It’s a leisurely Sunday afternoon in Khushiyari village, around 12 kilometers from the district headquarters in Varanasi. A group of men is busy gambling under the shade of a tree besides the community hall.
Suddenly, there is panic in the group as the men start disbursing, hiding the cards in their ‘lungis’. Within minutes, they are either home or have found a place to squat near roadside eateries.
Before a stranger in the village, like the HT team, realised what prompted the gamblers to flee, a group of around 25 women in dark green sarees crosses the area, shouting anti-hooch and anti-gambling slogans.
They are all local women, mostly housewives. But they are a class apart from other women in the area. They did not go to school but are literate. They are skilled in martial arts and are enrolled as “Police Mitr” (friends of police).
Meet the members of Varanasi’s Green Group, whose interventions in containing evils such as alcohol abuse and gambling is transcending the borders of their village and fast spreading to adjoining villages and towns.
Impressed by them, the Varanasi administration has engaged the group in generating awareness in areas that witnessed low voter turnout in the last polls.
Amid the cacophony of political campaigns by various parties, the group members are regularly seen in Varanasi, enticing people through folk songs to vote . “Suna ho bhaiya, Suna ho behna, maan le tu hamaar kehna; voting ke din ghar mat rahna varna paanch saal padega sehna. Suna ho bhaiya, suna ho behna, sabke vote deveke kehna; Agar koee roke toke , 100 number par call karna,” sing the women as they urge people to exercise franchise.
Says Asha Devi, a Green Group member, “Barely two years ago, we were like ordinary rural women whose lives were confined to the kitchen and suffering the atrocities of alcoholic husbands. Then Hope Welfare Trust (HWT) members transformed our lives.”
Formed and run by a few ex-students of Banaras Hindu University and JNU, HWT began its intervention in Khusiyari village in 2015 by educating children and women who dropped out of school. “We learnt that alcohol abuse and gambling was ruining families. Besides making women literate, we groomed them to take on the social malady like Bundelkhand’s Gulabi gang,” said HWT president Ravi Mishra.