Late Jyotsna Darda
A towering figure courage, strength and love, Jyotsna Darda was a mother to many more people than just her children. As the Chairman of Lokmat Sakhi Manch, a forum for women, started under the aegis of the Lokmat newspaper group, she worked very hard for the upliftment of women in remote areas of Maharashtra and Goa. Today, thanks to her tireless work before her untimely death, Sakhi Manch has more than 100 centers in the two states.
Gunjan Jain: Sakhi Manch has provided an identity to the women who are its members. Tell us a little about the thought processes behind its establishment in 2000?
Jyotsna Darda (JD): Crafting a social organization is not an easy job. As a child, I never dreamt or planned on doing anything like this. However, when I became part of the Darda family and, as a result, became more acquainted with the social environment, I thought that I must do something for women. I would hear the discussions between my father-in-law and my husband, and I felt the need to empower women. Moreover, I identified that the condition of women was very bad in our society. So, we started conducting small camps initially; we also started working toward bringing these women together. After speaking to the women who were interested in what we were doing, we were more aware of their pathetic condition. Most of these women said that they could not do what they wanted to do and so, we established Sakhi Manch with the idea of providing women with purpose and identity.
GJ: Why do you think it is important for contemporary Indian women to have this sense of identity?
JD: I believe that women are capable of doing anything and everything. That’s why I feel that women should be given their due respect and not looked down upon or discriminated against. Today, if a woman goes to work, she should be respected for the work she is doing. She should not feel threatened or should not have to deal with the any apprehension of being teased or misbehaved with. Women should be carefree; they should feel safe and secure. I feel that it is important for them to have their own identity. Moreover, women should be respected in their domestic spheres as well. At homes, women face the issue of disrespect. I found that in many houses, a woman is not given the importance she deserves. A mother, a wife, a sister, or a sister-in-law must get the amount of respect and importance that is due to her, that is due any human. Today, many people send their mothers to old age homes. Basically, I do not like this concept of sending parents to old age homes. Some years later, this cycle will continue, and these people will be sent to old age homes by their children. This is not a good thing; and I strongly feel that women should be allowed to attain their proper status in all spheres of life.
GJ: You said that when you became a part of Darda family, you became socially aware of the environment in which women live, and that was when you decided to do something to empower them. Hailing from the privileged Darda family, how comfortable were you when dealing with suppressed women from the lower and middle classes?
JD: The elders of the Darda family, like my father-in-law, believe that we should remain grounded and humble. We do not discriminate on basis of class, and that is why our newspaper is distributed to even the remotest villages of Maharashtra. In fact, when there is a marriage in our domestic help’s family or when someone in their family is sick, I personally go there and visit them. I have inherited this virtue from my parents as well; we believe that there is no rich or poor, and that we should help whoever is suffering. That is why and how we remain humble.
GJ: Just like your newspaper has reached the remotest villages of Maharashtra, has Sakhi Manch also reached these villages? We know the platform was started in Nagpur, but when did you decide to expand to other cities and villages?
JD: People think that big cities provide more avenues or opportunities, and that there is no scope in smaller towns or villages. When we began Sakhi Manch, we believed that the most talented people were in the villages, because not only were they willing to work with considerable dedication but they were also very brave and strong. So, we went to these villages, tried to convince them, and asked them to join the organization. Gradually, they started to realize the impact that Sakhi Manch was making, and they demanded that we extend our branches. They wanted to work with us. The more positive responses we got, the more we continued to grow.
GJ: As Chairperson, you meet so many different women on a daily basis, how would you describe today’s quintessential woman?
JD: Today, women want to grow and be independent; they are in a position where they are contributing to the growth of the country. I feel that contemporary Indian woman is very talented. They are doing exceptionally well, and I want for them to continue to develop. I find that women today are very powerful, and if they want to, they can do numerous things with a lot of positivity and achieve considerable success.
GJ: You have been at the helm of Sakhi Manch since its inception, and you have led it to considerable success. What according to you are some of the most important qualities of a leader?
JD: The most important quality in a leader is his/her ability to easily mix with people; to be able to understand their worth, their value, their attributes, and their feelings. When I meet the members of Sakhi Manch, I talk to them and sit with them and try to solve their problems. This quality of being able to communicate with fellow human beings is a pre-requisite. At Sakhi Manch, we try to make our members feel at home, so that they feel that this is their platform, their home. Additionally, a leader should be hard working, and should always want to help other people.
GJ: It’s been a 13-year long journey since its inception in 2000. How difficult has it the journey been? Tell us a little about the struggle in the first couple of years of Sakhi Manch?
JD: Initially, we had 600 members. Our plan was to expose the women to the outside world so as to help them realize their potential. There were other issues which we dealt with accordingly. We had the media, through which we advertised. We also met a number of people and went to different clubs and told them about the endeavour and purpose of Sakhi Manch. We decided on a nominal fee structure because the aim was to do serious social work, and not just run some charity. We charged a fee, but we also presented our members with gifts that were worth double the amount. In the first couple of years, the main problem was to convince women to join us; however, with time, we were able to overcome this hurdle. Later, the women themselves understood that what they were doing was in fact good work; we involved them in different fields like social activity, entertainment, education, etc. In time, when people started placing faith in us, we grew stronger and stronger.
GJ: Sakhi Manch organizes several programs, workshops, and events, which are cultural, religious, and informative in nature. If you could share with us a little about the idea behind these events?
JD: The idea behind these workshops is that the women should not fall behind in any field. At these events or programs or workshops, we provide them with information and knowledge about every field. The basic purpose is to train these women in all fields. Many of these women have now started their own businesses and are earning a living for themselves.
GJ: How involved is Sakhi Manch in the social causes that you champion?
JD: Every year, we ask our members to bring us saris that they want to give away. Most women bring saris wrapped neatly as presents, and we distribute these amongst the slum dwellers. In the case of education, we arrange computer training courses; for this purpose, we invest half the funds and the other half is invested by Sakhi Manch. We also try to inculcate good values in the people we work with, which I think is very necessary in today’s time. Additionally, we conduct free health check-ups etc.
GJ: In the last 10 years, Sakhi Manch has achieved much success; what are your plans for the next five years?
JD: We would like to continue working towards the development and empowerment of women. Also, we would like to carry on with our social work.
GJ: You are intrinsically involved with every aspect of Sakhi Manch. Share with us a little about the importance of Sakhi Manch in your life?
JD: Sakhi Manch has given a lot to me. Being associated with the members has changed my perception about everything. We basically live for ourselves, but it’s a great feeling to see the people that you have helped are happy with what they are doing. When I meet them and I see the smile on their faces, I feel very good. Also, I feel satisfied that I’ve done something for the women. Sakhi Manch has also given me considerable recognition, and now, wherever I go, even if I don’t know the people, they always recognize me.
GJ: Sakhi Manch was founded under Lokmat Times; to what extent is it independent?
JD: Sakhi Manch is not dependent on Lokmat. We have our own identity; all that we depend on them for is that our news is properly published. Otherwise, we’re absolutely independent in every aspect.
GJ: You’ve mentioned that you arrange quality programs for Sakhi Manch, which we assume must be costly. Where does Sakhi Manch find sponsorships? How do you raise funds?
JD: We have some funds of our own, and we are able to obtain some sponsorships. We conduct our programs with the help of these sponsorships. Companies like Whirlpool, TATA, and Videocon have funded us in the past.
GJ: We know you write good lyrics and poetry and compose music; who or what would you attribute your artistic nature to?
JD: I don’t know. May be it is inherent. I love reading; I love reading religious and spiritual texts.
GJ: You are married to a famous Indian politician. Being a politician’s wife, what kind of responsibilities do you feel you need to shoulder?
JD: Being a politician’s wife means having to shoulder many responsibilities. I need to participate in many activities and also be a perfect hostess to the guests visiting our place. Moreover, people perceive me as wielding political power, so they come to me to have their issues solved. At times, when the members of Sakhi Manch want any help with regard to medical care, I try to help them out. In case of admission of children, we try to help people as much as possible.
GJ: You are part of the political circle and have been involved in politics in many ways. Have you even considered joining politics or becoming a politician?
JD: I come from a political family, but I do not want to join politics. However, in my heart, I believe that good people should join politics. For me, though, politics is not the right place as I’m simply not suited for that job. I have to say that India’s contemporary political scenario is not very good at all.
GJ: If you had three days to spend in any manner you wanted, without any social or familial commitments/responsibilities, how would you spend those three days?
JD: I would take those three days off entirely for myself. I would travel, read, and listen to music.
GJ: Speaking of music, and moreover since you write lyrics and compose music, what kind of music or genre of music do you like the most?
JD: I like classical music, or some light music.
GJ: If you had to name one historical figure who has inspired you, who would it be?
JD: I want to be like Mrs. Indira Gandhi; she was so dynamic, capable of striking a balance between family and politics, and had such a good command over people.
GJ: In a society where everyone expects the very best from you, what is your advice to women when it comes to handling all the varied roles that they are required to play: mother, sister, daughter, wife, homemaker, businesswomen, etc.?
JD: One should be absolutely committed to one’s family. That, plus the qualities of devotion, commitment and sacrifice are important to excel in any field.
GJ: You come from a long line of freedom fighters. In what ways has Gandhiji and his teachings enriched your life?
JD: I was taught a lot of values and discipline in my childhood. During those days, I felt that the values were too strict, but today, I realize that they have helped me become the person I am, they have made me a better person. I taught my children the same values.