011 data released in 2012 nailed the government lie. The activists had then insisted that the survey should be a joint survey – government official and activists/NGOs together – as no one had any confidence in any of the government machinery.

The ‘House Listing and Housing Census, 2011’ data released by the Registrar General of India in March 2012 provided number of households – more than 25 lakh – by type of latrine facility, including latrines from which night soil is manually removed. It clearly showed that such latrines existed in all states/UTs except in Goa, Sikkim and the UTs of Chandigarh and Lakshadweep.

So, reluctantly the states agreed for the survey. While few started in right earnest, others dragged their feet, more in the denial mode and less due to their capacity to do. The reasons for non-compliance were varied.

Delhi, the national capital territory of Delhi – right under the nose of the Central government – is a classic example of how the babudom finds excuses. For all the months that no work was done for carrying out the survey, Raju Sharsar, the chairman of the Delhi Commission for Safai Karmcharis (DCSK) blames the President’s Rule in Delhi during last one year. “We are still carrying out the survey. There was literally no work going on during last one year due to President’s Rule. (Now) We are hopeful that it will be completed in 60 days,” Sharsar said.

And what about rehabilitation of people who have already been identified? “Sorry, no work has started for rehabilitation,” was Sharsar’s candid reply.

Just how far away from the reality the state governments are is exposed by Ashif Sheikh of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan (National Campaign for Dignity). “Census 2011 threw up a figure of 27 lakh dry toilets across India. Even (then Minister) Jairam Ramesh agreed to conduct a survey in census towns. (But) states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh straightaway disagreed and claimed the Census data was wrong,” Sheikh said, adding, “After much persuasion, some states agreed for survey at the district-level. Some of them are not agreeing to it even on paper, forget on ground.”


Ashif Sheikh of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan during the Delhi meeting after Maila Mukti Yatra. The meeting was attended among others by then union minister Jairam Ramesh) (Photo credit: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan)

He also pointed out how whatever is being done under the name of ‘survey’ is hogwash. “The ongoing survey is being conducted only at the Census towns. It cannot be termed as state-wide data as no survey is happening across remaining areas of the states. Moreover, the definition (of a scavenger) under the 2013 Act has been widened to include anybody who is doing manual cleaning. It includes sewer workers manually cleaning septic tanks, sewer/manholes, it includes those safai karmcharis employed by Indian Railways to clean railway tracks/platforms manually etc. Whatever surveys are being done, are considering only the traditional form of manual scavenging.”

The survey in rural areas is to be done by the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC), which will throw up yet another set of figures and put rest to unusual figures presented by the government in the Parliament, activists believe. But that too has not started yet.

No survey, budget lapses

The first year – 2011 – the government had allotted Rs 65 crore for the survey. March 2012, the government said, it could not spend the money. “Next year, the budget was revised to Rs 10 crore, same was the reply in April 2012. Again in March 2013, nothing,” Wilson pointed out.

A look at the data on the Ministry of Social Justice is testimony to the apprehension of the activists. Under what the government calls as the ‘Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), introduced in 2007 with an aim to rehabilitate “remaining” manual scavengers and their dependents in a “time-bound” manner, the budgetary spend was as follows:

(Rs. in crore)
Year B.E. R.E. Expenditure
2006-07 1.00 56.00 56.00
2007-08 50.00 50.00 25.00
2008-09 100.00 100.00 100.00
2009-10 100.00 100.00 50.00
2010-11 5.00 5.00 Nil
2011-12 100.00 100.00 Nil
2012-13 100.00 100.00 20.00
2013-14 570.00 70.00 35.00
2014-15 448.00 Nil (Till 15th January, 2015)

 

As per the buget for 2015-16, the government has earmarked Rs 460 crore for the SRMS despite the fact that data from years 2011-12 onwards showed a declining trend in expenditure.

According to the government’s revised scheme, those identified as manual scavengers – and ironically, only one from each family – are provided one-time cash assistance. “The identified manual scavengers and their dependents are provided project based back-ended capital subsidy up to Rs 3,25,000 and concessional loan for undertaking self-employment for a period of up to two years, during which a stipend of Rs 3,000 per month is also provided,” reads the government scheme document.

But as with other government claims, activists punched holes in this claim too. Sheikh claimed, “Rs 280 crore has been spent till date on 3.4 lakh beneficiaries, the government claims. But if we see the number of people who are actually rehabilitated, it is far lower – just 81,000 till date.”

Wilson said his organisation estimated there are close to three lakh people directly involved in manual scavenging as per the traditional/conventional manner and the numbers are likely to increase exponentially as and when those defined as scavengers under the new definition are included.

The only good thing – if at all it can be termed as one – is the government admission in the same Parliament reply: “Existence of manually serviced latrines in the States/UTs points to the fact that the practice of manual scavenging is yet to be fully eliminated.”

Okey, so what do you plan to do, dear government?

But this semblance of an assurance does not seem to ensure that further implementation is set to be any better.

Explaining the unused funds at the end of each fiscal, V K Parwanda, deputy general manager of the National Safai Karmcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC), said, “The survey started late and is further delayed. (So) we are late in disbursing one-time assistance for the beneficiaries. We are now asking for comprehensive proposals (for another round of survey) from states for a fresh realistic assessment.”

The Ministry of Social Justice did hold a meeting on March 18 wherein the Centre asked all the states again to complete the survey as early as possible. Parwanda assured that the government was keen on rehabilitating each and every manual scavenger and claimed, it had started publicity till village level for identifying such persons, preventing them to continue such work and rehabilitate them. The ministry has claimed to have put in place a helpline for the purpose.

Will that work? Does that show commitment enough? As per Section 21 of the 2013 Act, Executive Magistrates, who have been conferred judicial powers of first class, are empowered to try any offences committed under the Act.

Fair enough. But government has no data whatsoever if any action has ever been taken under this section.


Women manual scavengers during the Delhi meeting as part of the Maila Mukti Yatra (Photo credit: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan)

But the problem is not even that. It is not to do with what offence anyone commits under the Act, but more to do with the lack of action – rather lack of interest – by the government authorities in doing what they are supposed to do. Wilson pinpointed the problem: “Unfortunately, there is no punishment in the Act for non-performance by government officials not keen on doing what they are supposed to do!”

This write up was first published by TwoCircles.net on April 4, 2015 and it can be read here

Incredible life of Rubina Patel

Nagpur: Incredible! That is how Rubina Patel’s life story is.

She came from a well to do, educated, business family, married to a teacher, blessed with two children. She wanted to study and help the community through her social work. But her life went on an unexpected trajectory.

If fighting against an abusive father was not enough, she faced a violent husband, who pushed her into a well. As if her lonely struggle against corrupt system – vis-à-vis police and court staff that prevented and delayed justice to her – was not enough, she has even faced death threats.

Rubina Patel of Nagpur

Rubina Patel of Nagpur

But, rising above her odds, fighting and hoping against hope, Rubina survived all this and much more. And today, the 39-year-old resident of Tajbagh area, near the Tajuddin Baba Dargah, has become an inspiration for all. She counsels divorced Muslim women and helps out needy young girls and even elder women by training them to earn a living.

She was awarded the Baburao Samant Sangharsh Puraskar 2014 on October 18th.

Early life, marriage and near death experience
Rubina’s father was an educated businessman from Umred, about 50 kms from Nagpur. She dreamt of higher studies and wanted to do social work. But her drunkard father won’t let her study. He would harass her and her mother, not let her eat and even beat her. “Paida karna jurm kyun nahee hai? (Why is giving a birth not considered a crime),” she says in chaste Urdu, one of the four languages – Marathi, Hindi and English being other three – that she is fluent in and alternates with ease.

Rubina interacts with Firdaus Anjum (right), enrolled in one-year fashion designing course along with Neha Anjum, a BA student. “I came to know about the course through pamphlets and some girls from my area too had done this course,” Neha says.
Rubina interacts with Firdaus Anjum (right), enrolled in one-year fashion designing course along with Neha Anjum, a BA student. “I came to know about the course through pamphlets and some girls from my area too had done this course,” Neha says.

A devout to the core, prayers and reciting namaz were a constant then in her life. She was barely 18 – studying in class 12th – when she was married off to a teacher, then posted at Pahla village in Bhandara district, as she thought “marriage would change things” for her. Five years and two children later – the son is now 21 years and daughter 18 – she was in for a rude shock.

Rubina’s husband started ill-treating her. She faced domestic violence and was tortured physically, mentally and sexually. During this time, her will to study prompted her to take up Bachelor in Arts (BA) course but that too was met with hurdles. Her husband would tear up books, ask ‘how she filled up the form without asking?’ and one year, did not even let her go for examination.

One day, her husband brought a ‘talaq ka fatwa’ from a local Mufti. After her father died, her uncle had usurped their property so Rubina’s mother had gone to stay with her own brother. Rubina and her daughter were with Rubina’s mother when the news of talaq reached her. Her husband won’t meet her or allow her to meet their son. With a strong urge to meet her son, she went to the village Kondha Kosra, where husband was then posted.

“July 7, 2007. I can never forget that fateful evening!” Rubina recalls, her eyes looking distant. Her husband not just verbally abused and physically tormented her; he actually pushed and dumped her into a well in their courtyard.

A dangling pipe of a submersible pump inside the well saved her but her left leg was fractured. She remained there in darkness for more than an hour. Her husband had threatened all onlooking neighbours. Almost 1 ½ hours later, several women goaded their husbands to pull her out. “Hanging for my life, I still was thinking about meeting my son. Unfortunately that time, he never listened to me and never met me,” she says her tone palpably sad and angry at once.

Rubina Patel with her project coordinator Shahina at the gate of Rubi Training Institute
Rubina Patel with her project coordinator Shahina at the gate of Rubi Training Institute

Lonely struggle and the zeal for life

With a fractured left leg, she lay on her bed for almost six months, with bouts of crying interspersed with long depressing silence. On one hand she could not believe what had happened with her. On the other, tears won’t stop thinking what next? Her worries were only augmented when her husband lodged a case against her under section 309 (Attempt to commit suicide).

That started another round of trying period for her. Travelling to the court alone, studying and preparing her matter and arguing the case herself. “Even the judge was impressed by my work,” she recalls with a fleeting smile, and, adds quickly, “But no use. Police connived with my husband.”

Every time she would ask the policeman “Did you ask my husband if he has shown me thetalaq ka kaghaz?”, “Did you ask him if he has paid Mehar amount to me?” or “Have you asked if he has returned my stree dhan?” the policemen and even the court staff would find newer excuses of not doing so. (Stree dhan – jewellery / money that a woman in Maharashtra gets at the time of her marriage).

Slowly, slowly her thinking started changing. Her prayers were not answered, her life didn’t show any promise.

“I knew just one thing. I wanted to live for my daughter.” By this time, she had called her mother back from her Mamaji’s place and the trio lived together at Nagpur. It took her 10 years to complete her BA course. Then she did a B Ed course and started working in a school. Masters in Social Work (MSW) and Masters in Arts (MA) followed.

But bouts of depressions continued to haunt her. “I was going to dargah, was offering namaz and prayed regularly. But nothing was happening. One day, as if hit by a bolt, I said, “Enough!” and I felt as if I was free from the bondage of religion. Then I thought to myself, I am independent now, I can do what I want. I can pursue all my dreams now.”

Meanwhile, she was cleared in the ‘attempt to suicide’ case but her counter case challenging her talaq remains incomplete.

Rubi Training Institute building
Rubi Training Institute building

Rubi Social Welfare Society
In 2005, during her MSW course itself, she had started counseling poor needy women from her locality and started Rubi Social Welfare Society from a one-room rented house. As her work expanded, she interacted with several other activists and organizations she started attending workshops on gender and women’s empowerment. In 2008, she came in contact with famous Mumbai based women’s rights activist Hasina Khan and her Aawaz-e-Niswaan (Voice of the Women). It inspired her to do more, expand the scope of her work.

The society has a counseling centre at Kuhi, another village in Nagpur district. Along with women’s rights work there, she also mobilized the women of that village, with about 50,000 population, to organize a daaru bandi protest (no liquor campaing) but did not succeed.

In 2011, Rubina opened the training centre – Rubi Training Institute – with an aim to offer livelihood related course to make women financially independent. “Women from my society, especially poor and illiterate, suffer a lot. And if they are talaq pidit(divorce sufferers), they face more problems. And what are the reasons for divorce? Small little things! Then, there are those taboos – don’t do this, do go there, don’t talk with that man, don’t venture out without a burqa. Burqa sirf kapde ka nahee hota hai, dharm ka bhee hota hai,” the young activist asserts.

Today the training centre – recognized by the government for vocational courses – offers Beauty Culture, Montessori and Computer, for a nominal fee of R500 or R1000. Montessori training is a 9-months course with 10-12 ladies per batch; Beauty Culture training course runs for 6 months with 15 ladies per batch while the fashion designing is a full year course with 15 women and young girls.

The five-room building, an erstwhile school, belongs to the Hazrat Baba Tajuddin Trust and offered to her on a nominal rent. The institute has 3 teachers, one legal advisor, a project coordinator, two community workers and three other persons at the Kuhi centre. Rubi has handled 800-850 cases of counseling. Recently they also started anti-trafficking work at Bhandara district.

Rubi Training Institute building
Rubi Training Institute building

Rubina also reaches out to women from villages, slums and economically backward colonies. Women associated with her often stage demonstrations for their issues. In recognition for her work, she has won the Keshav Gore Smarak Trust Puraskar, Hamid Dalwai Puraskar and Ram Aapte Prabodhan Puraskar since then apart from the latest award in October.

As her work increased, there were people, especially men and religious clerics, who didn’t like what she was doing. In 2011, a mother came pleading to save her underage daughter from getting married. Her husband had thrown her out. “I rang up the area DCP and got the local ACP and the police inspector to stop that marriage. Next thing I know is an irate morcha coming for my life. Police also later came to know about a conspiracy to kill me,” a confident Rubina rattles off similar incidents and puts forth an important point.

A man treats his wife in a different manner but when it comes to his own sister or daughter, he takes a different stand. Rubina hopes: “That’s where my work is.”

(This was first published by TwoCircles.net on November 9, 2014 and can be read at http://twocircles.net/2014nov09/1415509586.html#.VGj12TSUe84)