Years ago, when Bina Devi married into a family of Dhauri village, Munger district, Bihar, things were not any different from any other village of the country. Like the other women, she would spend her days cleaning, cooking and doing household chores limited within the boundaries of her new home. Any work outside the doors of the house was considered beyond the capacity of a woman.
Little did anyone know that Bina was different. With the right encouragement and training, this woman would pick up farming equipment, earn the moniker of ‘Mushroom Mahila’ of Munger, empower hundreds of her sisterhood and receive an award from the President of India! All due to the grit and guts she has in abundance.
“I had a fire within me. One that was silent but continuously burning, looking for a direction. And after some time, I found it,” recalls Bina who was one of the many women trained by Munger’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Agriculture Science Centre), an agriculture extension under the government.
The training was a bid to empower rural women to get involved in organic farming that will not only benefit their households financially, but also contribute to the well being of the environment.
While the training program gave her the tools, Bina’s growing interest in the field introduced her to yet another natural wonder – mushroom farming. “I was fascinated by it and how easy it was to grow them. What was even more shocking that very few people knew or indulged in this trade. So I decided I would,” she says.
In 2013, Bina began her journey of breaking gender stereotypes from within the very doors of her home. And, it all started from under her bed!
“I got in touch with the Krishi Vigyan Centre people and they explained to me all the nitty gritties of growing mushrooms. I had an old palang or cot lying around the house and so started with growing a kilo of mushroom under it. Mushrooms are highly nutritious and also have a high value in the market compared to many other fruits or vegetables. I was not just farming at home but also going out and selling it in the haat or bazaar and that was something, not just for me, but for all the women in the area,” she shares.
The journey from that 1 kilo to the recognition as ‘Mushroom Mahila’ of Munger has been exponential and extremely humbling, she says, in response to the recent Nari Shakti Puraskar she won from President Ram Nath Kovind. On 8 March, she was among 16 other women who were honoured with this prestigious award.
“I was so overwhelmed to meet the President and receive such a big award. All I wanted to do was help my family and do more than what society was expecting of me, and in return I got the world,” adds the 43-year-old who has now popularised mushroom farming in five blocks and 105 neighbouring villages in the district by training almost 10,000 rural women.
Fifteen hundred 1,500 of those women have already adopted mushroom farming and are reaping its benefits.
However, breaking the glass ceiling of patriarchy was not easy for Bina. She recalls being discouraged and made fun of in the initial stages. “People in the village would call me crazy for doing this. Even in usual vegetable farming, I would make jaivik (organic) manure using dairy waste like cow urine and dung, and that would often disgust people and give them a chance to ridicule me,” she says.
“But, I stuck to it and worked hard, and in no time, the results were out in the open for all to see. I didn’t have to say anything, my actions proved the merit of my work and changed their perspective. Soon other women began to join me,”
Helping Women and Farmers
Bina has also been involved in spreading digital literacy among women and was awarded by Tata Trusts, for training 700 women how to use mobile. She has also helped 2,500 farmers create self-help groups, and taught them the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of crop farming.
Owing to her extensive work in this sector as well as her contribution in rural development, Bina also served as the sarpanch or village head of Dhauri Panchayat in Tetiabamber block for five years. During her time, she not only promoted organic and mushroom farming, but also trained people in vermi-compost production, organic insecticide and dairy farming.
Today, she single-handedly supports an entire family of 18 members, with her monthly earning of Rs.90,000 (Rs 30,000 from mushroom farming and Rs 60,000 from organic farming of miscellaneous vegetables), while also financing the education of her four children.
“I have 3 sons and 1 daughter and all are studying outside in various parts of India. Apart from my boys, my daughter is also studying hard to become an engineer. People ask about her marriage plans and I say I don’t care because I want her to be independent first. It is the most important gift a parent can give to their children, especially daughters. Because, when women are encouraged and supported they can truly make any impossible possible!” she concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)