iMahal Interview Series:
June 12, 2000
Hello Chhaya. Thanks for visiting with us. As you know, we conduct interviews with successful or soon to be successful individuals. You are certainly one of those highly successful people from who we can all learn: learn about what you have accomplished and, more importantly, how you have achieved those accomplishments. Your background, personal experiences, hard work, and sacrifices make your life a compelling story. Many a times, success is equated with financial success. Your efforts clearly demonstrate that success has other dimensions, going well beyond the monetary gains. We are pleased that you have taken the time to talk with us. We appreciate it very much. So shall we get started?
Let me comment on success as being something beyond financial gains. You are very right. The definition of success does vary from individual to individual. At the end of the day, personal rewards and gratification of any form, be they monetary or otherwise, often drive, motivate, and inspire an individual to his or her goals.
iMahal: Well, let's get started then. Can you share with us a bit about yourself and your work in India?
My work revolves mostly around women's and children's issues. I am involved in the woman's movement in India, specifically to help educate underprivileged children and improve the lives of labor working women. In the area of education, I work in the realm of quality of education and adult illiteracy. Another aspect of my work involves working with the government. We train government officials to work and help the villagers. In a sense I act as a mediator between the government and the villagers. Also, we evaluate other projects that were done, and help to devise an action plan based on research we conduct.
iMahal: We just wish to point out for those who may not know, that the Fulbright scholarship is a highly prestigious award bestowed upon a select few. That is quite an accomplishment Chhaya.
Coming back to your response, how did you get involved in activities such as the women's movement, helping women and children, being an intermediary between the Indian Government and the villagers, etc.?
During the early years of my involvement in social movements, say from 1972 to 1975, I was involved with the Tribal Area of Shahada Talugua (Block) Dhulia. Here we taught women about wages and working, and developed woman camps to help them learn about such issues. In 1975, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, declared an Emergency State in India, thus limiting our activities. From 1976 to 1980, I was involved with the Unions in the Textile Industry. In 1980, I was awarded the Dutch Government Scholarship to study women's issues. With this scholarship, I went to the Netherlands for 16 months to pursue a Masters Degree. I received my PhD from S.N.D.T. Women's University in Bombay. Subsequent to that, I have been involved in various research projects.
iMahal: Were there any particular influences in your earlier life, say that of family or friends or role models, that instilled in you this "desire to serve?"
iMahal: So yours has been an effort to serve, while establishing your own individual being who contributes to society at large, going well beyond the nuclear family.
iMahal: You mentioned that you went to the Netherlands on a Dutch Government Scholarship. Can you elaborate on why you went to the Netherlands and what the program of study was all about?
The reason for going to the Netherlands and pursue a Masters degree was to learn more about and from women's movements around the world - their struggles, their efforts, and success and failures. Here we worked on 2-3 projects involving women's organizations. One project involved field work in the Dutch Women's struggle. We got to see the movement from within, to understand their minds. For three months I worked with a group running a women's shelter. It was a home for women who were physically and mentally abused. It was through this program that I truly learned about sisterhood. I learned about common features that existed in experiences of women all over the world. I learned how we could benefit from studying certain experiences of the Western women's movements. Gradually a concept of women's liberation took shape in me. When I returned from the Netherlands I decided to concentrate my attention on women's struggles.
iMahal: So, it was a particularly significant experience in your life.
iMahal: Your involvement in these social movements must have effected your family life.