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The Desert Women

By being both suppressed and defiant, the women of the villages of Rajasthan display an ability to persevere and survive, and offer subversion in a tradition of resistance.

From the perpetually soggy October night in Bengaluru, my home, I am moving across the Aravallis into the cold comforts of desert in Rajasthan. My mind paints pictures of things unseen, with the deftness that experience rarely dares—saffron sands, dry teasing winds, and veiled women. The comfort of being a stranger is not there. I am going to live with the villagers as one of them and I am going to do it the Indian way—as a padyatri, walking on foot.

The bus from Delhi comes to a deliberate stop at a small town called Bhim in the south of Rajasthan. I realise that this is the dholawara land, the land of deeply entrenched traditions of patriarchy, of sati, of the heroic valour of Rajputs, of caste oppression. But this is also the epicentre of the people’s resistance movement. Rajasthan gave India deeply meaningful democratic rights like the right to information, the right to employment and the right to hearing. It was fascinating to me that with low levels of literacy and a higher degree of conservatism, large numbers of women actually participated in these struggles.

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