About forty women gathered in a center outside Rourkela city, in Sundargarh district of western Orissa. The group is mostly made up of women leaders from villages –women of steel-plated com-mitment to keep their communities intact. They came together for a training to know how to cope in a very difficult mining area, where their (mainly tribal) commu-nities are gradually being destroyed for the sake of mas-sive appropriation of limestone and dolomite, raw mate-rials for steel production and for cement.
The workshop was called by local Ekta Parishad activist, Bharati, and EP National Council member, Nicholas Barla. To help conduct the meeting, Ekta Mahila trainers and Founding members, Shradha Kasyap and Jill Carr-Harris were invited. As this was within the Sundargarh diocese, ten sisters along with their senior Church representa-tives participated in the workshop. Agreeing to be ex-posed to some of the land and livelihood issues was seen as intervention to get the church bodies to help grassroots communities with land and livelihood is-sues.
The workshop was focused on Gandhian methods of non-violent training. Beginning with their introductions, the participants spent the first day identifying their fears and challenges at three levels: firstly, within the family, secondly, within the community and thirdly, with regard to society and particular through state agencies. The objective of this exercise was to “make the personal, the political” and to become aware of the fact that, at the source of these fears, is a systematic violence, which can be generated by the tradition, but also by external phenomenon, as for example by the industriali-zation. This awareness established a first step towards understanding how to emancipate oneself from fear (often deliberate) and to help others to act without fear. This is the cornerstone of empowerment, which is central to women‟s leadership.
The second day consisted in formulating and in analyz-ing the problems faced by women leaders within the village. The women identified many problems faced by the women‟s groups such as pollution, drought, inappro-priate access to healthcare, poor quality of teaching, alcoholism, deforestation, massive industrialization, and unemployment. Through all this, it emerged that the lack of unity within the community was identified as central issue by a number of participants. This loss of this unity is perceived as an aggravating factor of all other problems. Recreating unity became the first step to be able to express opposition to unfair practices or injustice.
On the third day, the villagers planned their next six months programs. Besides the agreed mobilization of 1000 women for the Jan Satyagraha, the women also planned economic and advocacy ac-tions.
After three days, women returned to their villages feel-ing re-inspired and ready to work.
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