Nalanda, one of the greatest and renowned centers for learning since ancient times is a small village in Bihar in India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its contribution to history and education. Located here is also Anju a girl studying in the 9th grade with a local school. She is a find by an organization called Gram Vaani who are doing a commendable job in the women empowerment and digital divide spheres in this area.
Nalanda district of Bihar and its women have now a ray of hope as Gram Vaani initiatives help them build up their present lives. Consistently interacting with the community here, Gram Vaani (GM) and its platform termed Mobile Vaani has come across many such women and girls like Anju who have inspiring tales to share and can be of inspiration to others. They are on a mission to spread these inspiring stories and their poor condition and state of affairs throughout the country.
Who is Gram Vaani
Gram Vaani is a Social Technological enterprise which believes in developing and using appropriate technologies and people driven processes to build participatory media networks that can empower communities. Gram Vaani has come up with Mobile Vaani (MV) is a mobile based voice media platform for underserved areas whereby users generate content in their own local dialect through an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS).
MV uses the ‘missed call’ concept where users place a call to an MV phone number, the server disconnects and calls them back, making the system free of cost for the users. Development Agencies and Government Departments have used the platform to collect crowd-sourced data on the performance of government schemes, push out messages on health and related topics and enable citizen-government engagement by conveying grievances to relevant government authorities.
Co-Founder Gram Vaani
Several impact stories have been documented about how MV has empowered young girls to become citizen journalists and gain respect in their villages, increased awareness of government schemes leading to increased utilization, enforced accountability and challenged corruption in the implementation of welfare schemes, mobilized communities to organize anti-alcoholism drives, among others.
Media is a powerful channel of information and influence. The messages they transmit not only inform but change and reinforce social norms and mobilize citizens to act. But it has been found that access to media is a challenge for women due to patriarchal norms that limit mobility and access to technology such as mobile phones. Also, self-expression is empowering but there are few platforms where women can safely voice their concerns, learn from peers and grow their capabilities.
Meri Awaaz Meri Pehchan (MAMP) is a novel mobile based community media platform operated by women through collective structures that accelerate their access to technology, enable their creation of content which is useful for them and provide safe forum to discuss their issues which can alter social norms and even strengthen local governance. We are creating a bottom- up media platform for constituencies which get the least importance in media: low-income rural and urban women. For this we have a toll-free number exclusively for women of this location.
Anju the Inspiration
Digging deeper an example which comes up is of a girl of Std IX who is from the Musahar community and is the only girl from the community to study and wants to go for higher education too. Musahar is a Hindu scheduled cast community. Rat-Catchers originally, they are presently landless agricultural laborers. They often end up being job less for as long as eight months at a stretch. Children work alongside their parents often as rag-pickers to earn little to no wages per day. Literacy rates among Musahar people is very less whereas the female literacy rate of the community is about nil. More than 85 Percent of Musahars suffer from malnutrition deprived from accessing health centers which are as it is pretty scarce in the area
A 15-year-old girl goes to school every day. This may not seem interesting to anybody but when we say that she is Anju who belongs to Musahar community it should definitely grab eyeballs. According to a survey conducted by Karitas India, 17% of girls in the Musahar community get married at a tender age of just 10 years and 19.7% gets pregnant with their first baby by the age of 11-14 yrs. 78% of the population (both male and female) are illiterates and from the rest 17% have studied till primary level and only 1% gets higher education. So, this report is enough to reveal the poor condition of the Musahar community.
Coming back to Anju who belongs to the same community but has a different story to share. She lives in Gokhulpur village of Nehusa panchayat which comes under Harnaut block of Nalanda district in Bihar. The village is around 10 kms away from Harnaut. She studies in 9th standard in Nehusa High school. Gram Vaani / Mobile Vaani got introduced to her during one of their (MV) event which was held on International Day of Education.
Community Reporter (MV) Poonam had visited the place earlier. The activity being conducted under MV initiative was ‘Each one Teach one’. During this activity it was revealed that none of the girls in the village were going to school. It was here that Anju was asked if she was interested to take some lead and make the other girls of her age to learn writing names of themselves and their family members. This activity/task was given to few other women and girls in other villages also.
To their surprise it was observed that Anju could teach around 10 girls and make them learn to write their names within 7 days’ time. She also gave leads into the livelihood pattern of the residents of the village. 95% of people in the village or villages around were migrant labors due to extreme poverty existent in the village. The poor villagers would move to places like Haryana, Punjab etc. either permanently or for longer duration of months. They had to move with their entire family as leaving behind the girls would be not safe and of no good.
During Mobiles Vaani Team’s in-depth interaction with Anju’s father it was learnt that girls anyhow had to be married off at an early age despite child marriage banned in India. This because if they were not married early then the upper caste people in the village (like Yadavs, Brahmins etc.) took advantage of such girls and the situation to exploit them sexually.
The reasons behind the girls not being educated were many like they accompany their parents to different states for months together and also because they get married at an early age. Anju’s father is the ward member of the village but also works as daily wage laborer and is illiterate too. A concerned father he has a different thinking which again is not that different. He got his elder daughter married at the age of 12 because there was pressure from the society. Anju is the younger one.
Her father wants her to get married too but she has made up her mind that she will study at least till intermediate. She also wants to make her own mark and earn money. She has been denying to what her father wants. Of course, her education is a blessing and her parents have been supportive for that but Anju certainly is a true example of Breaking Barriers as she wants to break the norms brought on her by her under-privileged community.
Anju has carved her own path somehow despite the struggles but what about the other girls of the Musahar community. When the Mobile Vaani (MV) team enquired further they found that many of the girls are interested to study but they can’t as they stay for a very short period at the place and then they are engaged in labor works too. MV has laid out some plans for the girls of the village to provide them with Non-formal education. This facility to these girls can only be extended in collaboration with some organization working for this cause in the development sectors.
We salute Anju for her Never Say Never Spirit and we would want to congratulate the MV team for all the good work they have been doing for the Musahar Community and its women. Winning Stree does its bit by bringing forth the story of Anju to masses and the winningstree community. Anju is a true winningstree in every way and long live Mobile Vaani for such brilliant initiatives which excavates such jewels from a community which thrives really hard to survive.
To listen to more such stories dial their 24*7 toll free number 9266614000