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The lionesses of Gujarat

With quiet dignity, Bhumika Madle (19), hobbles to her coaching class in the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Bhumika has a polio-affected leg, but she refuses to sit at home, much to the chagrin of her family. Forced out of school when she was in the eighth standard, Bhumika was not equipped with an education to get a job.

Then came 'Ummeed' (hope), a vocational training centre for the underprivileged, that provided the necessary skill set to people like Bhumika to make them employable. Bhumika picked up basic computer software skills and is now employed in an entry-level job in a multi-national company.

Bhumika is back at the coaching centre. Surprised at this apparent backtrack, I ask her why, she quips: "to increase my skills and get a better job, so that I can prove all those people wrong who feel women shouldn't go out to work and disabled are weak."


Horrific history: Families and individuals are still recovering from the
Gujarat communal riots
 
Lioness #1
With a neat plait dangling to her waist where a sari sits tightly tucked, lithe and agile Veenaben, 35, sits in a recording studio in yet another village near Ahmedabad. 'Rudi nu Radio' is a radio programme that is run by SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association). It spreads awareness among the rural population about issues like community weddings, de-addiction, solar energy, pollution prevention, hygiene and HIV.  Veenaben tells me that she is 'matric pass' (10th grade) but that did not stop her from seeking work. Veenaben credits Rudi nu Radio for empowering Muslim women to convince their families about family planning and immunisation benefits.

She tells me that women from villages, who earlier could not conceive of earning a living, call in to get earning tips. Quietly, yet with efficiency, Veenaben is improving the way rural Gujarati women lead their lives. 

Lioness #2
Khadisa Bibi (name changed) lives in a chawl in Ahmedabad. She had 7 sons and lived in Gulbarg society near Ehsan Jaffri's house, that is, until the riots of 2002 occurred. Her eyes well up with tears when she recalls that fateful day in her life when everything changed. "My son went up to the terrace and called out to me saying, 'Ma, I can see fires raging in the city. I asked him come down, as it was not safe. And then they came...the mobs...I hid with my grandchildren for an hour and then ran out from the back street to a neighbour's house.

When I came out, I saw my son's body. He had been hacked to death. Another son died in the hospital -- the doctor said he had been poisoned. 3 other sons and their families ran away, I don't know if they are dead or alive. Now I am left with two sons, one runs a shop eking out a meagre living, the other is mentally challenged and needs medical attention."

Khadeesa Bibi works in the unorganised sector and lives under the poverty line. "That one day changed my entire life. I have stopped waiting for relief and rehabilitation. One day I will get the strength to go back to my burnt flat...someday it will be safe to do that."

Lioness #3
Her eyes dance with emotion, her body shakes with anger. Mallika Sarabhai, 57, doesn't look a day older than 40. The activist, who has taken on the powerful Chief Minister of the state Narendra Modi, has a doctorate from Indian Institute of Management (IIM, Ahmedabad) is a dancer of repute, daughter of famous scientist Vikram Sarabhai and dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai, runs an arts centre Darpana. Her lips smile but her doe-eyes dance with anger, "I thought Mr Modi would at some point realize his mistakes and atone for the riots....this Sadbhavana sham is a joke. He can never be Prime Minister. This laboratory of divisive politics will end with Gujarat. You watch, there are too many voices now, which are speaking up.How many of us will he crush?"

Lioness #4
And there are others, Zakia Jaffri, Shwetha Bhatt, Jagruti Pandya, who make a difference. Lionesses pitted against the system, bringing a change to the status quo.

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