Helping the “aam aurat”

Never underestimate the power of a common man is the theme of the 2013 Bollywood blockbuster “Chennai Express”. If a movie were to be made on not underestimating the power of the common women, then the growth and work of the Pune-based Bhagini Nivedita Parishad (BNP) must feature in it! Set up by a group of 10 women, to help women in need, this organisation exemplifies how passion and dedication, and not educational qualifications, can help you achieve much – whether it is caring for your own family or helping to better the lives of those in need.

It all started with the efforts of Lilatai, back in the 1960s. At that time, as she aptly put it, “India was independent, women were not.” Life was a daily struggle for most women. Being illiterate themselves, how could they think of giving their children a good education and bringing them up to their best potential? Lilatai believed that bringing womens’ social status up meant bringing that of society, as a whole, up too. Which is why she decided that she wanted to help women – especially those in need.

Along the way, she realised that women would only come to benefit from BNP, when their children were taken care of and they did not have to constantly worry about them too. That’s when BNP ventured into childrens’ activities too.

The organisation’s work thus covers a gamut of activities for women and children – from a h free homeopathic clinic and supplementary education center at Dhingi village, on the outskirts of Pune, to speech correction therapy for deaf and dumb children, to sex education for adolescents, to computer and other vocational training.

All activities have been introduced because of a perceived need plus the organisation’s ability to offer that service. For example, as one of the founders, Mrs. Pratima Joshi was a Homeopath, the clinic was set up. Or Mrs. X’s experience as a speech correction therapist led to the introduction of the latter. The Dighi supplementary education center and Homeopathic clinic stands on 5 guntas of land that was donated by the sarpanch to the organisation.

I drove down 18 kms, with their team, to Abhyasika, the organisation’s supplementary education center. Set up like a typical rural school, the building is surrounded by urban buildings today. Quite a contrast to 19X, when it was set up and thus merged with its surroundings. However, its need is just as important today as it was back in the day. The center essentially helps students with their homework and ensures that they truly are learning what’s being taught at school. Essentially, taking over this mantel from their parents as they aren’t in a position to do the same – being unschooled themselves.

I appreciated that each classroom had just 4-5 students, as that allowed the teacher to give each student enough attention.And the computer room in a corner classroom signaled how the organisation was changing with the changing times! This is also communicated through the closure of their nurse training programme. With competition from BPOs, lesser and lesser opted were choosing to become nurses, and BNP decided to focus its efforts elsewhere instead. Over 10,000 women and children have benefitted from BNP’s efforts till date. 15 women ( 4 of the original founders) continue to hold the reigns of this organisation, steering it towards more and more activities that will better the lives of women and their children, thus helping society benefit as a whole.

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