A small farmer with one-acre land
“I have known Pramila since the early 2000s. She was a prominent leader of the women’s self-help group in Chermaria, set up under Mission Shakti – a developmental project started by the Odisha government. She has always been at the forefront of every movement in the village – be it proper water supply or afforestation or toilets for all,” shares Liby Johnson, Executive Director of Gram Vikas, 40-year-old Odisha-based NGO which worked closely with Pramila Bisoi.
Bisoi is a small-scale farmer with a meagre landholding of just one acre. She has been a child bride once, married off at the tender age of five. Inevitably, her schooling ended soon at Class 3. She had a paltry income working as a cook at the nearest Anganwadi. At the same time, she started attending the local self-help group actively and soon emerged into prominence for her excellent leadership skills and an indomitable grit. For the inhabitants of Chermaria and adjoining villages, Pramila Bisoi has been a true guardian angel for the last 18 years.
When men mocked, she gathered women to drive the change
The men in these underdeveloped villages are often averse, or simply indolent towards a progressive project like piped water supply or toilet construction. “They would brush off the need for a washroom as redundant, as it was alright with men to bathe in the open,” admits Liby Johnson.
Pramila narrates how she finally triumphed these issues, “The womenfolk had to walk for miles to the river every day for fetching water. It was exhausting for them, especially during the scorching summer months. The crops were also suffering due to water scarcity. So, naturally, all the women desperately sought a proper water supply inside the village. The men ridiculed us for wanting piped water supply,” she shares.
Pramila stood firm on her ground. The men were not willing to join the movement, so she organised meetings with the women. “Let the men not attend. We will set it up,” she declared to her army of feisty women.
After a few fruitful meeting sessions, the men changed their mind and decided to join the cause, convinced by Pramila’s brilliant efforts. Eventually, every home in Chermaria had water taps and tanks. Water was also arranged for irrigation. The sanitation issue followed an almost identical trajectory. If people in Aska are now comfortably using toilets, they have Pramila Bisoi to thank.
A true flagbearer of change
“Pramila Ji took the leadership in mobilising the village women and got them to take up the onus of change,” asserts Liby Johnson, highlighting how she has been a flagbearer of development.
“Our village had a river on one side and a barren, rocky mountain on the other. There were not enough trees. We were determined to get more trees,” recalls Pramila, expressing an iron determination.
She did not hesitate to invite the whos who of administrative power for achieving the objective. The District Forest Officer, the Forest Ranger and other officials responded to Pramila’s call for a meeting and promptly consented to lend their support.
So, they got the seeds and saplings, and the men and women started the plantation. Now, Chermaria has an extensive grove to boast of.
Pramila’s rise to eminence has been phenomenal and she has been awarded time and again for her exceptional initiatives of development – but everything in a sustainable way. When the Odisha chief minister fielded her from a crucial Parliamentary constituency over and above several political heavyweights, disappointment and concern were muttered from all levels. The opposition tried to disparage her by pinpointing her educational and socio-economic status, but the citizens who revered their mausi beyond questions were not easy to be swayed. And, the result is evident, as Pramila has managed to make her place in the coveted seats of arguably the world’s greatest democracy.