“You have come all the way from Hyderabad. Do you have relatives here?” The lady asked me. “Yes, I do”, I answered and it was her turn to ask curiously “Oh who?.” When I light heartedly told her that it was her, she instantly replied “In that case you should be staying with me in my hut and nowhere else.” This light hearted banter and the warm hospitality unwittingly extended, reflected the largesse of the woman cotton farmer who had returned home after toiling in the heat and dust from 8 AM to 6 PM picking cotton on a farm in a remote village in Telangana. She still had a head scarf on and wore a long shirt over her saree to protect her at work and had made Rs 250 that day, the same as her husband. She was there to watch me and the team I was with, speak to a farmer family as part of a professional assignment that took us there. Many women had gathered at the farmer’s hut to express their solidarity, watch what was happening and give their own inputs as and when required.

The lady I was speaking to was the Upa (Deputy)-Sarpanch Anita, a cotton farmer herself and the wife of another cotton farmer who were using Jeevamrit, neem oil, pheromone traps and other organic methods as part of good farming practices   guided by a non-government organisation (NGO) and were sending both their daughters to school. The farmer family was part of many others driving change and the hardworking women in the rural areas of the district didn’t cease to surprise me. My assignment took me to cotton fields in four districts and I was amazed to see women sarpanches,  a young woman post graduate who was the first CEO of a Farmer Producer Organizations or FPO  formed to further the interests of farmers, and trade union members who were not nominal figures but decision makers in the centre of action. They are all doing their best to improve their lives working tirelessly along with the men folk on the fields and at home and educating their children with huge dreams for them. The manner in which illiterate and semi-literate women are striving for change is truly heartening. They may lack the resources, finesse and education that those in the urban areas possess but women in the rural landscape are making their presence felt. I write this piece as a tribute to their warmth, unity and desire to make a difference. In meeting them I discovered one more time that strength doesn’t come from what you have, but what you are, and that the most trying circumstances can somehow bring out the best in you.