“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”.
When these women knew what they could do for the society and how they can be influencers rather than the mere recipient, they made it the unwavering truth of their lives. Their only mission was to help the people around who need them the most. Despite carrying their lives in the simplest circumstances and harder struggles, the 12 tribal women group of rural Sundergarh stepped out to serve people in these trying times, thanks to their indomitable spirits.
As the Statewide lockdown has been stringently imposed thrashing normal life in Odisha, these women in Sundergarh emerged as Good Samaritans as they produce face-masks for the poor and spreading awareness on the impact of COVID 19 in 3 Gram Panchayats of Subdega block in Sundergarh district of Odisha.
All these women are associated with the Mahila Sangram Samiti, Sundergarh, a people’s collective that works for the socio-economic and political empowerment of the marginalized communities and especially for women in Sundergarh.
The Gram Panchayats like Kiralaga, Karamdihi and Kurumkel of Subdega block are located in remote areas and there was a scarcity of masks as against the demand.
“We realized that drugstores were overpricing face masks which are essential for the safety against the rampaging COVID19 pandemic and that too were not available nearby. That’s what made us to thought of making face-masks for those who cannot buy it,” said Linen Kerketta.
It was our team members of the organization who encouraged for this noble initiative. We know tailoring and therefore, we decided that we will do our bit until they receive help from the government,” said Ashiyani Tete, whom herself has already made 100 masks and distributed in her Gram Panchayat.
Sundergarh is a tribal-dominated (more than 50 per cent are tribals) district and a Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census conducted by Odisha’s Panchayati Raj department enumerates about 65 per cent of the population in Sundargarh district to be BPL.
Incidentally, as the Bisra town of this district has been shut down by the district administration after two residents of the area were tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, the fear among people rose.
There was a lack of an adequate quantity of protective gear to tackle the deadly coronavirus. At the same time, it was also important for the people to wear masks as it can play crucial in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. So, these women could not wait to produce face-masks and distributed around 500 masks in these 3 Gram Panchayats initially. They are also planning to make another 1000 masks to meet the need of more people as the lockdown was extended till 3rd May.
However, it was not easy though for these women to be where there are now today. As the lock-down declared, getting the raw materials for making masks was an arduous task. However, there was no looking back option left for them. So, they decided that they will donate their new “Sarees” denied them the access to buy the raw materials used for making the masks, these women are using their new ‘Sarees’, which happens to be a costly affairs for these women, made 500 masks initially. To help communities around protect against the Coronavirus, said Laxmi Bag of Atmashakti Trust.
“They started by making a few for neighbours and in their villages, but when we encouraged them to what all they can, then they chose to spread awareness along with the making of face-masks,” said Laxmi Bagh, of Atmashakti Trust, a Delhi based non-profit which works with Mahila Sangram Samiti through its state-level ally Mahila Shramajeebi Manch, Odisha (MSMO) to lift women’s socio-economic and political empowerment in 17 tribal-dominated districts of Odisha.
“All the 12 women know tailoring and that’s why they could independently make 500 masks within a week which was otherwise impossible for them in these remote areas,” added Laxmi.
Talsara MLA Bhabani Shankar Bhoi was all praise for these tribal women in his appreciation letter that reads “these women of my constituency have been working relentlessly in these areas to bring government benefits to the poor since last 3 years and their Good Samaritan role in these trying times are exemplary. I congratulate all those who have been associated with this effort of Mahila Sangram Samiti, Sundergarh”.
“There is no doubt that this pandemic left a heavy lesson on us but also gave us a scope to show our humanity. We have always stood with the community in their good or trying times and there were no better ways than to serve these people by distributing face-masks for free at a time they were unable to buy them at an exorbitant cost. Also, we are educating people on social distancing, hand-washing, wearing masks and other important information by using wall paintings in villages so that people follow the advisory for their own safety,” said Mamata Singh of Harakpada village of Kiralaga Gram Panchayat who chose to compromise with her household chores to produce face-masks for needy.
Naba Kishor Pujari is an author, columnist and Media professional and has been writing on education issues since last 10 years. His articles have been published in Odia, Hindi, English and Turkish journals and newspapers. He has received JP Overton fellowship for Education Policy in 2012 for his work on public education in India. Based in Bhubaneswar, Mr Pujari is awarded Laadli Media Award 2017 for his contribution in writing in newspapers on women’s rights, Duradarshi Samman 2013, Saptaka Literature Award in Youth Category for his contribution to literature and media.