Bharat Jodo Yatra: After 14 years Kalawati meets Rahul Gandhi to thank him

Kalawati managed to meet the Congress MP, who had spoken of her plight in parliament in 2008, to thank him. We spoke to her and other women Yatris from Maharashtra

Bharat Jodo Yatra: After 14 years Kalawati meets Rahul Gandhi to thank him

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

Kalawati from Yavatmal had hit the headlines in 2008 when Rahul Gandhi spoke about her plight in Parliament. Her husband Parashuram had committed suicide, unable to repay his farm loan. The widow was left to fend for her nine children and Kalawati took to working on a cotton farm to survive.

That was the time when the Congress MP, travelling through Vidarbha, met her and assured her of help. Fourteen years after their first meeting Kalawati Bandurkar heard of Rahul Gandhi visiting Maharashtra on the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Her village was not on the route of the Yatra but the old lady was determined to meet the Congress leader and thank him for coming to her rescue.

She managed to meet Rahul Gandhi at a function to pay tributes to Adivasi freedom fighter from Jharkhand Birsa Munda on November 15, thanks to MP Suresh Dhanorkar and MLA Pratibha Dhanorkar; she also walked with Rahul Gandhi for 10 kilometres on the Hingoli-Wasim Road.

When Rahul Gandhi saw her on stage, he asked her in Marathi, “Kassa kaay chalay (how are you doing)?" and "Baal kashi aahet (How are your kids)?"

“My life changed after Rahul ji raised his voice for me. The monetary help I received from him and others came as a major relief then,” she recalled, adding that she had managed to pay off her husband’s loan, educate her children and marry them off. She is a grandmother now and prays for Rahul Gandhi’s wellbeing every day.

She would like to see Rahul Gandhi happily married and wanted to ask when he planned to settle down. "But he is married to India and has no time for anyone else, I understand that. So, I did not ask him why he had not found a nice girl as yet."

She is one of the 37 women walking from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. But Atisha Paithankar from Nashik stands out because she ignored calls for an airlines job in favour of joining the Bharat Jodo Yatra. She had been seeking the job for the past three years, she recalls with a smile, but it appeared more important to join the long march, she reflects.

After more than two months walking on the road, she has no regrets, claims Atisha. Meeting new people, hearing new stories, getting acquainted with new languages and expressions, listening to public grievances on the way, she insists, is making her a better person. “It is daily learning on the road and we make notes of what we see and hear,” she informs.

“We are getting to understand our country and its people, its customs, culture, history and heritage. Different and alien languages in every state do pose difficulties. But it is also

satisfying to pick up new words and idioms and learn a smattering of new languages,” she volunteers.

The adulation for Rahul Gandhi is evident. ‘He makes it a point to find time and interact with us, inspires us to sustain the pace and keep going,” gushes Atisha while others nod in agreement. The Yatra, she is convinced, is making her a better person and a ‘better leader’ rather than a big leader.

Five of the nine ‘Bharat Yatris’ from Maharashtra happen to be women. Two of the women, Pinky Rajput and Vaishnavi Bhardwaj, are from Nagpur. Nanda Mhatre is from Raigad while Prerna Gaur is from Chandrapur. The only Mumbaikar among the nine is Dr Manoj Upadhyay from Navi Mumbai. Mahendra Vohra, also from Nagpur, and Shravan Rapanwad from Nanded complete the contingent from the state.

The women are combative and feisty. Says Nanda Mhatre, “The widely held belief is that women cannot manage the pressures of politics and manipulations; that they cannot handle the rough and tumble of politics.” But the perception, she believes, is a myth perpetuated by men who do not want to cede their dominant position in politics. She concedes that many of the elected women as Sarpanch in village panchayats do behave like dummies, allowing their husbands to call the shots. But all that needs to change, she adds emphatically.

Women, she adds, will have to increasingly come out and fight against patriarchy and feudalism. Women, she believes, are also capable of fighting the hatred now endemic in society. There is no reason why women, who are equal in number to men, should remain in shadows and allow men to dominate them. A far more robust representation of women in politics, she feels, is needed to secure for women their due and rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Pinky Rajput has been to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to understand ‘what’s wrong with these states’. She wanted to understand how people were coping with unemployment and high prices. Cooking gas cylinders are now so expensive that women in both the states have gone back to their ‘chulhas’ or mud ovens.

In both the states, she adds, most men seemed hardly bothered about the suffering of women in their own households. In both these states she found everything ‘politicised’, even toilets. In both states she found open defecation to be common and toilets for women non-existent. In both states the data released and shared by state governments, she states, are very far from the truth. In both states people are divided on both religious and caste lines. Women in Uttar Pradesh, however, felt a little more unsafe than in Bihar. The overtness of religion was also more in the face in UP.

"Women in the two states don't have rights over their own body; they are still owned by their families,” she adds grimly. Not that the plight of women in other states is much better, she concedes while recalling her meeting with a woman in Telangana who had been abandoned by her husband. The Yatra is allowing her to learn of the plight of women in different states and is making her and other women Yatris reflect on the road ahead.

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