Social activist Usha Thakur shares her experiences in helping women, girls, boys and the poor
At a time when common humanity and concern for others is getting eroded, there are individuals who seem to fulfil their obligations towards fellow-human beings and society in an exemplary manner. One of them is Usha Thakur who works not just for environmental issues but also for women and for the oppressed sections of society. She has been honoured and felicitated many times for the laudable work she has been rendering.
When she came to live in NOIDA, Usha Thakur did not imagine that she would be working for poor women, children and cope with the many challenges that this involved and that she would be to achieve so much. She says that she does not even remember as to when she got involved in social service. But she remembers the girl for whom she fought her first battle. Those who had committed the crime against the girl were from a political background and that is why they got away, but they could never come back to power again.
Usha Thakur is from Bihar and she came to live in NOIDA 25 years ago. When she saw the social strife around her, and the shameful attitude of people towards women and girls she felt compelled to fight for the cause of exploited women and girls and raise her voice on their behalf. She had set up an organization called Manav Purt Nyas. It is through this organization that she works for protecting the environment and for the oppressed classes of society. She also works towards making unskilled women self-reliant and to end the heinous practice of female foeticide infanticide. She and her team work with women with little education to raise their awareness and to make them self-employed by training them to make papad, prepare pickles and masalas, and in embroidery and stitching work. She does not only make them economically independent, but she also raises their consciousness about the role and importance of women in society. She has also helped in emancipating 40 girls from the claws of a mafia group, and provided them with motherly love and respect they needed. She educated them and made them self-reliant. These girls now lead independent and peaceful lives. She has also worked with victims of acid attacks and tried to motivate them to reconnect with society so that they are re-integrated into the mainstream.
Excerpts from the interview with Usha Thakur, social worker and founder of Manav Purt Nyas about her the noteworthy work she has done to make environment and women safe.
Q. Since when have you been working in the field of making women self-reliant and changing society?
I do not remember when I had started on this work. I came here 25 years ago. Criminals and goondas were roaming about freely here and no one ever took any action against them. These fellows would tease and assault poor women and girls and no one would raise voice against them. I was agitated by this state of affairs and I had decided to teach a lesson to these horrible chaps, to raise awareness of women and change society.
Q. You have done substantial work on the environmental front as well. And as a recognition of the work you have, you have been bestowed the Paryavaran Ratna award. What do you have to say on this?
It is the duty of everyone to keep the environment clean and to maintain greenery, and we often forget this. Through our organization we have done the work of planting trees in the area of NOIDA, Greater NOIDA, Tigri village and NOIDA Expressway. To keep our surroundings green, we get 10, 000 trees planted every year. Once as I was passing through the posh Shahjahan Road, I saw working class women putting their children to sleep on the pavement. Mosquitoes were squatting on the faces of the sleeping children and they were exposed to the merciless sunshine. It is after seeing this that we had decided to get 10,000 trees planted so that the shade provided by the tress will protect these children. We have taken up the planting of trees on a war-footing so that there is greenery in the environment.
Q. In the NOIDA, you have done laudable work in exposing crimes committed against the poor and against women and to get the guilty punished. Tell us something about this.
In the beginning, the auto-rickshaw drivers were routinely committing suicide. When we came to know of this, we got out team to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. It was revealed that the auto-rickshaw drivers who had committed suicide would borrow money to buy an auto-rickshaw from Balaji. He would give them run-down vehicles without license. When the police checked, these vehicles would be confiscated. The vehicles would be returned to Balaji, and the drivers would be left with their loans and unemployed. These drivers would commit suicide. We have helped the drivers caught in this situation to get compensation from Balaji so that they could start a small business of their own. It is after this that there was an end to suicides by auto-rickshaw drivers. Apart from this, there were instances of rapes of girls of villages and areas adjacent to NOIDA. The doctors did not even treat the rape victims. We got them medical treatment and gave them counselling. Then we met the victims of acid attacks and we tried to revive their lost self-confidence so that they could go about in society with their heads held high and they were not dependent on others.
Q. It became known in 2016 that you had a big role in bringing to light the diabolical Nithari murders episode. What kind of problems did you face at the time?
We had continuously worked for three years in the Nithari murders episode. During this time we received threats of murder. When they failed to cow me down, then they threatened my mother. But I was not shaken by any of this because I am of the belief that if you are truthful you need to fear no one. The first girl to be murdered in the Nithari episode was Rimpa Haldar. After investigation the police found that Rimpa had left a letter in a rickshaw that she was running away to Nepal and that she would return with a child. It is after this that the doubt arose in me that the girls were not fleeing to Nepal, and that there was something else behind it because Rimpa did not read or write Hindi. And the girls were disappearing continuously till June. Then we got in touch with the police and got the surrounding area searched. It is after this that the biggest murder episode of the country was laid bare. There was however an attempt on the part of the police and the politicians to suppress the Nithari episode.
We got 40 girls freed from the claws of a mafia from L-5, Sector 11 of NOIDA, and kept the girls with use for two years. We motivated them, educated them and settled them. Then we freed 500 children from Greater NOIDA, Tigri village, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Dehra Dun who were being forcibly converted to Christianity. We got the children to meet their parents.
Q. What do you have to say about the changing atmosphere in society?
The atmosphere in today’s society is a matter of concern. If Mahatma Gandhi were to come in this atmosphere, people would call him a fool who when he saw a woman in tatters in Bihar, he gave away his turban so that she could cover herself. Today, even an ordinary man needs a gunman, a big car and an expensive phone so that he can lead a life of luxury.
No one wants to think of the poor. In this atmosphere we have to change together. We have to return to our culture, to yoga and we have to think of the poor brothers and sisters suffering on the pavements. Only then will our society change. If every individual recognizes his or her obligation towards society and will fulfil that obligation, then it will not take much time to change the society. Like in our childhood, the night-watchman in the villages would call out, “jagte raho, jagte raho (be awake, be awake)”, in the same we have to be awake and we have to awaken others so that society can be changed.
Q. In this modern age, there is discrimination between boys and girls. What do you have to say on this?
Today, the thinking of people towards women and girls has changed. Today, in the villages, girls are being educated along with the boys and they (the girls) are being made self-reliant. However, it is quite low in terms of percentage. There is need to step up on this issue.
The villages are progressing like the cities. The day girls get an equal status with boys in every sector, that day the country will move forward on its own and it will be foremost on the developmental front. But there is need to be on the alert. We have to get rid of blind belief. Girls should be trained in self-defense right from the beginning. Instead of sending them (the girls) to a girls’ school, they should be sent to a co-ed school so that they will be ready to face any situation. The girls should not be frightened on any issue. On the other hand, they should be encouraged to be bold. Along with this, there is need on the part of the government and the people to think of population control.
The country’s population is increasing by the day, and it will be a great liability for all of us in the future. Also, there is need to put a stop to people coming from outside, like the Bangladeshis. Only then will the country prosper and progress.
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