Santosh Bai SAHARIYA
ASIA · India
Fighting harmful traditional practices
Santosh (30) is a member of the most vulnerable of tribal communities, the Saharoya, who depend for their survival on meager forest products. Married at 15, she gave birth to two children and soon after her husband died. She then committed herself to ending harmful myths and practices, poverty and discrimination against women. She protested vigorously against a tradition, which forced women to walk barefoot, saying that as long as men were not submitted to the same rule, she would refuse to pay the 50 Rupee fine for wearing shoes. She managed in this manner to eliminate a tradition that did much harm to women and encouraged others to follow suite. She also managed to introduce penalties on violence against women (the most widespread underreported crime on the planet), thereby gaining much recognition amongst women.
Santosh joined the ‘Swachh Pariyojna’ (a local village group organization) as a volunteer. This enabled her to encourage young girls and women in her community to adopt more hygienic practices and especially to get vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases, a privilege which was solely reserved to men! Thanks to this, the number of infected women decreased considerably. Elected to the Gram Panchayat (village council) she had to wage war against corruption and the blackmail of other elected Council members, including attempts to corrupt her. In her new function, she has become an advocate for the poor tribals, widows and women who are separated, the handicapped and lonely, and makes a special issue of encouraging families to send their daughters to school.
With remarkable daring Santosh successfully initiated the banishment of shops selling alcohol so as to end or at least decrease violence against women. Also of note, she has managed to integrate other women in the Gram Panchayat, while at the same time undertaking major efforts to end deforestation.