Indien: Janaki

Janaki has proved that the capacity to bring about social change is not linked to one's educational or other qualifications.

— Janaki

Janaki (born 1954) is a symbol of power and possibilities for the women in her village. When she started, it was unusual for a woman to engage in developmental work, and she had to face bellicose opposition from her family. Janaki, though, is a determined, remarkably fearless woman: she continued with her mobilization of women, eventually forming a village self-help group. The work done by the group has helped establish its credibility and, today, most disputes in the village are settled in the group's women's court.

For Janaki, a chance encounter with the NGO Mahila Samakhya opened out a whole new world of perceptions. The concepts of women's rights and social development excited and moved the illiterate young woman. Janaki's husband, a physically abusive man, was strongly opposed to her work. Over time, Janaki gathered the courage to resist him, not only preventing him from abusing her, but also exhorting all other women in the village to resist physical violence by their husbands. Janaki initially began work as a Sakhi (friend). She went on to set up a women's village self-help group. The good work that Janaki and her group have done has established their credentials: most disputes in the area now arrive at the self-help group's women's court for resolution. Although Janaki is a member of the Mahila Samakhya’s women’s court, she still believes in direct intervention and immediate action along with her women colleagues. Whether it is an issue of grabbing a Dalit's or a woman's land, they ensure that justice is delivered precisely and immediately. Janaki is a determined, remarkably fearless woman, single-minded in her pursuit of justice, and incapable of intimidation by the many powerful people-including police officials-with whom she has clashed over the years. Police functionaries tend to take bribes and harass women in the self-help group. None of this fazed Janaki. She has proven that the capacity for social change is not linked to educational or other qualifications: to the women in her village, she is a symbol of power and possibilities.

Mahila Samakhya Women's self-help group