In this blog post, Vinay Biradar provides a short yet meaningful excerpt from the book “Defying the Dictum”.
About the book “Defying the Dictum”
The book is a biography of Dr. Mallamma Yalawar, a woman of grit, based on oral interviews. In 1986 she started ‘Sabala’- an organisation for women empowerment in the hinterlands of Karnataka. Bijapur district in the northern part of Karnataka was oblivious to the growth story of the rest of Karnataka state. In such a scenario, Mallamma Yalawar defied all odds to start an NGO and has persisted with her goal for the last 30 years. The organization today is part of the World Fair Trade Organization and Mallamma is the Vice President of World Fair Trade Organization- Asia. Leaving her ancestral village with just Rs. 2 in hand and building a success story purely with hard work and dedication, Mallamma Yalawar’s story will be an inspiration to young women and men to set out to achieve their dreams. The writing style is not strictly biographical but of a free flowing novel of one’s life and its various twists and turns.
It was the year 1999. Finally after a long gap of uncertainty, there was a stable government in New Delhi. Fresh elections had taken place in the state of Karnataka, which brought in the new government. The political flux in the country had permeated all the fields. The decade of the nineties where India saw rapid changes in its economy was about to end. The rural poor had access to better public facilities but were left far behind on the road to modernisation. Gender equality was still an unheard term for many in the country. Men would raise their eyebrows and stare if they were asked about women’s rights. Since there weren’t any “men’s rights” then why should there be “women’s rights”, was the “logical” rebuttal given. SABALA was striving to change that.
SABALA is an organisation for women empowerment, which was established in the town of Bijapur, a district headquarters in the northern part of Karnataka. The organisation had become the talk of the town for its work. After carving out a name for itself, a cooperative bank was started under its umbrella. This bank provided cheaper interest loans to women. 22
Bijapur is known for its dry and arid weather throughout the year but the town had experienced intense cold in the past few days. Mallamma was in her office going through stacks of files when the postman arrived with the letters. It had become a normal routine that every day a moustached young man would arrive with a bunch of letters addressed to her and Sabala. The organisation had started growing at a fast pace and its activities were being talked about in the local and state media quite frequently. The letters were sent by admirers about Sabala’s good work and her courage to take on the inert establishment to fight for justice for rural women. Some letters were correspondences about the various projects that Sabala was undertaking. While she went through them, one letter caught her eye. It was from the central secretariat in New Delhi. She opened the letter to find that the central government had initiated a CBI enquiry into the utilisation of funds of Sabala. Startling claims were made by the government against her and her organisation stating misappropriation of donor funds. The contents of the letter brought in utter dismay. Her temper rose as she struggled hard to find a reason behind the enquiry. It was an open secret that the government used the CBI as its political weapon. It was natural for any person whose life was in the public domain to have enemies around, often foes disguised as friends. 23
The situation demanded her to act and not ponder over her foes. “Sabala had misappropriated funds that were given by the donors and the government“, the letter alleged. It went on to add that Mallamma, being the CEO, had utilised these funds for her personal gain and the rural women gained nothing. Her thirteen years of struggle had been negated in a single letter and that pained her. The rich and the powerful often utilised their position to spoil the rise of those who they perceived as a threat. They did everything possible, made the wittiest of the plans; their crooked brains worked in tandem with the developments of their enemy and struck them using the state machinery. By now she had mustered enough courage to face every enemy within and around her. She was no stranger to difficulties. Mallamma was born with courage. It was hard for her to not use it.
She wrote back to the secretariat in New Delhi – “Sabala is open to any investigation whatsoever. We welcome the officers of the CBI to Bijapur for an enquiry into the record books and activities of Sabala”.
After a week, a Sikh officer and his assistant arrived in Bijapur. The officer, Mr. Arora, was an upright individual. He had orders from the ministry to be ruthless in his investigations and find the wrongdoings. When Mallamma courteously asked for arranging his stay and food, he flatly 24
refused. The next morning he was in Sabala’s office at 9 a.m. as promised. He went through all the record books and made notes until lunch time. He went to lunch all by himself and returned late afternoon. Mallamma’s courtesy was seen as her influencing the officer. So, she did not speak much and answers were given only to the questions asked. It was evening and the officer conveyed he would be back at 8 a.m. the next day for field visits. Mallamma nodded in agreement.
The next morning, when the officer turned up she showed him a chart of villages where
Sabala undertook its activities and trainings. There were 29 villages in and around Bijapur on that chart. The officer asked, “Which village are you willing to take us to, Mallamma madam?”
“Any village which you wish to go to Sir”, she answered.
The confidence flattered him. He was a tenured officer and knew confidence doesn’t come to everyone easily.
He went through the list of the villages and placed his finger on one village named Burnapur, which was about 25 kms from Bijapur. They boarded separate vehicles to reach Burnapur. The people in the village gathered on seeing two cars with people of Sabala and a strange looking man with a 25
turban. The villagers spoke Kannada and Lambani. The officer asked the crowd who knew Hindi among them. A middle-aged man came forward and replied, “Main Janta hu saheb” (I know the language sir). He had been to theneighbouring state of Maharashtra in search of work. That is where he learnt both Hindi and Marathi, he explained on interrogation by Mr. Arora. The officer wanted to get the information first hand by the beneficiaries of Sabala’s schemes. He walked along with the man, took him away from the crowd and spoke to him for about 10 minutes in isolation. It was a surprise visit and he did not intend to scare them off. The man spoke about Sabala and how it has empowered his wife and his sister. He said they also created self-employment opportunities for men by assisting them economically. “Mallamma Madam is a very good lady“, the villager said with a sense of pride.
The officer nodded and got into his car and indicated that he was willing to go back to Bijapur. That took Mallamma by surprise. On their way back, the officer said that he would meet her after lunch and that he had come to a conclusion in his investigation. She waited for him to arrive at her office. When he did, he spoke to her very gently and said, “There is no concrete evidence about the allegations made. You continue to do your good work. I’m sorry for the trouble.”
She was relieved and was confident that truth would prevail. What bothered her was not the trouble but the trouble maker. She asked about the reason for the investigation. He was reluctant in saying, “It seems like you do not have a good rapport with your local politicians“.
He bid goodbye and wished her good luck.
The book is available online in the following places: