Bindu Made Her Point Well
Bindu Made Her Point Well
It was in 1981 when I had joined the post graduate course in rural management at Anand, a small town in Kheda District in Gujarat. Anand is now famous for its AMUL story, where it all began during the cusp of Indian independence. One always felt inspired by the origin of how the first dairy cooperative was set up. The stellar role played by Dr Kurien, Sri Tribuvandhas Patel, Sardar Patel and his protégé Morarji bhai Desai. Of-course not to mention meeting several other leaders lesser known in the media who had played their role in creating a white revolution that India became famous for decades later.
Manthan directed by Shyam Benegal was a national award-winning film that captured the story of AMUL in its starting days. Let me introduce at this juncture the feisty young woman Bindu, a village belle, role played by dark and dusky beauty Smitha Patil. The setting of the film was a caste-ridden village with the quota of the usual villains who wanted to sabotage the cooperative but get thwarted by the bold women Bindu and her supporters. Who knew that time in my real life I would get to meet a real Bindu as well?
It was decades later I came across a real Bindu in a village called Karaikeni, 30 km away from the temple town of Madurai. The city was famous for the Meenakshi Temple which drew hordes of devotees all through the year. I was a writer focussing on stories from rural development and was told of a new initiative of collectivising herbal gatherers into a self-help group and forming a cooperative type of a company. There were a few NGOs implementing a medicinal plants conservation network who were at the back of this initiative.
So, there I was attending a meeting organized by the NGO workers where in groups of 25-30 women had gathered there and narrating their story. That was my first meeting with Bindu then. She was quite outspoken unlike the other women. She had studied up to tenth unlike her illiterate counterparts. I guessed her age must have been around mid-thirties. She was engaged in herbal gathering profession for about 5 years. Her day would begin at the dawn with the first lights of the Sun. She and a few women have a glass of rice gruel and set forth to the poramboke (common lands as called in Tamil) and begin gathering till about 10 or 11 am. By that time, they would be able to gather about 10-15 kgs of herbs which they would bundle and with their head load trudge back to their village and spread the herbs in the open space in front of the house for drying.
Next day they would take a bus to the buyer in the town who would mercilessly exploit them and give them a throw away price. Bindu said they had no other option. The women showed their hands and legs and showed us the signs of bites of insects, scratches from the thorny bushes and sometimes even snakes. Their skin was scarred from the harsh sun-light exposure.
Bindu was quite clear that a self-help group for women gatherers would go a long way in easing their burden. She had heard about savings SHGs benefitting the women. The concept of shares in the company akin to a milk cooperative which also functioned in her village was a great plus. The idea that herbs could be procured at the village itself, aggregated and directly supplied to the manufacturing companies meant a better price for the herbs and reduction of their dreary labour and humiliation at the hands of the trader.
Bindu readily took on the leadership role and assured that the women would cooperate. A year later when I got in touch with the NGO they had informed that the company had been formed. I told them I wanted to visit Karaikeni and meet with Bindu and her group to see the progress for myself.
A week later I was at Karaikeni and felt glad that Bindu recognised me. She was leading the operations in her village. She was weighing the loads collected by her group and noting in her register. The company was giving higher price than the trader minus all that logistical headaches and humiliation. The woman sounded happy at the turn of events.
Bindu had made her point very well.