It has been two years since Kanta Devi has been living at her maternal home in Visma, a small village 50km away from Udaipur. She is a single mother. Her alcoholic husband is basically unable to feed her and her child. The stigma attached to a divorced woman is unnecessarily steeped in the societal disregard for the woman and her character. Especially in this part of the country where machoism is as much celebrated as it is dangerous. Kantaji, as I often address her, is a woman of a dainty and petite physicality and presence. Not much can be made of her appearance in the first glance. That was my takeback after our first meeting.
I got introduced to her as one of the staffs on my office. She works as a Bank Mitra. Basically, a friend of the Self-help groups, she enables the illiterate women of these groups to perform financial transactions in one of the banks near her village. She got into Rajeevika(the social, government organisation that we both work in) through a series of trainings and exams conducted to sift out head strong women who can help the local self-help groups transact and do their business with the banks.
Kantaji is mostly found arguing with the often uncooperative bank manager, filling up loan forms and disbursing loans to the many SHGs in and around her village. She sits in a conspicuous corner in the bank, with a table in front of her. Yes. She looks like she is an employee in the bank. Many unaware bank customers come to seek for her help. She is from their community, their economic strata. She understands their plight better than the unruly Bank manager, who is, well, almost like how all Bank managers are. Wearing their pride and casteism on their sleeves.
Kantaji earns a modest Rs. 3000 per month along with added incentives depending on the targets that she has been able to achieve. She is a beacon of hope in her family, for her kid and her old, cute as a wrinkle Grandmother.
Her affable smile gives way to a more head strong and persuasive attitude when she is working in the field.
Her personal hurdles with her husband, the society’s judgemental eyes, her poverty stricken family has not stopped her from pursuing a career, taking up the responsibility of her son, her family and her happiness into her own, very able hands.