Indien: Biro Bala Rava

In Biro Bala Rava's world, hunting those branded as "witches" had an economic aspect. So, she used the modern weaponry of women's education to counter a heinous practice.

— Biro Bala Rava

The story of Biro Bala Rava (born 1959) reads like an inspirational, if medieval, battle between good and evil: Biro lives in a remote, backward village in Assam, where she has been fighting to save women condemned to death as "witches". She then moved on to other equally vitiating issues that affect the lives of those around her, showing exceptional courage in the face of personal danger and isolation by family and community, and perseverance in fighting against the custom that demonizes women. And she is winning.

The first foray of Biro Bala Rava into working with her community's women was her confrontation with the custom of identifying dainy (witches), trying them in the patriarchal panchayat (village council), and sentencing them to death. She campaigned strongly against the dainy system-citing the incident where an ojha (exorcist) had declared that her mentally disturbed son would die because he was married to a fairy-in close collaboration with the Assam Mahila Samata Society. The fight was long and hard, but eventually she managed to convince more and more women that they were victims of vested-interest superstition. In 2001, the community took a collective decision not to torture or kill women "witches". This process also led to her working with other women in her village to confront problems such as alcohol and environmental issues-even, for instance, that they needed to construct a hut in which to conduct the activities of the women's group: Borjhara Tobarani Mahila Samata Sangha. Today, liquor is history, and for each tree felled, a hard-nosed fine is levied. Biro also motivated the community about the advantages of education. Biro's perseverance has inspired neighboring villages as well, where the women have also formed sanghas (congregations). There has been a considerable drop in the number of dainy deaths in the area. Many neighboring villages have stopped selling country liquor. They also protest against police or army atrocities, and come forward to participate in community development works. Biro is an extraordinary woman-fighting medieval battles with modern weaponry, an inspiration to others more literate than herself.

Borjhara Tobarani Mahila Samata Sangha