Hakkuben Theba was born in 1966 into a poor farming family from the highly conservative Theba community in Gujarat. Her journey, from a destitute widow to a community leader and a trainer of leaders, was arduous. In the past 15 years, this woman has inspired more than 3000 women to become active members of a women's collective. Gradually, Hakkuben and her colleagues have changed the nature of the village through women's empowerment, generating alternative sources of income during drought, and ecological regeneration.
Hakkuben Theba hails from the small but conservative Theba community in Dador, Gujarat. Married early and widowed, Hakkuben had never known economic security. In 1998, she came into contact with the women's collective Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), and joined them. She began by working on the education of adolescent girls, which also gave her the opportunity to learn how to read and write, the first person in her family to do so. Defying social norms and pressures, Hakkuben engaged with the training of grassroots collectives that the KMVS was organizing. These collectives of rural women have now taken the shape of a community-based organization, the Saiyere Jo Sangathan. Her natural intelligence, leadership skills, and deftness in organizing the village group gained her the respect of the men and village elders. In the 15 years that Hakkuben has been working, she has inspired more than 3000 women within her geographical domain. The Sangathan, which she leads, works toward making women members and their families' assets truly productive. It also works toward developing traditional livelihoods of the community as sustainable sources of income, especially in times of drought. She has delivered significant empowerment to the women through natural resource management, concentrating on the recharging of wells and other water resources. Hakkuben's methodology is simple: the Gandhian principle of nonviolence, taking on the oppressor first, and then creating confidence within the existing environment for change. In the process, she has formed a team of women leaders and inspired young girls in the area. "I would like to create a platform for the next generation of women so that they can learn from our experience and their life becomes easier," she says.