Indien: Duiji

A single tribal woman day laborer stood up to usurious landowners, and then went on to change the developmental complexion of an entire village.

— Duiji

Duiji (born 1942) has single-handedly changed the face of an entire village. She mobilized her community against caste-based oppression and injustice. Her efforts have led to a drastic reduction in atrocities against the Kol community. Caste-based sexual violence is practically nonexistent in her village now, and the tribals are no longer afraid of approaching the police and courts for redress. The literacy rates have shot up and the women participate more actively in community affairs.

Duiji, an illiterate Kol tribal from Uttar Pradesh, saw such terrifying excesses of poverty and oppression in her childhood and youth that even today the pain is starkly etched on her face. No matter how hard and long they worked, they could not afford a square meal a day. Duiji gradually began to protest against extremely low payments for backbreaking work. She spoke to fellow laborers. After a prolonged face-off between the laborers and landowners, the latter agreed to pay the workers five kilos of food grain. In 1998, Duiji finally found an anchor in the Mahila Samakhya. Her association with the organization opened her eyes to many issues of rights and the law, and to the tremendous exploitation under which her community labored. She began to speak to the Kols in the village, and her efforts have led to a drastic reduction in atrocities against the community. These adivasis (indigenous people) are no longer scared of approaching police stations and the courts to demand their rights. Sexual violence by the upper-castes against Kol women is practically nonexistent in the village. Duiji has arranged for handpumps, and the women received a 15-day training course on how to repair them. Furthermore, most children now attend school. The community's economic situation is also much improved. Duiji stays updated on various welfare schemes for the old and the handicapped, and helps people access welfare schemes that the government periodically announces. She has also come to understand the Byzantine laws of the land, and various government programs. She processes this information, and uses it to raise awareness among the tribal people. There is something awe-inspiring in an illiterate tribal woman, struggling to survive, yet almost single-handedly changing the face of an entire village.