Series: The unconventional Women of SSMI
“Nervousness among men in the house when a woman steps out is one of the most common phenomena, I have noticed in all these years,” says the Director of Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute, Sunita Bhasin. For her finding means and ways to fight everyday challenges of the social sector and straddling between empowerment and community building has been a way of life. The veteran educationist has played a pivotal role in getting marginalized women out of their houses to earn and live with dignity. As a Director, Sunita is responsible for crafting training and employment programs for the women of marginalized communities and underprivileged children.
Sunita’s endless desire to bring a change with every step forward has been one of the primary reasons she has never hit a plateau in her career spanning three decades. The other reason is the diverse culture of the various urban clusters she has worked with. “People from different states of the country, remote areas, their inhibitions, excitement, festivals, everything adds up,” she notes. Calling her observations her biggest learnings, she confesses that the dynamics of these communities, their interplay with society and gender, their aspiration to do better have never ceased to intrigue her. Citing the example of Prabha, a kitchen head and cook at SSMI, she says,
“A group of 8 women started the SSMI kitchen in 2006. Prabha was one of them. We honed her culinary and financial skills and instilled in her the confidence to communicate with people and take financial literacy forward. Soon, she joined Chetanalaya, a group that saves money, as a member. In no time, she brought more women to join that group. Today, she heads a team of 100 women and holds the responsibility of cooking supplement nutrition for pregnant and lactating women and children aged 6 months to 6 years. She also assists in helping people buy loans at a low rate of interest.”
Churning out success stories in the social sector can be quite challenging as Sunita explains there are some chronic problems, like gender discrimination. The extreme patriarchal nature of these clusters takes a toll on the women. “Men want to keep a hold of them. Some of them are extremely fidgety and have trust issues. If a woman looks happy, they would comment, “Why are you so happy? What happened?” As if happiness in itself is a looked-down upon thing. So, I try to council these men, their families,” shares the 65-year-old.
However, the scenario is gradually changing. With Sunita’s unwavering commitment to support, empower, and train these women, more of them are now aiming to be financially independent. Even the children from these clusters now aspire to study and work thereafter.
Three decades down, with tones of such success stories to her kitty, we wonder, who is Sunita Bhasin in real life? “A lifelong learner,” she beams. “Each phase of my life has offered me something to take back home. In 1979, Door Darshan taught me about technology and introduced me to the entire concept of adult education and what it should look like on television. NCERT opened seamless avenues to take this technology and my learning forward to the grassroots level and expand it further through radio and other mediums. Then, in 2003 I joined Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute. It became a laboratory of ideas for me. One where I could put my knowledge to build women networks, work with children, govt. schools and municipal systems,” she confesses.
Behind the calm, composed, self-driven demeanor, Sunita toils down the pyramid to create a better world for marginalized communities. Her uncompromised urge to do more and better has been a catalyst in creating equality of opportunity.
(Content Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)