This is the story of Leela Garasia from Ukhliat village. Like many girls from her community, she was married off at the age of 15, just when she had successfully completed secondary school. Her in-laws were not keen on Leela going to regular school to complete her education. This, in itself, was not uncommon.
Leela, and her in-laws, belong to tribal communities who reside in the Kotra block of Udaipur district, Rajasthan. Kotra, located 75km south of Udaipur city, and bordered in the north by Pali and Sirohi district, is hilly, arid and comprises dry forestlands. Small landholdings, poor quality of natural resources, unavailability of irrigation facilities, and low levels of literacy have all contributed to Kotra becoming the most backward block of Udaipur district. And this is mirrored in the block’s grim reality — the local livelihood opportunities, or lack thereof.
Kotra is listed under the tribal sub-plan with 89.32% of the total population belonging to scheduled tribes. Female literacy rates are abysmally low as a mere 11.4% of women are literate. Therefore, Leela’s in-laws could not understand why a married ‘woman’ would need to study further. However, Leela was made of different mettle. She completed her senior secondary through correspondence.
Her husband, Ramesh, worked far away in the Pratapgarh Mines, earning between Rs200-250 a day. He could only come home once in three months. Left behind to take care of their two children, and her in-laws, Leela began a small kirana (grocery) store in her house. This added an additional Rs1,500-2,000 to the household income.
For Leela, this was just the beginning. She began to look for additional sources of income that would utilise her academic skills. Through a friend, she came to know that the Adivasi Vikas Manch (AVM) was offering skill training programmes in Devla. Though she was advised to undergo a mobile repairing course, conveniently provided in her village, she opted for a one-month-long tailoring and fashion designing residential course at Udaipur. Her family was distressed at the thought of her leaving for a month. But Leela promised to take her infant along and coaxed her family into letting her go. The AVM team, touched by Leela’s determination to learn, linked her to the training programme in Udaipur. She successfully completed the programme and earned her trainers’ approbation.
Leela has become a prominent character in Ukhliat Village with her newly acquired skills. She has gradually learnt to style and tailor all kinds of ethnic clothing for tribal women, and caters to the community’s aspiration for trendier clothes. She now earns up to Rs4000 per month from her tailoring shop. This has earned her new respect from her family and her in-laws.