In many parts of India, when a woman who has lost her husband wears bright clothes or takes up employment outside her home, eyebrows are raised, questions asked, and motives ascribed. There are so many young women, just in their twenties, who have been widowed overnight. These women need help to start their life on a fresh note.
Sometimes, all it takes is one incident to transform one from bystander to a participant of change. For Binalakshmi Nepram, that moment came on Christmas eve in 2004 when she witnessed the aftermath of the killing of 27-year-old man in Wabgai Lamkhai village, southeast of Manipur’s state capital Imphal. Till date, his young wife Rebika Akham doesn’t know who the killers were and why they killed her husband.
A few days after the incident, Ms. Nepram contributed Rs.4500 to buy a sewing machine for Rebika. This machine enabled the victim’s wife, Rebika to stitch and tailor clothes for the villagers and to secure her humble living after the death of her husband. This intervention was the beginning of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network (MWGSN).
First of its kind initiative in India, the MWGSN was formed in an attempt to help woman like Rebika to heal the scars that decade of violence has caused the community. Thanks to this network, women in Manipur have received financial assistance as well as legal support for small scale entrepreneurial work so that they can move on in life with their new found courage.
Take examples of lives that have been changed with the help of this network. Meet Tanya Devia (18) whose father passed away as he was gunned down by the armed forces in 2001. MWGSN gave her mother Huidrom Geeta Devi a loan of Rs.3000 in 2007 with which Tanya was able to start a small business. As the months rolled by, her confidence as an entrepreneur grew. Today, she is a proud owner of a shop that sells embroidery dress materials, incense sticks and household goods.
MWGSN also provides legal assistance to the women to fight their cases for justice and compensation since they themselves are most often too poor to afford lawyers. In addition to legal assistance, medical assistance is provided to take care of the health needs of the affected women. The Network does this by entering into arrangements with doctors who are willing to provide free check-ups or dental care.
In order to function smoothly, meetings are held every two months in an informal setting – like the courtyard of a member’s house – to discuss individual problems as well as general issues, like the treatment accorded to widows in society.The Network meetings are not just to discuss problems, but are also meant as a time of togetherness over tea and snacks. The idea is to reach out and explore ways to address common problems.
Indeed such brave woman exist in real life, women who inspire us to Stop Talking and Start Acting! Such people who don’t wait for the government to intervene but solve problems by acting on it by themselves.
Story Courtesy: The Better India and I See India