At first glance, her profile hardly looks newsworthy — a young woman of the poor Bhilala tribe in Madhya Pradesh; a high school dropout.
But Baneebai Ningwal has the remedy, or rather she is the cure, for the most vexing problems plaguing tribal-dominated Alirajpur district: malnutrition, unemployment and alcohol addiction.
A native of Dudhvi in Alirajpur, Beenabai is the reason why hundreds of people have stopped migrating for low-paying, back-breaking labour in Gujarat. Instead, they are opting for work nearer home under the government’s MNREGA scheme.
Income from the rural job guarantee scheme, supplemented by Baneebai’s awareness campaign on the food security act, is helping villagers overcome malnutrition, a perennial problem especially among women and children in her backward region.
She is also the driving force for hundreds of men in two dozen villages giving up alcohol.
“It was because of Beenabai’s uninterrupted effort that most of the tribal men and women in my village have quit alcohol. She formed small vigilante groups in a dozen villages. I too quit drinking and it helped my family,” said Bhai Singh Patel, a villager of Nigwaaal tola.
Baneebai’s journey began some years ago when she attended a gender rights training camp by Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, an NGO. “I got inspired and started working,” she said.
Her first mission was against the sale of illegal liquor. Next came malnutrition.
“Baneebai has singlehandedly mobilised people in her area to tackle the problem of malnutrition through social and government resources,” said Shankar Tadvade, a tribal rights activist.
She relied on proper implementation of the food security act, the integrated child development scheme and the MNREGA scheme. Under the food act, every tribal household is entitled to subsidised foodgrain and sugar. But these are only available to those households which have been registered with the Madhya Pradesh government.
“For tribals living in remote areas it is a challenge to get them registered as they have to provide their Aadhar numbers and residence proof. I helped them,” Baneebai said.