Breaking shackles

-Mahima Joanna Meshramkar

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“Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.”
The Banjara (also called Gor, Lambani, Vanjara and Gormati) are a community usually described as nomadic from the north-western belt of the Indian subcontinent (from Afghanistan to the state of Rajasthan) now spread out all over India. Banjara art is rich and includes performance arts such as dance and music to folk and plastic arts such as rangoli, textile embroidery, tattooing and painting. The Banjara embroidery and tattooing are especially prized and also form a significant aspect of the Banjara identity. Women also specialise in embroidery that involves stitching pieces of mirror, decorative beads and coins onto clothes.
Along with such enormous cultural heritage the people of this community also have certain rigid traditions and beliefs. Some fall under the umbrella of stereotypes that are objectively qualified as stereotypes by the world. Unlike the popular struggle of gender bias in rural India, the banjara community respects girls and their decisions. Its only when they are married off that their struggle for liberty begins. They are not allowed in the kitchen when they are menstruating, they can’t present their opinions in family matters, so on and so forth, whereas, when they are in their own homes as young girls they have no restriction of any sort.
World Vision, an international organisation that runs for the welfare of the rural, marginalised and under developed communities identified a banjara village called Mandwa, near Umred in the district of Nagpur, Maharshtra. It works with the people of this village, running awareness programs, Adolescent Life-skills Eduction Programs, employment ideas etc.

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The girls of this community show eminent potential of growing and soaring high. Mandwa is 17 km interior from the highway; it’s situated in the middle of woods, there is no means to commute to the town except for their own vehicles, or cycles. No public transport reaches the village, people have to walk or reach another place 7 kms away to get to the public transport provision. There is a government run primary school and anganwadi in the village and a PHC that has one nurse who covers 6 villages in a week.
After their primary education these girls fought their way to attain their higher education. Around 8 girls of the village are completing their graduation in the field of arts and commerce; some are undergoing teachers’ training, nursing, beautician’s course, and other ITI courses from Umred and Nagpur.
They go to their village for vacations and conduct cleanliness drives together. They dig out all the plastics from sewages, pour boric powder near the well and stagnant water and shout slogans that promote cleanliness and greenery. They also plant trees. In the banjara community they believe that trees have evil spirits on them. These girls create awareness about how important it is to have plants and trees in the village. They promote kitchen gardening. They educate the people of their village on gender sensitization, sanitation, water sanitation, open defecation, Gender neutrality, rigid casteism, etc.

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Stereotypes and superstitions can’t be eliminated in a blink of an eye, it’s a process and every effort is a drop that is added to the ocean. This tribe of nomads is growing not just in number but in their way of living too. It’s a huge contribution to see a developed india, because its these small things that make a good citizen, and a bunch of good citizens make a good society which leads to a good country to reside in.

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