Mahila Shanti Sena (MSS)

Mahila Shanti Sena is a movement, a voluntary organisation of women that was started in Vaishali in the state of Bihar. Twenty-five hundred years ago Vaishali gave the world the Great Law of Ahimsa. Significantly, the Mahila Shanti Sena movement started in the same legendary town in 2002. The MSS works towards the capacity building of rural women in the areas of peace, non- violence, participatory democracy and human rights.

The objectives of the MSS movement are
  To empower women to build a peaceful and just society
  To raise mass awareness among women to realize their strength and power
  To focus on women’s issues—violence, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment
  To provide training in peace, democracy and development
  To make women aware about their rights and duties under the Panchayati Raj
  To make women realize their potential as agents of social change
  To educate women in the Gandhian tradition of constructive village service

The Journey So Far…
The movement has spread outside Bihar too. Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Eastern UP and Orissa. Unnayan has been the nodal agency in Orissa for the MSS since September 2005. At present, the movement has spread to three districts in the state—Mayurbhanj, Balasore and Jagatsinghpur. 2006 was a year where we involved more women in the programme. A total number of 1752 Shanti Sainiks have taken the oath so far. The workshops, seminars and capacity building camps have contributed to 3496 training days for women.

Our MSS Activities 2006-07    
S.No Particulars No. No. of Participants
1. Quarterly Workshops 4 2520
2. MSS Leaders meet 1 19
3. Consultative Meet 6 276
4. Training of Trainers 1 28
5. Training to Members 4 163

Unnayan sent four members of the MSS to Agartala this year to attend the Annual MSS conclave in Oct- Nov 2006. The Chairperson and Secretary of the organisation also represented MSS, Orissa at the national seminar held in Sarnath in February 2007. We have also received the support of Shrambharati, Bihar for the training programmes in Mayurbhanj.

This year saw the expansion of the MSS programme to include as many women as possible. The training camps have proved to be a very powerful tool for helping the women realize their potential as agents of social change. The dastas or panjas (village- level action groups consisting of either 10 or 5 members, respectively) have taken up a range of cases and issues close to the lives of the women.

The Issues and Impact
The MSS strives to bring about peace in the lives of the women at many levels— within themselves, within the family and in their village. Not surprisingly, issues of domestic violence, abuse and alcoholism are of the highest priority for the MSS. Domestic violence has always existed in many homes within the villages where we work. In the absence of any means of redressing the issue, the women often kept quiet about it. With the assurance that they have the support of the MSS, women have started questioning instances of violence and abuse at home and brining it before the MSS.

In many villages, festivals and other celebrations had not been held due to rifts caused by party politics. The MSS, in three villages felt that they needed to put an end to this. In the village of Khunta in Balasore district, the MSS organised a feast at the time of the panchayat elections where supporters of all political parties were invited. They felt that it was necessary for them to take this step in order to maintain harmony in their village.

In some villages, the MSS decided to step in when government schemes were not implemented properly. In Alikanta, Koronia and Thailo villages in Jagatsinghpur, the government had released only half the funds for the construction of a road. A peaceful dharna outside the Block Office followed by a petition to the BDO helped solve the problem. The MSS in Gadighati village in Mayurbhanj also solved a similar case where a road was left unfinished due to a shortage of funds. The MSS called a meeting and forced the contractor to give them a deadline where the road would be completed.

One of the goals of the MSS is to build the capacities of women about looking at issues critically; to begin with local issues but move to larger developmental issues. The MSS has also started to raise questions about development issues in their villages. Short of teachers at the High school in Tambakhuri village in Mayurbhanj, the MSS approached the District Collector with the request for filling the post. Within 15 days, a new teacher was appointed.

It was significant for us that this year saw the Panchayat elections in the state of Orissa. Although the MSS movement is in its infancy, the Shanti Sainiks have known all along that one of the goals of the MSS is to increase the participation of women in public institutions like the Panchayati Raj system. Five Shanti Sainiks in our area initially contested for the posts of Sarpanch and Ward Members. One of them dropped out of the campaign due to “tension in her village”. Among the four women, Draupadi Soren is now the Sarpanch of Moroda Panchayat in Rasgobindpur block in Mayurbhanj. Sarojini Das is the member of the Zila Parishad and the Vice- Chair(wo)man of the Balikuda block in Jagatsinghpur.

Another area where the MSS has been making an impact is the participation of women at the village level meetings of the Panchayat or the Palli Sabhas. In each Palli Sabha, there are 10 representatives who are responsible for all development schemes introduced in the village. This year, the village Tambakhuri in Gadighati Panchayat in Mayurbhanj saw the women stage a mini battle for the representation on 5 women. Needless to say, men always played these roles in the past. Even in the village of Harinasole, two women have been made representatives due to the pressure of the MSS to increase the participation of women in the Palli Sabha.

Our Successes
If we were to look at the successes of the MSS, we see that the women have been effective in addressing cases of domestic violence and resolving conflict at the family level in most of the cases. There have also been a number of instances where the male members of the family have stopped consuming alcohol after the women have joined the movement. In the village of Praharajpur, the MSS has been instrumental in closing down a country liquor brewery. The MSS has created a platform for the women to raise issues that they believe are relevant to their lives. With a support group, the women feel confident that they can address some of the issues. Having had some positive experiences, they have started to trust their abilities to make decisions under high- pressure situations too. With the expansion of the SHG movement in India, people are aware about ‘Mahila Mandals’ in every village. The ‘Mahila Shanti Sena’ is a new concept in all communities and that has given the women a sense of power that they can influence change at many levels.

All large meetings – trainings, quarterly meets and other gatherings of the MSS- are possible because of the contribution of the members. Each member pools in rice and Rs. 2 and that covers the costs for food for the day. This culture of contributing to any event has also spread to programmes beyond the MSS where women have organized residential trainings and all expenses have been covered by the members and the group fund of the SHG. This shows a high ownership of the programme among the women.

Areas requiring further thought
There have also been low points for this movement in Orissa. Our field office in Mayurbhanj is in the village of Kakbandh. This village has donated 3.5 acres of land to Unnayan for setting up the Office- cum- resource centre for the area. Unfortunately, the MSS has been unable to make a strong impact in this village, inspite of Unnayan’s presence here. There was a case where a woman was abused and ostracized from the village when the men branded her a “witch”. The MSS in the village was unable to challenge the influence of a powerful man in this case.

Partial solutions in some cases have also left the women of the MSS with a sense of helplessness, and despair at times. In a case in Tambakhuri village in Mayurbhanj the women rescued a kidnapped boy from the hands of a man who was involved in printing counterfeit money. They boy’s life was saved, and the fraud of this man was exposed—these are successes for these women. Yet, the accused is out on bail and the women feel that they have been unable to deliver justice in this case. After this incident, the men of this village have not been forthcoming in encouraging the women in joining in the movement. This is seen largely with the men belonging to the “upper” castes or general category, as classified by the government. They continue to restrict the mobility of the women especially in cases like these where they have to run around to police stations, the court and approach government officials. The men from Tribal homes and the Schedules Caste communities continue to be supportive towards the efforts of the women.

The Road Ahead…
The MSS is faced with many challenges for the coming year. We are looking for more partners within Orissa who will take this movement forward in the areas where they are working. One of the goals of the movement is to find local solutions to local problems. We need to encourage this as a value. There have to be designed efforts on our part to increase the dignity of women in the community.

Our experience this year taught us that while the MSS has increased the participation of women in the Panchayati Raj, it has only had partial success in doing so without any patronage of a political party.

The creation of this village- level organisation has increased the expectations of the community. The women, especially, feel that this should help them solve all their issues. Yet, this body has been unable to tackle vested interests of more powerful groups in the villages. There have been cases registered against the Shanti Sena where they have raised their voice against alcohol or other powerful, yet corrupt, men in their community.

We realize that the women require training inputs are each stage. We also need to have a specific growth path for the entire programme especially in Jagatsinghpur, where the MSS has worked without any funds or a definite plan. There need to be more “developmental” training inputs at defined stages.

A question that does arise from time to time is the sustainability of the programme. The women are excited by the changes that the MSS is working towards. Spurred on by their zeal, they are taking this movement forward. We need to learn from the experiences in Bihar to bring about a more lasting change and an established system for bringing about these changes to make the MSS self- reliant in the future.





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Contact Us

Coordinating Office
HIG- 185, Kanan Vihar Phase - 1
PO Patia, Bhubaneswar – 751031
Orissa, India
Ph - +91-674-274-1112, 274-1198
Fax- 0674- 2743033 (attn: Unnayan

Field Office -
Unnayan,At- Tambakhuri, Po. Rajghat, District. Mayurbhanj, Orissa, PIN: 756030.
Ph: +91-6781-237841