Meet the voice of Mumbai's economically weak women
Archana Pale is the face and voice of Mumbai's economically weaker urban women, a battle-hardened social activist who has been single-handedly fighting for the rights of slum-dwellers for over 15 years now.
And at 40 years of age, the woman who once worked as a domestic help, Pale's battle has only grown bigger and bigger.
Criss-crossing the city's labyrinthine slums that house millions, Pale educates the women about their rights and advices them to stand up to injustice.
Her work mainly revolves around strengthening the outreach of government schemes by holding interactive workshops or presentations to explain their benefits. She has also prodded women to form savings groups, ration action groups and income groups to provide themselves a platform to come together and fight their problems.
Pale is the Mumbai convenor for the Rationing Kruti Samiti (RKS), a grass-roots social organisation.
"For me, social work always meant engaging with people, walking by their side until their issues are resolved," said Pale, who lives in a single-room tenement in the Indira Nagar slum.
Hailing from a village in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, Pale and her mother shifted to Mumbai after her father died when she was 13.
While working as a domestic help during the day to contribute to her mother's earnings, she studied in a night school till class ten before being forced to drop out to work full time.
However, lack of college education did not thwart Pale's eagerness to learn about policies, laws and government resolutions. She has acquainted herself with all the necessary procedures and regulations that govern the public distribution system (PDS).
"I learnt the most by working on the field, practically dealing with concerns," she said, lamenting she wished she had knowledge of the English language.
The RKS has formed around a thousand ration action groups in the city who are educated about their entitlements, rights and the complaint redressal mechanism to empower them to fight against exploitation at the hands of fair price shopkeeper.
Though the organisation has welcomed the National Food Security Act, it has maintained that issues such as filling of income forms without proper verification, inspection and the knowledge of beneficiaries, keeping people in the dark about the Act's provisions and leaving around 1 lakh non-ration card holders outside the purview of the Act are yet to be addressed by the government.