Mrs Indra Iyengar
It's been 24 years...
This story begins during the Babri fall in 1992. Bhopal was in chaos. Both Hindu and Muslim women were the worst hit. They were raped and mistreated very badly. They had to leave their houses to go to the camps. Muslim and Hindus had separate camps. I used to visit the camps with the Missionaries of Charity carrying food and clothes. Whenever I used to go to a Hindu camp they asked if I was a Muslim and they would only accept things from us if we said that we were not Muslim. The same was true for the Muslim camps. The communal riots were at the hilt. Bhopal had a history of being ruled by Muslim Begums had never seen communal riots of this magnitude before. The riots were un-stoppable for 10 days. Even the newspapers added fuel to fire by exciting the communal riots. There were lathi charge in many neighborhoods and we could hear the sounds of the guns being fired.
Gradually, the women started recognizing us. I kept on visiting their houses with grocery provisions. Afterwards, I decided to sit in Neelam park. The park was in the middle of the city. Women gradually started coming to talk to me. I would simply sit in the park every Wednesday to listen to their troubles. I would try to talk to them and they would feel a little relieved of their pain. Gradually the crowds started increasing. The police started to cordon-off the park. There was no sort of political interference.
One day we decided to have a place of our own. This would mean economic independence and everyone would find a skill to learn and make some money. More than 2000 women accompanied me to Delhi to meet Arjun singh ji. We boarded a train compartment without ticket. There Mr Singh gave us tea, water and food to eat and promised to give us work sheds. In the meantime the State govt. had fallen.
Days passed by without anyone noticing us. One day we decided to block (chakka jaam) a main square in the city. The Govt. yet again promised to give the sheds. But nothing materialized out of it. After sometime again we sat down near the main railway bridge. By this time we had become wiser and said we won't get up till the time we get the keys of the work shed. The Chief Secretary reacted to our plea and said "you go home and I will give you the keys of the shed". Within two days we got two worksheds in dwarka nagar. For those who are not very familiar with Bhopal, this is the area that was most affected by the Bhopal Gas Leak in 1984. There were lots of women in the neighborhood that needed some help. When we got the keys, we did a "victory walk" from neelam park to dwarka nagar, singing and dancing.
Our first project was given by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation to do block printing with natural dyes. Mahashakti employed 100 women. Our strength at that time was about 5000 women. The same year we instituted our constitution and registered our organization. After we were registered, the government started giving us small start-up projects to continue zari work, stitching, jute work and block printing. Our women started earning and our strength started to exponentially increase.
It has now been almost 25 years since the work began. Now we have our branches in tribal areas like Jhabua, Alirajpur and Jobat. At present, the strength of Mahashakti is in the thousands. We have branched out to do agriculture projects with NABARD (national agriculture bank), skill development with the Human Resource and Development ministry and textile work with the National Textile Ministry. Our latest project is with Khadi Gram Udyog (KVIC) exclusively to promote natural dyes of India.
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Founder Mahashakti Seva Kendra