When CRHP began its work in the 1970s, one of the major barriers it needed to overcome was casteism within the villages. In Dr. Raj’s words, “different caste groups did not freely socialise, [so] we devised some excuses to bring them together.” One of these attempts was through volleyball games. While CRHP would work on abolishing gender inequality, the volleyball initiative began with only the men of the village participating, as at the time women had little place in Indian society outside of the domestic sphere. Every evening, men of all castes and socioeconomic statuses joined together. After the game, they stuck around, discussing their problems freely with one another on culture, poverty, and work.
After some time elapsed, the men decided they needed “support and a forum to express themselves,” which led them to organize what are now called Farmers’ Clubs (FC) under CRHP’s guidance. One of the founding members of Village Khandvi’s FC is Madhukar Sastre. Below is his story about the formation of his village’s Farmers’ Club and its impact on him personally.
The formation of the Farmers’ Club in Khandvi was a challenging. Although CRHP started its work in Khandvi in 1975, “they put the work on hold because there wasn’t a good community response.” At the time, the community members were wary of the of promise of help from outside sources. In the past, such programs usually had two results. First, the income rift deepening: “in those days, the government people would visit at 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning, but at that time all the poor, the farmers, and the workers were at their farms or working as laborers. And so who was there? The rich…they were the only ones getting the benefit.” The second result, attempts at religious conversion: “the people thought that (an organization such as) CRHP would try to convert us, so they stopped participating.”
However, after witnessing the positive, tangible change CRHP was able to enact within a nearby village, the people of Khandvi asked CRHP for a second chance. “When the Mobile Health Team and CRHP started working in my village, they discussed the benefits of participation… The team explained to us that to create a FC, we would need to organize a minimum of 5-10 socially-minded people to come together: people who would voluntarily dedicate themselves to serve and to help our village. In the end, we came together as 15 FC members. We noticed that it was not for CRHP’s benefit, but for our own benefit that they were sharing all that would be of help to us.”
Each month a small price was collected as a membership fee. CRHP agreed to match the amount raised by the Farmers’ for the men to use in the event that they faced hardship in the future, “half of the contribution from the people, half from CRHP.” As the farmers began to benefit from coming together in the FC, and as trust was built within the community, the people of the village began attending free seminars orchestrated by CRHP. These seminars included topics such as watershed development to harvest water and minimize soil runoff. “Each and every one of the farmers applied this knowledge to their own farms and benefitted.”
While the Farmers’ Clubs provided an agricultural and economic benefit for the village, it also created a platform to discuss social change and gender equality. On a personal note for Madhu, “before joining in the FC, I was thinking only of myself, but after joining I started thinking of others.” Madhu became a role model for other men in his village. He helped to implement a large watershed, which increased water accumulation and crop yield in the village. He also served to counsel couples in the village to resolve their quarrels.
When Madhu reflects back, he can’t believe how far the village has come. “Now there is real change. There is gender equality, and women are extremely empowered. They aren’t tolerating the men’s inappropriate behavior anymore.” But it wasn’t always like that. He recalls the standard in his life that he had never questioned before joining the Farmers’ Club: “The women in my own house were working for the whole week, and on the last day of the week when they were given their payment, they had to give it to me. With the money, I would go to the market where my male friends would join. We would have tea, alcohol, food, and only then, if there was any money left, we would purchase the household items or the vegetables. Otherwise, we would take an empty bag back to the house. When I would come back home in the evening, my kids were waiting, thinking that I would bring them a sweet from the market, but after they saw the empty bag they would cry.”
The change in the men’s attitudes was slow but lasting. It came from within the community, rather than from an external source, which ultimately provided for its long-term endurance. Before the Farmers’ Club, Madhu had accepted the social standard that women were second class citizens. He said that the men would eat first and the women would be left with the scraps, but now in his own house, “both the women in the family as well as the men are brought together to eat.” The social change and focus on gender equality in the FC began to change the village. “Women were given the freedom to make their own decisions, and they participated in the women’s self-help groups, which helped with income generation. With money in hand, they had the freedom to make their own decisions.”
The positive impact of the Farmers’ Club on village Khandvi is undeniable, but so too is the impact on Madhu’s life. He attributes the improved relationships with his daughters to the progressive thinking of the FC. “The old way was that when the girls started their menstruation, there were many restrictions, such as not going outside or getting an education. There was child marriage at 13 years-old… but because I was a FC member, I changed my attitude… I educated my daughters… and they themselves chose their husbands.”
Written by: Annalise Tolley