The adjacent photo is one of my favorite drawing in the book. It is of a group of women wearing colorful Gujarati clothing, pulling out crops on a farm. The story behind it is very interesting. One of the women from a small village in Kutch (a district of Gujarat), had lost her husband. Her brother-in-law took over their farm, thereby depriving her of a livelihood. Going to court was ineffectual and the governing village council ignored what was happening. The woman gathered together a group and their form of protest was destroying the crops, which eventually worked. The brother-in-law gave the land back to its rightful owner.
The book has over 200 drawings, documenting these kinds of stories, mostly about the women’s movement in villages. The illustrator is Radhaben Garwa - an incredibly strong woman and artist who comes from the Baraya village in Mundra, Kutch. She is part of the collective at Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), an NGO that campaigns for women’s rights, economic empowerment, resistance to globalizing corporations and so much more. Radhaben has been documenting stories for the last 16 years.
What is powerful about this book is that it is the voice of someone who is often not heard and not visible in the published sphere. Radhaben is a strong Dalit woman from rural Gujarat. This book gives us a chance to get a window into her life and really hear the stories of these women and see what she sees.
The stories in the book provide a political and vibrant perspective of the rural women’s movement in India. The women of Kutch in their colorful clothing, who are made up of different communities and casts are producers and activists. They deal with issues such as inequality in patriarchal societies. They also face global threats such as land takeovers from corporations, water shortages, and debts. One of the drawings represents the women participating in the Chipko movement, which was an organized resistance to the destruction of forests. Chipko means “embrace” the villagers embraced/hugged the trees and prevented the contractors’ from felling them.
The accompanying text by Sushma Iyengar captures the essence of the drawings in a magnificent way. Sushma is one of the three women who founded KMVS and has a background in cultural livelihoods, local governance, gender injustice and disaster management. Sushma is one of the most humble and caring people I have met and is also the one that gifted me this book, for which I am so grateful. We here at rHope are hoping to get orders for the book. Sales for this book will go towards sustaining the work of KMVS.
Sushma gives us a portrait of Radhaben. “She is one of the first women who joined the movement. She came in because she along with some other women were trying to help a woman who was being battered by her husband. That is how she joined the movement. She did that one act and ever since then has been part of the movement. She joined the collective and then was keen to brush up her own literacy because she had learned as a child and had forgotten. So when we had organized one of the first literacy camps she very eagerly joined it along with almost 50-60 other women.”
When these women came, they got a basic idea of the alphabet. After attending the camp, they were so inspired that they felt the need to start something, and so they started the newsletter Ujjas (light in Gujarati). They believed that there is a light inside each and every one of them.
The newsletter was written, edited, created, published and printed by the women. They refused to be silent and wanted to unveil the truth. The paper created awareness and gave power. Radhaben spear-headed the whole process. Although she had limited education, she enjoyed expressing herself through words and through writing. She also started drawing a lot which was another effective way to reach the women since many couldn’t read. She really captured the expressions of people. She developed her own unique style of illustrating and she continued to contribute to the collective. The drawings in the book are from the Ujjas newspaper.
Another bonus! The book provides a powerful afterword by journalist Kalpana Sharma, which gives a deeper understanding of the feminist rural movement in India.
The book discusses some serious and important issues in the women’s movement and it is done in a super fun and creative way. Ideally the book is perfect for everyone. The expressions on their faces are demonstrative of their strong characters and it is enjoyable to see the lively colors of the drawings. The stories of change give a strong feeling of empowerment and hope.
Overall you are experiencing the journey of the movement through Radha’s eyes, which is an incredibly powerful way to understand the challenges that have happened and continue to happen. In addition to many of the difficulties they faced, it was great to see the fun things the women experienced as well. For example, seeing the excitement as the women traveled across the country to meet and share with other women who have similar experiences. It was hilarious to see the expressions traveling in buses and rickshaws.
“While Radhaben herself was going through a process of empowerment, She was also empowering herself by constantly empowering other women”
We invite you to discover this book. A book full of fun and interesting drawings that showcase real stories of women who have empowered themselves.
By: Kristeen Singh
Edits: Bharti Patel and Sushma Iyengar