Shravya Reddy Deshmukh comes across as an unassuming person. It's only been a few days since she completed the daunting task of travelling across 31 districts in Telangana in 31 days. She has totally traversed a distance of 4116.4 km in a single month. “It’s all for the love of women,” Shravya reminds us, adding that it’s been her dream to touch every woman’s life and create a positive impact.
Shravya embarked on this ambitious journey named ‘Memu Aame Kosam’ (We for her) without advertising it too much. The tour was flagged off from Hyderabad on July 1 and ended in Nagarkurnool on July 31. And in between, a lot was learned and unlearned, Shravya says.
Shravya, a computer engineering graduate, has been associated with a number of NGOs that work for women's welfare, and in 2017, she started her own NGO called ‘We and She’.
“We and She focussed on problems that women face in dysfunctional marriages. But after my increased engagement with women and understanding their myriad problems, I decided to embark on this journey where I could make a difference in at least the lives of a few women,” Shravya says.
During her 31-day tour that began on July 1, Shravya came across a lot of young and old women and girls who had lost hope in life and were seeking help from some quarters. “On my 23rd day of tour at Adilabad, I came across a young woman who hadn’t seen the Rs 2,000 note till date. Even women who were empowered and self-employed had only tales of apathy to share.”
Shravya travelled extensively across districts accompanied by a driver and volunteers who were happy to reach out to her in different villages. “There were days when I visited up to seven villages in a single district and interacted with the women in each village for about an hour. Not to lose time, I used to start my day early in the morning and travel mostly at nights.”
Shravya says that her interaction with working women in a couple of districts brought about a change in the way she looked at self-employment in villages.
“In Yadadri district, I met women employed in the handloom sector who complained of lack of funds to even buy raw materials. I was shocked to see how a saree which costs Rs 5,000 is sold for Rs 20,000 in malls - and all that these women get in return is a pittance.”
Shravya says that one of the major demands the women put forth was to have a weavers' market where they can sell their products and get at least the minimum price for these.
Shravya is now planning to hold an exhibition for these women in the city where they can come, sell their wares and return home with some profit. “They don’t even have to pay for the stalls and I am even ready to hire a bus for them to come to the city,” says an excited Shravya.
Incidentally, it cost Shravya over Rs 2 lakh to complete her tour and she raised the money by selling an expensive bracelet, a birthday gift.
Before starting her journey, Shravya studied extensively about the demographics of each district in the state and zeroed in on villages that were backward in developmental parameters.
“In most districts that I travelled to, I met the village sarpanch only a few hours prior to a meeting with the women. This was done in order to ensure that the male heads didn’t prevent the village women from attending the meetings and condition them with cooked-up stories,” Shravya says.
During the course of one month, Shravya also visited schools and interacted with girl students, whom she says, were vocal about the problems they faced. Most of the schools were happy to welcome her and arranged sessions with students within a couple of hours, says Shravya.
“During my interaction with the students of Ashram school at Uttnoor in Adilabad, many girl students told me how their sisters suffered in dysfunctional marriages and how they were victims of child marriage. In most cases, students told me that they were allowed to study only till Class X and were then married off.”
During her 31 days of travel, Shravya could offer immediate help to some women, but in most villages, they may have to raise funds and get the local bodies to act upon the issues.
Shravya recalls her meeting with Sakkubai Avva, a 75-year-old woman in Mahubabad, who was abandoned by her two sons and had zero means of livelihood. “I saw her tired eyes staring at me amidst the crowd and I immediately went up to her. She took me to her house, a roof put up between two walls. I could not hold back my tears and gave her Rs 5,000 and told her to treat it as a token old age pension. I have promised to get her a stipend of Rs 1,000 for the next five months,” says Shravya.
But the scenes from the Dalit wadas in the villages of Telangana were the ones that were the most harrowing and need unrequited attention, Shravya says. “In a Dalit wada at Suryapet, I came across women who were victims of bank fraud and had lost all the money that they had earned in a lifetime. The women could not control their sobs as they were clueless about whom to approach to get back their money.”
Also, in many Dalit wadas, Shravya says that people’s stories of deprivation pointed directly to the lack of implementation of government schemes in the rural areas.
“While interacting with students at a school in Mancherial, a 7-year-old girl came up to me and said that she was not served enough food by her ayah aunty during their afternoon meals. When I enquired further, I understood that the children were deprived of their share of food as the food-in charge even sold off the eggs in the local market that are meant for the mid-day meal schemes,” Shravya says.
If not CCTV cameras, there should at least be a proper government mechanism to address issues like these, Shravya opines.
While We and She has promised rehabilitation and work for many women who are willing to work in cities, Shravya says that the upliftment of women working in industries like beedi manufacturing is slightly problematic.
“Many of them suffer from breathing problem, neck, spinal and waist pain due to the nature of their profession. The health Bhima scheme of the government is yet to reach women working in such hazardous sectors. Most of them want to move out from these hazardous set-ups which can be implemented only if the government intervenes and takes appropriate measures,” Shravya says.
Shravya is now planning to document her 31-days of travel and submit it to the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and other government heads and seek solutions. She is also inviting women from across Telangana to come up with proposals and offer solutions.
“I do not have any political back-up and neither do I consider myself as a social activist. I am only an ordinary woman who would like to remind other women of their worth and stand by them 24X7,” Shravya says.