This profile was prepared when Nimisha Desai was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
The New Idea
More and more Indian women are living away from parents or husbands, a situation that however real, was not provided for in traditional Hindu society and clashes with society's arrangements and attitudes now. Nimisha is setting out to remove some of these barriers. She also, more generally, wants to make the ideas leading towards women's equality accessible to the overwhelming bulk of Indian women living in the villages and unable to read English.She is addressing the first of these goals with two key programs. Since it is almost impossible for single women to get housing, she is planning to develop substantial new housing block specifically for them. The residents would also have direct access to legal aid and employment counseling.Second, she is organizing a group of like minded middle class women called Olakh (Identity) that provides a mutual help "family" for its members. Olakh's more important goal is to encourage the emergence of a new value system that allows women to chose their own roles in society. Towards this end Olakh's members meet regularly and plan and execute research and direct action together. They use the action research method extensively, both to map their situation and to work out better alternatives. Right now they are focusing on two major analysis: (1) the health status of single women and (2) an overall assessment of the needs of single women in Ahmedabad and Baroda, the two leading cities of Nimisha's home state of Gujarat.One of Nimisha's most ambitious objectives is making the ideas and resources of the women's movement practically accessible to the millions of poor rural women who do not read English. She is translating core materials, creating a documentation and resource center that will especially try to stock materials in Gujarati and other local Indian languages, and building distribution channels to the villages in alliance with local groups and officials district by district. The documentation center will benefit from the materials collected by Olakh's researches and from its contacts with women's groups nationally, especially in Bombay and Delhi. Its local language collection dealing with gender issues in turn is a critical source for Nimisha's outreach to village women.