50-year- old Kamlesh is the mother of 5 children--3 daughters and 2 sons. Her two daughters are already married and one of the sons has recently joined a job in Mumbai after doing his B.Tech. Kamlesh comes from a farmer's family and was married into a similar one. Out of her 3 sisters and 2 brothers, one brother became a veterinary doctor -- the others could not study due to poverty. But she was good at farming and also adept at stitching, knitting, embroidery, cooking and other household work. Yet all these womanly skills became the cause of many a discomfort after her marriage.
Life after marriage
At the age of 21, Kamlesh got married in a joint family comprising her husband, his two sisters and his three brothers and their wives. Her husband's parents were dead and his elder brother's wife, who was the family head, felt threatened by Kamlesh's accomplishments and made life miserable for her. "My sister-in-law was a terror for everyone and would instigate my husband to beat me. I faced a lot of mental and physical torture. Eventually conditions became so bad that my husband and I had to move out, along with our two daughters and one son."
Her work and achievements
Her ouster from her in-laws' house proved to be the turning point in Kamlesh's life. She and her husband laboured hard to improve their lot. They did not even have a roof over their head and no one else to fall back upon. It was a 'do or die' situation. While Kamlesh was used to working in the fields even before marriage, her husband (though being a farmer's son) knew nothing about farming. He had aspired to do some white-collar job but had to give up his studies after Class 10 due to his father's sudden death. Kamlesh taught him the nitty-gritty of farming.
Kamlesh started growing vegetables like cucumber and beans at a time when none of the other villagers were doing so--it was only later that others followed suit seeing the results of her work. Through this then-novel venture, and by dint of her hard work, Kamlesh managed to save enough money to buy 4 bighas of land, in addition to the 20 bighas that her husband got from his ancestral property.
Kamlesh is a member of the Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch ('Aaroh' is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India) since the past several years and has been part of several women's movements. "I was actively involved, with several likeminded women, in a movement to get a liquor shop removed in a nearby village Pather. We sat on a dharna (sit-in) for over 3 months before we could succeed in our mission. This went a long way in controlling alcoholism in the village and saved many families from the disastrous effects of the menfolk frittering away all their earnings on liquor."
On women farmers