Leading the way…
BY ZEENIA BARIA | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 10:38:51 IST
Hirbaiben Lobi is the proud recipient of the 14th IMC ladies Wing Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar 2006 for Rural Entrepreneurship
The lines on her forehead could only describe a fraction of what Hirbaiben Lobi has gone through in her life. Hirbaiben is no ordinary lady and yesterday she was awarded the 14th IMC ladies Wing Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar 2006 for Rural Entrepreneurship by actress Jaya Bachchan with the entire IMC Ladies Wing, headed by President Munira Chudasama, present for support. Much before the award ceremony began; Hirbaiben was already at the venue to interact with some members of the press. Dressed in a simple beige printed sari, hair streaked with grey and a huge grin on her face, it was evident how thrilled Hirbaiben was about receiving the award.
I’m so happy to be here and I’m proud that the Jankidevi Bajaj family has chosen to bestow this honour upon me,’ was the first thing she said. Although Hirbaiben spoke in her native Gujarati, which was slightly difficult to comprehend, the passion with which she spoke about her work and achievements more than made up for the language barrier. Of Siddi origin, Hirbaiben’s village is around the Gir Forest in the Junagadh district.
Orphaned by the time she was 14, Hirbaiben was raised by her grand mum, who inculcated good values in her, which have been helping Hirbaiben till date.
Girls from our village would go to the forest to cut fire wood. One day two of the girls were caught for illegal felling and I realised that if they had something better to do, they wouldn’t have gone through the humiliation of being caught by the authorities. I realised the need to be financially independent. And I also wanted other women to be so.
That’s why I started programs where women could earn their living through agriculture and other means. I encouraged them to save their income. I taught them all about organic fertilizer manufacturing, neem oil production, animal husbandry, selling fruits and vegetables, readymade garments, milk and milk products, toys, utensils, setting up tea shops and having tailoring classes,’ said Hirbaiben.
Hirbaiben doesn’t like to work with people who are competent; she likes giving a chance and encouraging people who aren’t. Wife beating, which is a rampant problem in rural India, too, found a solution in Hirbaiben. ‘We take the wife under our fold, help the husband set up a new business and try to educate him against the practice of wife beating. I want to remove poverty from my own and neighbouring villages,’ she said.
Besides creating employment, Hirbaiben has also set up a day care centre as well as a school to encourage the growth of education. She has also convinced fellow villagers to develop a part of their land to construct a public school. ‘I used to listen to radio programs, which gave agricultural tips and implemented them in my farming techniques,’ said the proud mother of three, who is today the President of the Adivasi Mahila Sangh comprising 550 Siddi members. Because of her visionary methods, Hirbaiben has been invited to numerous villages in different parts of the country to give lectures on rural development. Hirbaiben works closely with the Aga Khan Development Network, who fully encourages her activities. ‘If we want a secure future, we must think of our present.
That’s why I lay so much emphasis on saving. Another imperative thing that villagers need to realise is the importance of education. We must educate our youngsters, we must provide them with facilities,’ she said matter-of-factly. On her first trip to Mumbai, Hirbaiben had obviously loved the sights of the city. ‘The IMC ladies have been very gracious and taken care of all my needs. And every weekend we see Amitabh Bachchan movies in our village,’ she said with a smile to Jaya Bachchan. And all this from a lady, who’s studied only till the second grade.