Kalawati Devi Rawat knows how to get things done. Plain and simple. No matter the adversary, Rawat over the last 30 years has made it a habit of coming out on top. She’s taken on corrupt government officials, the timber Mafia and alcoholism, and prevailed each time, making a real difference in the lives of women (and men for that matter) in one remote Indian village. Her accomplishments have won her a profile in the BBC’s ongoing “Unsung Heroes” series, which spotlights people in India who make life better for those around them.
Rawat’s story of activism began in the early 1980s, shortly after she was married. She and her husband lived in Bacher village in northern India, an area that seemed so remote that wiring it for electricity seemed impossible. Not that it actually was too remote to be part of the grid. As Rawat discovered, the lack of electricity had more to do with government officials’ malaise than the faraway location of the village. Rawat had rallied a group of women to lobby the officials to do something, but they blew her off. On the way back from local government headquarters, the BBC reports, Rawat and her band of women found power lines, which they carried back to Bacher. Once there, Rawat and the women went through the laborious task of using their haul to connect the village to the power grid. But when officials learned of what happened, they threatened to pursue criminal charges against her. As word spread, though, more and more women spoke out and pleaded with police to arrest the officials. Eventually, they backed off and allowed the village to stay connected.
Later, Rawat noticed an unusual relationship between the alcoholism that was plaguing men in her village and the local timber Mafia. It turns out, the men, while under the influence — which was often — were easy targets for being taken advantage of, a fact that organized criminals were happy to take advantage of. “Many men in and around my husband’s village were alcoholics and they were being exploited by the timber mafia gangs that operated in the area,” Rawat told the BBC. “One morning, I went into the forest along with the other women to fetch cattle fodder when I saw that all the trees were marked with a chalk to be felled later.” Their drunken weakness was putting the forest at risk of being totally wiped out. That’s when Rawat sprang into action again and was once again successful, this time using strategies inspired by the “chipko movement” of the 1970s.
Read the full story at the BBC.