Vimal Narayan Patekar

A Woman's Woman

From being a homemaker, to providing a source of income for women and other villagers, Vimal Kaku has come a long way.

I worked as a 'Youth for India' fellow. This fellowship programme allows its selected candidates to work in rural/tribal areas to learn and help transform people's lives. It was a wonderful opportunity. And this in turn transformed my own life, as I learnt a lot of lessons.

I worked in the village of Jawhar (Palghar district, Maharashtra) to improve food and nutritional security through the consumption of Finger millet (Nagli/Nachani/Ragi), as also to improve the income generation by its value addition. For that, I worked with hundreds of women from Jawhar, many of them being truly inspirational.

It's really tough to choose one woman, but here is the story that inspired me the most. The story of a woman who is fondly known as Vimal Kaku. At 78, Vimal Kaku is a perfect combination of hard work, will, determination and a dream that's come true. She is a real inspiration, not only to the youngsters but also to older people.

Originally from Akole (Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra), Kaku came to Jawhar after she got married to Mr. Narayan Patekar in 1954. She had studied up to Std. 7th. But due to cultural and societal norms she was not allowed to do any work apart from household chores. So, it became quite difficult to manage agricultural activities, and look after a shop when her husband expired in 1980. Nevertheless, she worked really hard, raised her children really well, and emerged as a confident woman.

Her social service journey started in 1983, when she, along with other women (Mrs. Kalavati Karvand, Mrs. Lakshmi Bhoye, and Kaki Vaid) established ‘Adivasi Bhagini Audyogik Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha’. She doesn’t miss to acknowledge Mrs. Anu Tai Wagh who inspired them. This shows her gratefulness, and good memory.

Today, the Sanstha includes more than 300 women from around 30 to 40 Self Help Groups (SHGs), belonging to 8 villages of Jawhar. They are all a part of various activities for the welfare of tribal women.

In 1999, she and few other women started their SHG, ‘Savitri Bai’ which started mainly with masala chutney and organic urad dal. It has now become famous for Nagli Papad. In fact, that’s how I got to know about her SHG.

In these 16 years under her guidance, there have been many activities like the establishing of a boys’ hostel for High School, banning of alcohol in the village, and the starting of a kids' crèche. These activities made women more confident, empowered, and also gave them a source of income. Through it, she has transformed not only the lives of SHG members, but also of the villagers of Jamsar.

Seeing her good work, the Government has bestowed her with the following awards - Adivasi Sevak (Rajya Puraskar), Savitri Bai Phule (2006-2007), Revaji Bhai Puraskar, Nari Suraksha Puraskar (from Brahma Kumari organization), Mashal Gaurav Puraskar 2008 and Mandalik Trust Puraskar (Mumbai).

On a personal front, she has worked hard to raise 6 children (1 has expired) who are doing well in life. In fact, she has proudly told me to write about her 10-12 grandchildren, who have done, or are currently pursuing medicine (MBBS). She also happens to live with one of her sons and his family, which includes a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

She reminds me of my own grandmother (Dadi), and I would've loved to call her Ajji. But it started with 'Kaku' and the name just stuck.

She is the eldest of all the 158 members of the 15 SHGs I worked with, but she is still very enthusiastic, happy, and eager to learn. She was the one who always took down notes and asked questions during various awareness camps and capacity building programmes that I took. She always boosted the morale of the members, and asked them to cooperate with me.

In spite of having so much experience, she is down-to-earth and even thinks that I have taught her many things. This surprises me. She is so active, and also keeps herself updated about everything. She still manages to travel so much to do her work. She is tech-savvy, and can use gadgets well. One can learn how to keep pace with the current generation from her! “I am more aware of what is happening around in society. I feel good that I am able to contribute to my family by earning a living," she says.

She thinks my value addition interventions have given her SHG a new source of income, especially during the rainy season when it is not possible to prepare Papad (needs sun-drying). She is sure to take it further, even after I leave. It’s her desire to attend my wedding, which I hope to fulfil. I will cherish the memorable time I have spent with this inspiring woman with silky hair, strong memory and a curious mind.

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