Ratni Bai Khatik

Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life

Who says that an illiterate, rural and backward caste woman can not achieve pinnacle of success? Ms. Ratni Bai has proved this question to be wrong.

Ratni Bai Khatik (28) belongs to a backward caste of traditionally conservative and male dominated society of Rajasthan state. This year she has been honoured with the Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life by the Women’s World Summit Foundation. She has been conferred for her exceptional creativity, courage and perseverance in improving the quality of life in rural communities. This award, selected by an international jury, highlights her grassroots contribution to sustainable development, household food security and peace.

Being a girl, she did not receive any formal education. She was married at the age of 13. Finding her husband to be of immoral character, she came back to her parents and did not return afterwards. She attended a chaupal baithak (meeting at the central place of the village – a traditional rural event innovatively revived) organised by the CUTS Centre for Human Development (CHD) and expressed her desire to be associated in the “Rural Women’s Empowerment Project (RWEP) – III” being implemented by the Centre. Since last three years she is engaged in community mobilisation and sensitisation activities in 15 villages of Kapasan block of Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan state on issues related to gender equity, education, health, micro credit, environment, land rights etc. There also has been multiplier effect of her initiatives.

Her advocacy efforts with government agencies and panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) have resulted in “construction of a school in her locality, frequent visit by health personnel and regular as well as proper distribution of essential items in fair price shop (under Public Distribution System)”.

Outcomes of her awareness generation and information dissemination activities at village level include “better appreciation of health by women in particular, total enrollment as well as retention of girl children in school, formation of self help groups (thrift & credit), participation of women in local self-governance, livelihood generation for poor and sustainable management of natural resources”.

Biographical Data of The Laureate

Full Name: Ratni Bai Khatik

Age: 28 years

Education: Literate (can read simple words, recognize numbers upto 100 & only sign her name)

Place of work: 15 villages of Keer Kheda cluster in Kapasan block of Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan state of India

Background: She is the daughter of Mr. Bhagwan Lal Khatik and belongs to a backward caste. Being a girl, her education was not given any importance. During childhood she used to help her father in agricultural work. She was married at a tender age of 13. After Gauna (the time when the girl is allowed to go to her husband’s place) she went to Surat (an industrial city in the Gujurat state of India) where her husband was working. When she found out that her husband is of immoral character, she came back to her parent’s place and decided not return to her husband. Presently she is staying with her parents and grandmother. Since last three years she is associated with in the ‘rural women empowerment project’ activities of CUTS-Centre for Human Development (CHD).

Detailed history of the nominee’s creative project: CUTS-CHD initiated “Rural Women’s Empowerment Project” in the year 1998. At that time in a chaupal baithak (meeting at the central place of the village – a traditional rural event innovatively revived by CHD) being conducted in a nearby village the staff members of the centre were interacting with the villagers on the social, economic, organizational and institutional rights of women. Ratni Bai came to know about the meeting and attended it. Her inquisitive mind returned with a ton of questions. She participated in the subsequent meetings and discussed with the staff members of CHD about the project, who by then had become impressed with her sincerity and interest. She was asked whether she would like to be a part of the project activities. She discussed with her parents, since this voluntary responsibility included participation in training programs and information dissemination by organizing awareness generation events.

Her first initiative at the grassroots level to improve the life in rural communities was in the field of education. There was no school in her locality. She decided that unlike her the children of her village should not be deprived of basic education. When the government of Rajasthan announced opening of schools at few gram panchayats (village level local self-governance body) under ‘Rajiv Gandhi Swarna Jayanti Scheme’, she grabbed the opportunity. Alongwith the village women she participated in Panchayat meeting and told the Sarpanch (Head of Panchayat) that a school should be constructed in the village. She faced some political interference of few people of a nearby village ‘Lalji Ka Kheda’ of the same gram panchayat. Those people wished that the school should be opened in their village. The personnel of CUTS-CHD also informed her that any one with an unsolved problem could meet the ‘Development Officer’ at the Panchayat Samiti (2nd tier of the three tier self-governance institution). She removed her initial fear and hesitation by recalling the good old village saying jo dara so mara (once you fear, you die at that very moment) and the fact that this concerned the future of the children of her village. Though it was difficult to break the impasse, she alongwith the members of the women “self help group” and other villagers met the ‘Block Development Officer’. Her meeting with the official was fruitful in the sense that she intimated him the socio-economic impact of illiteracy. Within a short period the village schoolwork got sanctioned.

The above activity led her to adopt an innovative approach to handle a subsequent problem. She gathered information regarding the budgetary allocation for the school building and passed on the same information to other villagers, who then regularly visited the site. She kept a daily record of the ongoing procedures and raw material utilization at the construction. When she realized that there is a provision for putting tiles on the floor, she asked the contractor to convert the cemented flooring to tiled one. Though the longevity of the tiled floor is more than that of the cemented one, the contractor did not listen to her, for which she warned him that she would complain the higher officials about this. The contractor became convinced of her ability and fearlessness. This resulted in proper flooring in the school with tiles. Her courage and clear understanding of what is thought to be male domain, has imbibed confidence among the other villagers. The school is the only one of a proper construction quality in that area.

Ms. Ratni Bai too ensured enrollment as well as retention of all girls of school going age in her village with the active cooperation of the school- teachers and villagers. She motivated the parents of the girls by discussing the necessity of education for girls. She also discussed about an unforeseen probability such as if the government decides to discriminate against people not sending their girl children to school or encourage those doing so. She urged them to boost the morale of the teachers & students by participating in the major functions of the school.

The creativity aspects of her approach include use of nirguni bhajan (local song about physiology & hygiene), lok katha (folk stories) and lok ukti (folk sayings). Health has always been another focal point of her activity in addition to education. She regularly attends the training programs on ‘Reproductive & Child Health, Sanitation etc.’ organized by CUTS-CHD and disseminates the learnings among her female friends in the village during informal discussions. After listening to her, villagers now a days either filter or boil the drinking water. The village women also have started analyzing ‘the access of health services in rural areas’. Their interaction with and complain to the health officials regarding “availability of essential medicines, visit of health personnels etc.” have resulted in increased frequency of visit by the health personnel and timely availability of necessary drugs.

She has been a catalyst in the formation of women’s self help group (SHG) in her village. There too has been a multiplier effect of the same in the 4 neighbouring villages, where the women in those villages too demanded for facilitating role of CHD and the leading role of her in the formation of SHGs. The SHG in her village is one of the oldest running one, engaged in thrift and credit activities. This has proved to be beneficial for those families during emergency needs, e.g. activities concerned with health, agriculture, domestic problems (marriage, death etc.). Many of the SHG members have been able to free themselves of the debt trap of the local traditional moneylenders. During the SHG meeting these women discuss about issues related to “women’s health, domestic problems, education of their girl children, access/availability of government facilities/services etc.”. Her courage and boldness too had helped the group from getting disintegrated, when one powerful villager had tried to break it. Since last one year this group has been linked with local lead bank. Seeing the regular monetary transaction activities of the group and finding its members to be very active, the manager of the bank personally came to participate in the meeting of the SHG. Ms. Ratni Bai attended one training program for SHG leaders, organized by CUTS-CHD in which the ‘Branch Manager’ of NABARD (National Bank for Agricultural Development), the apex bank for “micro credit”, informed the participants about the loan promotion activities of the bank. Now the group members are seriously trying to get loans to start ‘income generating activities’. She believes that economic self-reliance of rural women can only be achieved through their entrepreneurial role.

After attending the training programs on ‘consumer rights and its legal aspects’ she felt empowered. The ‘Public Distribution System’ dealer in her village was neither supplying the materials in proper quantity nor on time. She discussed about the same in gram sabha (village meeting) before the sarpanch as well as meetings of the ‘self help group’. In a group they went to the dealer, asked him to perform his duties correctly and also warned him that if does not reform himself they would complain about it to the ‘District Supply Officer’. This made an impact on the person. Since that incident he too has been distributing essential items as per government guidelines and also has installed a board mentioning the rate as well as time of delivery of goods. She also is invited to monitor the distribution of commodities. She alongwith her villagers regularly participates in “World Consumer Rights Day & World Food Day” celebrations organized by CHD.

She has helped 45 senior citizens of her village (Keer Kheda) and another neighbouring village (Lala ji ka Kheda) in applying for ‘old age pension’. Till date 9 persons (5 women & 4 men) have started getting pensions.

She too regularly informs the villagers about government schemes on ‘income generation/ entrepreneurial activities’ in community meetings. She has facilitated 2 persons in getting loans to set up ‘one carpentry shop and a general goods store’.

Land rights have always been a prerogative of men in this male dominated society of Rajasthan. One woman in Ms. Ratni Bai’s village was facing problem to get her land from her in-laws. That lady too was contemplating to approach the court of law and before doing so discussed with Ms. Ratni Bai. She advised the woman to adopt the peaceful means first. After discussing with her that woman talked to the community and panchayat leaders about the issue. Finding her case to be correct those leaders asked the woman’s in-laws family to return her the entitled land.

She has been instrumental in organizing awareness generation events on environment like “World Water Day and World Environment Day”. She disseminates her learnings on ‘water conservation/harvesting, sustainable consumption’ among the villagers in general and women in particular. In this year’s “International Women’s Day” celebration the topic of discussion was ‘drought and its impact on women’. The state for last three years has been facing problems related to acute scarcity of water (both drinking & irrigation) and fodder because of severe drought. She has been repeatedly telling people to look after/preserve the ‘natural resources’ for their sustainable development. After listening to her, the villagers are focussing on “effective and efficient utilization as well as conservation of water, forest & land” and “also are taking precautions against water & air pollution”. They too have done some plantation work near the drainage points of their houses. When digging of one ‘handpump/tubewell’ was sanctioned for the village, the villagers came to Ms. Ratni Bai to seek her opinion as to where that work should be done, she replied that this decision should be taken by the women as they face the majority of the problems resulting from scarcity of water. After discussing with the women of the village the site for the construction of the same was finalized.

The other tangible impacts of her efforts include “increased participation of women in village/community gatherings/meetings and more interaction of the villagers with the government officials”, whereas the intangible ones are “improved awareness among women about their social, health, economic and political rights & better cooperation as well as attitude of the men folk”.

Ms. Ratni Bai has been continuously working on women empowerment to eradicate ‘social malpractice, cultural taboos and economic exploitation’. To strengthen the involvement as well as representation of women in the polity, the women and their men folk of her village advised her to contest the local village election. These people were also very much worried about the ‘liquor lobby’ operating in their village. Wife-beating, family quarrels etc. were on increase and these became the election plank for the election. But the person representing the liquor lobby ultimately won the election by meager 10 votes. Ms. Ratni Bai does not feel threatened by those people nor has she lost her confidence in herself, because she believes that the moral support of the villagers would always remain with her. She is still the symbol of righteousness for the villagers. She mobilizes women to participate in “International Women’s Day & International Day for Violence against Women” celebrations organized by CHD and as well encourages their men-folk to become a partner in the movement.

Her commitment, courage and perseverance in improving rural life have made continuing impact on the community. She is a part of the activities of CHD program on ‘good governance and accountability’ for the “promoting state accountability and citizen’s empowerment through budgetary analysis” project. She questions the government officials as well as elected representatives regarding the ‘budget allocation for her village, its utilization/misutilization/non-utilization etc’. Participatory approach, respect for the village and conceptual clarity (regarding relevant internalized ideas) aspects have made Ms. Ratni Bai the central figure for suggestions. Government officials usually seek her views, she gets invited to attend panchayat meetings and the people of her community also seek her opinion regarding key decisions.