This International Women’s Day, we want to introduce you to five special women whose work has made a difference to their communities, families and to their own empowerment. We celebrate them and thank them for the remarkable contributions that they make. Take a glimpse into the lives of these five indigenous women from the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve…
Janagiamma, who is from the Kurumba community, is much-loved and influential. From the age of 6, she began to study traditional healing from her parents and grandparents, and grew into a well-respected healer who is keeping traditional medicinal wisdoms and practices alive. One of Janagiamma’s most important roles, among the many she has, is as one of the Directors of the AadhimalaiPazhangudiyinar Producer Company Limited, where she plays a vital role as a bridge between the farmers and the company. As a farmer herself, she provides commodities like coffee, pepper, cotton to the company, and collects commodities from other farmers. She is also a reporter for SeemaiSuddhi, an indigenous newspaper.
(Image: Ramya Reddy)
Jeyanthi, who is from the Irula community, began to work outside the home when the tragic demise of her husband in 2012 left her as the sole breadwinner for herself and her three young children. She began working as a daily wage earner, then approached Keystone Foundation for a job. Here, she was given a brilliant opportunity: she was hired as a reporter for SeemaiSuddhi, an indigenous newspaper. She was also trained in broadcast editing and computer skills, leading to her also becoming a part of Radio Kotagiri. She is currently the Subject Coordinator at Radio Kotagiri, a job through which she has gained a newfound appreciation for life. She says, “I started hearing about people’s problems, some without solutions and some that cannot be shared publicly. I understood that I should be grateful for manageable problems, and began to enjoy my moments more.”
Lalitha, who is from the Irula community, joined the Water Project team at Keystone Foundation in 2006. She later joined the Community Well-Being Team there, where she worked to support livelihoods through initiatives like sapling distribution to farmers. As a single woman who had been abandoned by her husband, empowering other women is a cause particularly close to her heart. She has helped many women gain jobs through Keystone Foundation, which she credits for helping indigenous people gain necessary documents that assert their land rights and to provide support where governmental assistance is not available.
Thangamani, who is from the Irula community, had a desire to work for the upliftment of her people. Married to a farmer and the mother of three daughters, she was eager to work beyond the home and approached Lalitha for suggestions. In 2015, she joined the Health Team at Keystone Foundation. After receiving training in community outreach skills and methods, she started doing data collection fieldwork as well as awareness raising on medication and health issues, as well as guiding indigenous people in securing government documents like Aadhaar cards and ration cards. She says, “One of the things I am most proud of doing is introducing indigenous people to the counselling sessions arranged by Keystone Foundation so that they learn how to look after their mental health too.”
Visithra, who is from the Irula community, joined the Nilgiri Field Learning Centre in 2020, after which she got the opportunity to join Keystone Foundation as a health worker. As the eldest of four daughters, she has been doing her family proud both through the income she brings to the household as well as the respect she has gained among the public at a young age. As part of her work, she interacts with people from across the indigenous communities, counselling them on all health-related matters, which she herself credits the job itself for giving her awareness of. “This job gives me pleasure and the work done for my community people makes me feel proud,” she says.
(Images: Keystone Foundation & Deepika Vijayan)
We are proud to showcase the talents and achievements of these brilliant indigenous women from the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. We hope reading about the five women above has inspired you too. There are many more of them – here and all around the world. Here’s to celebrating indigenous women everywhere who have empowered themselves and uplifted their communities, and here’s to many more rising!