Odisha’s Woman Farmer Now An MP: Her Journey From A Child Bride To Anganwadi Cook To Being A Parliamentarian

Image credit: Gram Vikas

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While political A-listers all over India gear up to start their terms as newly elected MPs in the parliament, a 68-year-old woman farmer from Odisha is also on her way to Sansad Marg in Delhi, ready to prove her mettle in the dominion of Indian democracy, much as she did for her small village.

Pramila Bisoi is the new Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP from Aska constituency in Odisha who has brought forth incredible development in the nondescript villages of her constituency, away from all mainstream media limelight. Today, as everyone’s beloved ‘mausi’ (aunty) from Chermaria village acquires a much-deserved political honour, Efforts For Good looks back at Pramila Bisoi’s astounding contribution in the past two decades that propelled her landslide victory with 55% of the total votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha Election.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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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.

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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