On Women’s Day A hidden jewel in Morwal Hills: Say Hello to Ratni Bai”

Ratni, somewhat frail and short, quickly climbed up the elevation of 50 meters with a sack of goods placed on her head. She led the way and we followed. Treading a curvaceous hilly path for almost ten minutes, we soon reached the Phulwari (literally translates to- a bed of flowers- which is a daycare centre for children under five)- a small mud hut nestled in the mighty Aravalis- run by Basic Healthcare Services (BHS) in the Hathiya Talai hamlet of Morwal panchayat. It was just a few days ago that Ratni had recovered from an unexpected abortion. She lost a lot of blood during the process which has weakened her body but has not moved her unwavering confidence- which is what defines her.

Ratni is a fighter who refuses to get bogged down by life. After losing her mother at the age of 12, Ratni had no time to grieve. She immediately took over the household responsibilities and became the sole earning member in a family of four. At this young age, she also became a second mother to her two young brothers, one of whom was just a month old at that time. She would take him to school with her, tied in a basket, and attend her classes while he slept. In this transaction of providing love, care and financial support to her family, Ratni missed out on her dreams, her education, and discontinued her studies after class 5.

Ratni, 30, a mother of five, was introduced to the Amrit clinic in her neighborhood five years ago. Due to her husband’s sickness she was forced to do ‘Majdoori’ (manual labour). She started working as a construction worker- a helper during the construction of Amrit clinic in Morwal. Her job was to pass the cement mix to the Kaarigars (masons), hand them tools, and clean the site after the work was done. The work was intensive and back breaking, yet severely underpaid.

However, this would be the last time that Ratni took on that job. The construction site introduced her to the Amrit clinic and the Phulwari center that had just opened up in her village. Recalling her meeting with Ramesh ji, a community mobilizer at the clinic, Ratni shared that it was he who told her about the Phulwari and motivated her to take up the work of a Phulwari worker. Uncertain, Ratni agreed. Since then, she has not looked back.

Ratni finds her work as a Phulwari worker very fulfilling as she has learnt a lot of new things. The work has not only brought her a degree of identity and introduced her to new knowledge, but has also proved to be an escape from her neverending and at times stressful household duties. “As soon as I come to the Phulwari and play with the kids, I forget all my worries. I feel very happy in the company of these kids”, exclaims Ratni. She truly believes in the significance of a children’s space like Phulwari in the village.

 “I feel that Phulwari lets children become more confident and enriches their foundation. The games and activities that we do also stimulate their mental growth”.

Ratni’s work includes holding monthly meetings with parents of the children who come to the Phulwari center. She talks about contraceptives, ways of avoiding malaria and TB- everything that she learnt during her trainings at BHS. Her association with Amrit clinic has changed her and also helped bring tremendous changes within her household. She now takes care of her body, her hygiene and has even convinced her husband to give up drinking alcohol. “Earlier, I didn’t bathe everyday as I would always be busy with something in the house or on the farms. However, since I have started doing this work, I understand the importance of hygiene. I take care of myself. I even encouraged my husband to give up drinking”, shares Ratni.

Setting up the Phulwari was not an easy task. Ratni recalls the initial 12 months which were a complete nightmare for her and the team. “Children used to cry a lot, their parents complained about the food and believed that their kids would fall sick after eating the Phulwari food”. It took a lot of effort, patience, and commitment- regular meetings with the parents and village authorities- for Ratni and her team to gain the trust of the community.

Ratni’s rising reputation has not deterred her husband from loving her. Rather, he has become even more supportive, contributing equally to the unpaid housework.

He even praises me in front of other people. He tells them- that I know so many things and people should learn from me. He takes pride in my work.”

Ratni did not find a lot of people in her life who believed in her, except her school teacher whom she remembers fondly. However, this has not stopped Ratni from being an unflinching support for other women in her village. She encourages them to speak up about their bodies and seek medical care when needed.

Braving everything in life, Ratni stands strong tying her family and community together. She nurtures a dream for her son to become a teacher and her daughter to become a doctor. When asked where she draws all this strength from, she says with a definite resolution- “From my heart!

Drishti Agarwal

March 16, 2023