Tuli Changes Her Life

by Dil Monwara Manu
(This article originally appeared in Anannya, a Bangladeshi newspaper,
on September 15, 1992.)

It is noon but there is no scorching heat. The winding path of the village is lined with bamboo tress. Nearby, there is a thatched house surrounded by a neat courtyard where squash and pumpkin vines grow. Deep shadows are cast by palm, betelnut and coconut trees.

With a video camera on her shoulder, a woman is walking down the road confidently and handling the camera professionally. She is not dressed as one might expect: she wears a cheap silk saree, a faded petticoat, a colorful blouse and very old nose ring. Her manner conveys her determination to break the chains of daily life faced by village women.

Tuli Begum is a village woman of Dar Gram, a village approximately 60 kilometers north of Dhaka, in Bangladesh. Tuli lived in poverty, often going without food, until she joined Proshika, a non-governmental organization which works with the rural poor. Her initiative led her to organize a Proshika women's collective in her village. The group members are all landless women who work together. They run projects in poultry and cattle rearing, vegetable cultivation, beekeeping and silk production. Taking loans from Proshika's revolving fund, some of them built houses and sanitary latrines. The concrete latrine slabs are made by members of another women's collective.

Tuli remembers when she first joined Proshika. She had to struggle a lot but she did not give up. She had to work hard to gain her husband's trust and to convince him that she was not doing anything wrong. Now she has overcome many difficulties; her husband helps her a lot. Tuli has seen her neighbors learn that if they unite together, they can achieve many goals. "I love my somiti [collective]. So I wanted to learn to use the camera. If I make a video program about our activities and show it to others who are not organized like we are, then they can understand and rise up. They will also work like we did and change their lives. Hearing my plan, Proshika gave me video training. Since then, I have used video in our work."

Char Hijli Mohila Somiti, Tuli's collective, is also protecting plants and saplings by the roadside under the afforestation program of Food for Work [World Food Program]. The women group members are taking good care of the plants; just as well as the male group members. They work from 6 am to 2 pm and then do their household work after that.

While walking I met Zaida Begum holding a da [a large sickle]. She was walking quickly and looking here and there. She laughed inside her head covering. "I have no problem doing this work. These trees are useful both for me and my country, because I am going to get a share of these trees after 15 years."

Tuli stood there smiling and said, "At first when we planted the saplings, we faced obstacles. We even had to go to court. But now we are able to make people understand that we need oxygen to survive and that we need to plant trees. With so much destructive deforestation going on, we want to contribute to afforestation."

Kushi Begum, Anwara Begum and Chand Miah, who are not Proshika collective members, agreed that the collective members have improved their standard of living. These three are not landless so they did not get involved with a group. However, they also worry about income as they are bound to give dowry for their daughters' marriages.

Lovjan, an elderly woman, said, "I gave dowry to my elder granddaughter but I will not give it to the young one. Her father even sent her to school. Things have really changed! When I was a girl, there was no dowry system, rather the bridegroom gave me ornaments, sarees and other household items. When will we get rid of this dowry?!"

"We would rather not give dowry," said Tuli strongly. "I will not give it upon my daughter's marriage nor accept it for my son's marriage. Nobody takes dowry when there is a marriage among the families of collective members. For this reason we want to organize more collectives so that the system of dowry will be abolished. We also want to do away with child marriage, divorce, and polygamy."

One Proshika member explained, "We don't need to spend thousands of dollars; rather, we need to involve women in all spheres of development and they will change their own lives and society."

"If we unite," say Tuli importantly, "then we can do a lot more and enjoy our rights under the law."

On the way back to Dhaka, Tuli sings a song she has composed and written. In this song there is no word for surrender.

Once handling a video camera was quite incredible to her, but now it is a fact. Her power and conviction helped her to learn to use this modern technology; it is also reflected in every line of her song.

"No one should charge interest.
By working hard we can earn more.
We are not afraid of poverty.
The landless will overcome."