"Aao sunaye ek kahani
Na koi raja, na koi rani"
[Come, let us tell you a
story--that has neither a king nor a queen]
So starts the show, to the beat of a dholak. Scores of children rush
out of their huts as the adults amble along to see what the excitement
is all about in heir village.
A girl with a mission:
'Meena,' the heroine of a UNICEF animation series, a lovable, funny
and feisty little girl who combines compassion and humour with a
sharp look at the discrimination she sees towards herself,
has walked out of the confines of a film-frame to give a live-show and
to communicate with the rural poor of Bihar.
The issues enacted by puppets highlight Meena's dream of going to
school, sharing a mango with her brother, problems of child marriage,
illiteracy, health and superstition, and evils of dowry. At the end
there is an impromptu interactive session with the villagers on the
status of women and children, or a social problem.
Turning 'Meena' into a living legend in Bihar is Rupa, a young
person, now in her early 20s, who has become synonymous with 'Meena' as
a cult figure discussing issues and introducing new concepts and
programmes in the slums, small towns and villages.
Waking up boys:
At Dujra slums, near Budha Colony, after the enactment of the skit
"Dividing the Mango" by Rupa Singh and her group Gatividhi
wearing masks, 12-year-old Babloo volunteered, " I think I should
share food equally with my sister and help her as she does most of the
work at home."
If the little boys were becoming aware of the gender biases in family
behaviour, so were little girls. When Meena came to the remote hamlet of
Sitamarhi with the same performance, 8-year-old Swastika blurted,
"my mother always gives me less food than my brother, saying
otherwise I would grow faster than him."
Two recent campaigns that spread like forest-fire in rural Bihar were
the Meena movement for help in the census operations and for a
"Mein hoon Meena apki beti.
Larkiyon ki poori jankari.
Aap ji denge mujhe samman,
Tabhi milegha unko maan"
"I am your daughter Meena. You must give full information about
me. If you give me importance then only will I be respected by
others", became a popular slogan in rural Bihar.
Rupa discovers herself:
According to Augustine Veliath, Information and Communication Officer
of UNICEF, Patna, who supports the Meena campaign, "in several
areas families were not coming forward with the number of girl-children.
They were not considered worth mentioning. Rupa got on to her Meena
chariot (a wagon with Meena's posters and slogans painted all over)
singing songs and distributing handbills to attract attention in the
villages and get people to cooperate with the census programme. Meena
has indeed become a trusted brand-name."
In four years, Meena has grown from an animation film on television
to a living form of advocacy for social change. The transformation is
not just Meena's. The face behind the mask- Rupa has changed too. "Meena
has given me a reason to live, fight my battles and move ahead in
life," says Rupa, who was thrown out of her house as a young bride
because she was a 'backward' girl married to a city boy. "All I
wanted was to have a better job than him and a bigger office. Today I
have both. I don't suffer from an inferiority complex any more".
One Meena has won. Many others will too.