She comes from a rural background, has had no formal education, having dropped out of school, and spent many years toiling in the fields. But today, 60-year-old Norti Devi — lovingly called Bai in her village near Ajmer — gives computer lessons to rural women and is taking empowerment to the grassroots.
Norti Devi and 3,000 women are currently working on a project to provide the government with details on various water sources in a cluster of villages under the local panchayat samiti. The former panchayat samiti ward member and her team are based at the Social Research Work Centre wing of the Barefoot College in Tilonia.
When HT met her there in 2003, she proudly toggled the buttons on her keyboard to type sentences in Hindi and exclaimed: “You see, I have prepared the list myself.” Since then, she has gone on to share this knowledge with several village girls. “I got a job in the college after being trained by Bai,” says Chandrakanta, a team member.
She may not be too educated herself but Norti Devi was always interested in education. She volunteered at the Barefoot College by day, doing social work and working in the fields, and held night school for the children of farmers after dark. Many of her students remember huddling close to her under a dimly lit lantern as she read them the day’s newspapers.
But her tryst with information technology was not planned. “My husband fell ill. That’s when I told the Barefoot College I would no longer be able to devote time in the field,” she says. They placed her in the computer section then and trained her in preparing maps on the number of wells and other water resources in the locality for the government.
With accomplishments came recognition. She was one of three women from across the country to be awarded the CII-Bharti Woman Exemplar Award for 2007. The award is given to economically weak women who have made a significant contribution to the development process. Norti Devi received a medallion, a citation and a cash award of Rs 1 lakh. “This will go to the village fund, for which I am working,” she says unflinchingly.
Norti Devi has but one grievance: “I could not get my grand-daughter into an English medium school.” Other than that, she says, it has been a good life.