“My husband passed away 10 years ago. I was supposed to be the legal successor of the three bighas of land owned by him, since the land was registered in the names of both of us. But my in-laws started torturing me and did not allow me to do farming on that land,” narrates the 45-year-old Sudha from Umarkachchh village in Tapi District, Gujarat. Sudha, a mother of two, was left with no option but to return to her natal village and start living in a rented house with her children. While grappling with all these troubles, she came to know about Ekal Nari Shakti Manch (ENSM), a movement of single women working towards addressing the issues faced by them. She met with the local ENSM leaders and shared her story with them.
Sudha’s association with ENSM was a turning point for her and her children. With ENSM’s support, Sudha claimed her land rights and subsequently started farming on that land. “While farming, my in-laws again came in the way and tried stopping me. But this time, I was fearless. I called up the police and complained about the harassment I was facing. When the police officials reached, I showed them all my land documents. Taking necessary action, the police then took my in-laws to the police station. I thank ENSM for building my awareness and confidence, and for empowering me. No one can now stop me from farming,” adds a beaming Sudha.
ENSM was formed with support from ActionAid India in the aftermath of the humanitarian response to the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. Since then, it has been supporting single women assert their rights and get access to land, housing and other social security schemes. Over the last year, nearly 130 single women in Gujarat were able to access land rights and nearly 240 single women received housing rights. Besides, several single women were enabled to claim access to pension benefits and agricultural support. In addition, ENSM has been facilitating single women’s access to skill-development programmes so that they could avail of sustainable livelihood opportunities. ENSM has a presence in 12 districts of Gujarat with its membership base reaching nearly 7,000.
For around two decades now, ActionAid India, along with several allied organizations, has been working with single women in diverse contexts, including Muslim women served with the now unconstitutional practice of Triple Talaq, homeless single women, the wives of farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra, the wives of men who have disappeared in Kashmir, landless single women in Odisha, single women in fisherfolk communities in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, women branded as “witches” in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, and deserted tribal women in Andhra Pradesh. To know more about how we have been organizing and empowering single women to claim their rights, entitlements and a life of dignity, you may want to read our publication, Single, Yes… But Not Alone.
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