The next three blog posts will be copies of assignments that I completed for my Internship course. Some of it will be repeats from other posts, but some is fresh material. This first one is a field note.
Field Notes #1: Chandan, Lathi, and Sodakore
Erik and I have been conducting field visits in the villages surrounding the city of Jaisalmer with the help and guidance of URMUL NGO staff for the Jaisalmer office. The villages we are visiting were organized and worked with as a part of the female feticide awareness and education initiative that ran from January 2006-July 2008 under the title, “Save the Girl Child.” URMUL was one of the NGOS that worked with the “Save the Girl Child” initiative. This field note will include information, observations and reflections from the first three villages we visited: Chandan, Lathi, and Sodakore.
Chandan 3, November 2008; field visit with Vimla-ji and Maga Ram
We went to the government children’s center to meet with Maya, the head worker at the center. She works there with 2 other women and earns 1000 rupees/month for her daily work at the center. When we first arrived we were shown a little baby girl whose birth had been celebrated by the village’s Self-Help Group (SHG), which is led by Maya. The baby girl is her grandchild and celebrating girl child births has been part of the female feticide prevention work done by URMUL and Save the Girl Child. After we met this little girl and some other children at the center, we asked Maya some questions. We learned that Maya is illiterate, had been married at age 12, had her first child at age 16, and is the leader of the village women’s SHG. We were surprised to learn that there are 30 girls and 10 boys in the village. We asked if female feticides are an issue in the village and were told by Vimla-ji, an URMUL field worker, that they are. Also, from observation of the children at the center, there seemed to be more boys than girls wandering around. Maya also told us that the town wants boys but that the women’s group has started celebrating girl births also. Even though Maya is working to promote dignity of the girl child, she believes that boys and girls should be educated separately because boys and girls are different. Currently, very few girls in the village study after the 5th standard.
When we asked Maya her hopes for the future, she said that for her family she would like necessities, like a cooler and also a sewing machine for her daughter Soniya. For the village she hopes for a doctor and a hospital, since the closest hospital is in Jaisalmer and there is not easily accessible health care besides the local Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM). She also hopes for better and further education for girls in the village, because many girls do not study past primary school. For the country, Maya said she wants India to be a strong country.
We also had the opportunity to meet Maya’s daughter, Soniya, her friend, Prema, and her son-in-law (the father of the celebrated baby girl we met earlier in the visit). All of the younger generation said that they think that education should be together and not separate. Prema is one of the rare girls in the village who has had a further education and is currently in the 11th standard. She said that she plans on finishing 12th standard and then would like to become a police officer because she would like to work in women’s safety and security.
This was a good first meeting, however there were some difficulties conveying questions and responses because we did not have one common language. However, we did the best we could and everyone worked their hardest to translate and communicate the messages we were trying to share. Also, we hadn’t come up with questions before the meeting because we weren’t sure what we would be doing when we went to the village for the field visit. This led us to planning out questions and translating them ahead of time in order to better communicate at our next field visit.
Lathi: 4, November 2008; field visit with Vimla-ji
Lathi is Vimla-ji’s village, well actually it is her husband’s village, but since women move to their husbands home after marriage, it is now her village as well. As soon as we arrived at Lathi, Vimla-ji covered her head with her sari because it is her husband’s village. We went to Vimla-ji’s home at the end of the village, met her children and had lunch. During lunch three women came over and we asked them some of our questions concerning male or female preference, dowry, marriage, births, etc. Translation was not accessible at this time, so we had Vimla-ji write the responses on a piece of paper to have translated later.
When we got the responses translated by a fellow intern at URMUL, we learned that in response to the question, “what do you hope for in the future?” the women stated that they want to bring happiness to their families and hope for employment opportunities for their children. In response to the question of what issues women in the community face, they stated, “violence against women, and that there is a movement to eliminate violence against women and to eliminate discrimination among boys and girls.” Vimla-ji’s notes also say that the women’s group does lending and borrowing to start small businesses to increase income for women. She wrote notes like, “women should raise their voice against violence and should get justice;” “Parents don’t educate girls because they think after marriage they have to go to another house;” and “People have developed the mentality that girls and boys are not equal because the boys continue the family and they support their elders.” These last comments were responses from the women we met at Vimla-ji’s husband’s parents home. All of the women there stated that they want boys and not girls and that these are the reasons for the male preference.
We also talked to Vimla-ji’s two eldest daughters about their future husbands. Jyoti and Preeti are 18 and 17 years old and their marriages have already been arranged. They will get married at the same time in a year or so once Preeti turns 18 years old. Neither of the young women wants to be married, and when we asked why they are getting married, Jyoti answered with one world, “unjustly forced.” I was surprised by this answer since Vimla-ji is working in the field of women’s empowerment. I asked who was forcing the marriages and was told that it is Vimla’s husband’s parents who are insisting that the marriages take place. This really showed me that change takes a long time, because it has to take place in phases. I understand that Vimla-ji does not want her daughters to be shamed in the family or community and therefore has to follow some rules and traditions that she does not completely agree with. However, it is unfortunate that these two young, bright, and beautiful young women are going to be forced into marriages that they do not want to take place. The family has to pay dowry for both of the girls as well. They told us that the dowry will be 200,000 rupees, which is a very large amount of money. Both Jyoti and Preeti are marrying within their caste, which is a common theme that we have noticed with talking with people at these field visits as well as on the street and on buses.
Sodakore: 5, November 2009; field visit with Vimla-ji
On our way back to Jaisalmer from Vimla-ji’s village we stopped at Sodakore. We met with some men and one woman at the home of a young man who is part of the village’s youth group. This was just a short meeting because there had been a death in the village so the meeting Vimla had planned was canceled due to the death. However, we did meet some elders of the village and were introduced to a baby girl. I asked if the baby girl’s birth had been celebrated and Vimla-ji told me that sweets had been distributed on the occasion of the baby’s birth. This is a big achievement because women’s births are not often celebrated in villages. We couldn’t ask too many more questions because of a lack of translation.
In these first three field visits it really became apparent that the male preference we had learned about during the track section of our International Development course are the reality for so many people. Coming from a country that does not have a gender preference it was shocking to hear both men and women state that they would prefer to have boy babies and that boys and girls are different from one another. It also made me realize that century old cultural expectations and values are hard to change and the work that Save the Girl Child initiative and programming with URMUL has made significant strides, even if that just means for now celebrating girl births. There is still so much work to do and so many inequalities between boys and girls-ranging from education, health services, life expectations, marriage expectations, work and career opportunities, food, etc.
I have also observed that so much of NGO work is building relationships with communities and community members. Sometimes field visits might not seem to have accomplished any immediate thing, but they are important for establishing and maintaining relationships, building trust and confidence, and listening to the needs of the communities that the NGO serves.