Indien: Nirmala

Nirmala's husband would question her about where she was going and what she was doing: "What do you get for the work you're doing?" and "Where do you stay at night when you are out on work?

— Nirmala

When Nirmala (born 1959) began work with women at the village level, she had to find ways to dodge her family so that she could attend school. Today, Nirmala is a strong campaigner for women's rights, and an active member of women's courts. A seasoned arbitrator, Nirmala is adept at sorting out issues amicably, steering both parties away from the police court rigmarole. She has also brought about a revolution in the way midwives operate in the region: they display a high level of professionalism and attention to hygiene.

When Nirmala began her association with the NGO Mahila Samakhya, things were not easy-her husband and in-laws strongly opposed her going out to work. Nirmala, though, attends cluster meetings regularly, laughing off her family's jibes and threats. Well-known at the village and block level as a strong campaigner for women's rights, she is an active member of the women's courts and has a knack for tackling tricky situations amicably. She is particularly alert to discrimination against women, invariably standing up for women's rights. As is the mark of a true leader, Nirmala's attempt is always to sort out all issues amicably, through mutual consent. She attempts to solve every dispute that arises at the village self-help group's women's court. This ensures that neither party gets stuck in the police court rigmarole, wasting both time and money. However, in cases where either party is uncooperative, she does not hesitate to involve the police and the judiciary. Nirmala has also trained to be a midwife, which helps her in matters of women's health, hygiene, and childcare. She is largely responsible for the high level of professionalism and attention to hygiene-especially in cutting and tying the umbilical cord-which midwives in the region today display. This attention to basics has also helped bring to the forefront the issues of women and reproductive health. At the village-level meetings of the women's group, Nirmala is at the forefront, calling for a change in antiwomen practices. From struggling to work outside the home to becoming the pivot of awareness generation on women's issues in her area of work, Nirmala's footing is sure and nimble.

Mahila Samakhya