Calling upon tribal women engaged in tendu leaf collection to speak up at an interactive session in the tribal district of Mandla on Saturday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi told them unlike other leaders, who come, deliver speech and leave, he wished to know about their lives and problems.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi addresses an election rally in Dadri. The party may not be able to capitalise on his goodwill because of poor organisational structure and infighting. PTI/Atul Yadav
Interacting with tribal women in a chaupal-like setting in village Patpatpara in Mandla (400 Km east of Bhopal), Rahul moved around the gathering asking women to be frank and talk to him fearlessly as he sincerly wished to know about their problems. "These days leaders come to a place, deliver their speech and return. In contrast to this, I have come to listen to your problems and not to deliver any speech," the Amethi MP told the gathering.
One of the women, Ansuya Choudhary, told Rahul that tendu leaf collection was a tough and strenuous task which often led to neglect of children and family.
" I start plucking tendu leaves at 4.00 am. So early in the morning, I can't even spot the leaves properly but move from one tree to another amid fear from tiger, beer and snakes", she said.
A woman complained about non-availability of water in the village.
Another participant, Lamili Bai, said she did get work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, but the wages were often less than what was prescribed under the government- sponsored programme.
One of the woman told Gandhi about irregularities in the agency that collected tendu leaves, which often threaten not to take leaves if one did not bow to their wishes.
A tribal woman informed Gandhi that after finishing the tendu leaves plucking, they go to Nagpur in search of employment.
Gandhi posed query about availability of tendu leaves in the forest, the women told it was reducing day by day due to felling of trees for various purposes including construction of houses by the villagers.
Gandhi later said he was happy that women talked to him about their issues fearlessly.
People in large numbers had gathered on both sides of the road leading to a nearby helipad to get a glimpse of the young leader.
Over the past few months, Rahul has had such interactive sessions with students and members of fishing community, among others.