Manisha Gangode is not the typical rural girl. A little shy perhaps but determination writ large on her face, she resisted attempts to stop her college education as there was no facility in her village of ‘Kochargoan’ and enrolled in a distant college to pursue her graduation studies. Her desire to study engineering though took a back seat. Three years back she joined our ‘Shodhini’ programme as a community researcher. She had no inkling to what was in store as a researcher; however, she joined more to do something for her community. She had seen her parents work for a cause, and perhaps that served as the initial motivation. She was a quick learner as she took to the research tools easily and was soon collecting data from other village girls about the status of their education and reasons of early marriage. The research process brought out her leadership qualities. She took ownership of the research process, saw the linkages to her own life and began understanding the reasons why girls lives were so low on priority. Due to her determination and resolve she was able to deal with the pressures and taunts and even harassments from some section of her village community who were not used to seeing girls active in the village.
On a womens day, she dared to dream big. She along with other girls requested the village Sarpanch (Village Council head) to organize a womens Gram Sabha (Village assembly). Seeing hesitancy and reluctance, she and her friends took the initiative and went door to door to invite women to attend the special Gram Sabha. The task was difficult as hitherto women were never invited to special womens meeting although it was mandatory. Not many women attended but those who did realized the importance of the space to discuss mater close to their heart. Manisha and other girls then went to the Gram Panchayat office and shared the plight of village girls, the insecurity they felt and even showed them the Map they had drawn to show areas in the village where they felt unsafe. This was the first instance in their village where girls had shown courage to demand actions for their welfare.
Manisha not only conducted the research successfully but is in the forefront to share the findings and recommendations with different communities and institutions. The process of research was just the opportunity Manisha needed. Manisha is a natural-born leader with amazing observation, which she is able to translate into writing skits on the problems faced by the girls. Her acting is realistic and she enjoys showing her abilities to applauding audience.
Seeing her various skills and maturity, Abhivyakti invited her to become a ‘Madhyam Sakhi’ (Media activist), a field-level functionary handling five Gram Panchayat villages. The job was demanding which included visiting these villages, discussing different issues with villagers of various hues, and organizing media events for generating awareness and actions. It also entailed liasioning with the Gram Panchayat officials. For the young Manisha, who was not new to the village realities took the challenge in her stride. She was soon meeting women, youth, farmers, village elders, listening to their struggles, organizing events, visiting the Gram Panchayats and even organizing demonstrations on the issue of early marriage of girls and demanding actions to stop it.
Manisha is a transformed person now. The opportunities and exposure she got has made Manisha into a determined young woman. She has been able to negotiate with her own family about what she wants to do in her life. She is able to talk with elders and village leaders with ease and is able to articulate the needs of her villagers with confidence and dignity. Due to her initiative and actions, villagers have begun to take her seriously. They talk about her with respect, and even consider her a potential Village Council leader. For Manisha this is a natural progression, of the immense qualities she has and want to put to use for the betterment of her village community.