Munger’s messiah takes on Naxals in their den

She dropped out at Class V and married at age 12, but what she lacks in education she more than makes up with enterprise.
Jaya Devi, now 33 and a mother of three, has over the years emerged the public face and voice of tribal villagers in Munger, Bihar, a region that comes frequently under Naxal attacks. Her latest campaign is for protection of villagers from such attacks.

Before that, she has helped free villagers from the grip of moneylenders; taught 2,000 women to sign and ensured children are sent to school; helped villagers monitor the mid-day meal scheme and disbursement of free stationery, books and scholarships; ensured they get ration cards, voter I-cards and pensions.

Jaya Devi belongs to the Tanti community of Saradhi, the village next to Kareli where Naxals killed six during the weekend. She bargained with officials on villagers’ behalf, successfully, for a police picket.

She believes she faces a threat from Naxals because she has upstaged them with her efforts for the welfare of the community. “I tell my family I may be going out of the house for the last time,” she says.

Her first mass initiative was in the late 1990s, after her father’s death, when she returned to Saradhi from her husband’s Mahuli village, against his wishes. She helped women set up self-help groups to encourage small savings. She started with villages in three panchayats. Since then, women of six more panchayats have followed. Today, 285 SHGs from over 40 villages have a cumulative deposit over Rs 2.5 crore. “We give loans to our members for agriculture and weddings. Money-lending is at a low now,” she says.

DM Kuldip Narain and DIG A K Yadav praise her efforts at “social mobilisation” and for “boosting government projects”. Last year, she got the National Youth Award for rainwater conservation; in October, she was one of the two who represented India at a Seoul workshop on the subject.

Her campaigns have included one against sexual harassment of tribals, ensuring that cases are registered under the SC/ST Act. Her father used to keep her sister away from home, at their mother’s village, she recalls, “because she was beautiful”.

As president of Kareli village watershed committee, she sets her targets at an improved agriculture yield in an area struggling with low rainfall. Six Nabard projects to lift the water table have shown results, with the yield increasing from 350 kg per bigha to 600-700 in two years.

Jaya, who has an e-mail ID, now plans to join a networking site and buy a video camera with a pen drive.

Source: Indian Express

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