Durga Devi (born 1956) always wanted to do something socially productive. Despite her husband's protests, in 1979 she contacted and joined the Social Work and Research Centre. Since then, she has not looked back: she has formed women's groups in her district and was instrumental in forming a coalition of women's groups under the banner, Sarva Shakti Sangam, a watchgroup over atrocities against women.
Even as a young girl, Durga Devi knew that she wanted to do something socially productive, as her mother had done as part of the women's group in her village in Himachal Pradesh. Although married off at the age of 15, Durga kept prospecting for a productive job. In 1979, she found an opening at the Social Work and Research Center in Solan district. It was unusual for a woman to work outside the home-her husband was incensed. In 1983, she convinced the women of Solan district to form a group to discuss their problems. Durga found that smoke from chulhas (a cooking furnace the shape of a bucket) was a major health hazard for the women. She looked for and found a solution-the smokeless chulha-and then got the training in its use. As she got to know the women better, she realized that male alcoholism was a major problem confronting them. So, they organized a protest against local liquor sales, through which she learnt the importance of keeping the women united and calm in the face of threats. The success of this agitation was crucial: women in the neighboring villages now understood the potential of coordinated protests. Durga and her colleagues in the women's groups have formed a union of women's groups, the Sarva Shakti Sangam, which today raises its considerable voice against any form of injustice against women. "Often I have to face threats and harassment, but I am not scared," says Durga. "I work with truth in my mind, and it is this truth that gets justice for the innocent." It has been a long way for Durga from that struggling step out of her home to being so involved that finding time for her domestic tasks is difficult. But part of the payoff has been that even her once recalcitrant husband has made an enormous effort to understand her work and adjust to her new life.
Sarva Shakti Sangam Social Uplift Through Rural Action (Sutra)