Joyti addresses us from her chair. It hangs in a passageway between two small living rooms in her house. She sits and sways, her feet off the ground, and tells her story, the story of women in India these last 45 years, a story of spreading freedom.
There is no greater privilege than sitting at the feet of somebody you revere. Joyti is a child of freedom fighters, releasing India from its British ties. Later they were union organisers. Awards recognising their contribution to the state sit in the living room cabinets.
Joyti had to find her own way. The International Year of Women in 1975 was her catalyst. She would travel around the rural areas and listen to the songs and performances of the village women, and find herself inspired by their ingenuity. These women had to fight to loosen the binds of ancient laws intended to keep them out of sight and mind.
Later it was plays performed in schools that taught her about the scourge of domestic violence. Indian English is direct. In England we say something like ‘strength-based’ and the words evaporate as we nod, the brain entirely disengaged. Joyti talks of the vices of men, and the words hit home.
She set up Stree Muktis Sanghatana. Self-Help Groups have been at the core of the organisation’s work, favoured for the way they leaves agency with the women, allowing them to decide how best to use their gifts to live a better life.
When Joyti began 65 per cent of women were illiterate. The tide has turned. Today 65 per cent can read and write.