Vasudha Dhagamwar has empowered displaced communities and women by providing information that helps them understand their civil rights so they can suitably use it. She has been translating laws and policies to simple, readable, audio-video materials that the general public can understand.
Vasudha who was elected for her work with dam displaced communities in the early 80s, expanded her focus to industrial and linear displaced communities on one hand and working class women on the other hand. Vasudha got 7 villages re-integrated into the list of villages displaced for compensation as part of her work with Narmada Valley displacement. Her work in Korba industrial Area, Chhattisgarh, with the displaced communities included investigation, writing, and providing information that people wanted to know allowing communities to take actions befitting their needs. This information included what their land was going to be used for, and how they could be included in the process of land development, etc.
When asked about her interest in women from displaced communities, she argued that “Nobody asked about women and what would happen to them in case of displacement”. This triggered MARG’s work with the Department of Women and Child Development, Human Resource Development Ministry, in developing a series of booklets around the four aspects of laws affecting working class women. Developed during the late 80s these included labour, criminal, family and miscellaneous laws. MARG pioneered in getting this information out to the larger public. This constantly updated booklet series has been used as far as in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Vasudha’s work with women was not just about providing information to empower them but, helping them use the knowledge in their own ways to solve issues, sometimes in the quickest, most efficient ways. Vasudha partnered with local NGOs which stepped in to help as per the needs of the women be it in the process of negotiations or conversations. MARG developed a series of short video films called “Bol Basanto” which talked about the social and legal problems in daily life. These were released nationwide through DD1 and other private channels in the early 90s and aired by other local channels. Radio films were another successful form of spreading awareness on issues like how women cannot be arrested by police at night. MARG publications have been disseminated through workshops across the country.
Vasudha also focussed on women and their roles and responsibilities in Panchayats. As a part of this, she looked at all aspects such as the importance of signing the register at every meeting as a “sarpanch” to how mahila mandals should work. This information was shared through knowledge booklets. MARG came out with a book “They call me Member Saab” in 2000, which shared stories of women sarpanch highlighting the issues they faced to help other Women Sarpanchs’ across India learn from these experiences.
Vasudha, a lawyer by profession, wrote constantly about laws around women, child labour, and child marriage. She retired in 2005 after which she took up her passion to write full-time. Recently, she finished writing a biography on her mom Geeta Same, a socio-political novelist.
Note: This was updated in November, 2013, read on for the ELECTION profile.