Published: 01st October 2020
How Surabhi Yadav is putting the focus on the rural Indian woman using technology and sensibility
Surabhi Yadav started Sajhe Sapne just three months back and about a month back, she started a podcast as well. Her Women in Leisure series is making waves online. We find out more about her goals
Surabhi Yadav has had the unique opportunity of knowing and learning from four different and unique worlds. The first is the city Khargone in Madhya Pradesh, where she was born and brought up by a father who was a horticulturist with a strong sense of giving back to the society — something that he successfully instilled in Surabhi and her three siblings. The second was Madhopura, where her family hails from and which in many ways, has still held on to its conservative roots. Then she pursued her BTech and MTech from IIT Delhi and lived in the national capital for over eight years. The fourth world, and the one which we all aspire for, was when she jetted off to the US, specifically to University of California, Berkley to pursue her Master's in Development Practices.
Which world would do you think she chose to reside in? By now, you should know that formidable women like Surabhi build their own world. "I come from a family of farmers that faces all the problems that farmers face today. I have seen the rural life and what plagues it. The problems were staring right at my face, I had to do something," says the 30-year-old with grave emphasis. Thus, she chose to live in Kandbari, a small hill station in Himachal Pradesh. And here, she is building a world where the career aspirations of young women come second to none.
At the very onset of the conversation, Surabhi asks a few hard-hitting questions that help us understand why she moved to Kandbari and started Sajhe Sapne (Shared Dreams) three months back. "When it comes to us, we talk about careers, while for them, our vision is limited to getting them jobs. We keep in mind our potential, but for them, we don't think beyond pay. For us, it's all about our aspirations but all we think about is their needs. Our aim is to move from their needs to their aspirations," states the founder.
And who are 'they'?
Surabhi with youngsters | (Pic: Surabhi Yadav)
Young girls between the ages of 17 and 24 who haven't had the opportunity to study or realise their full potential. Surabhi plans to do this in two ways. The first way is by conducting a 12 month online course for 20 girls. The second is that 20 girls will be taught the same course but in a residential format. Their first course — Rural Development and Management — is ready and is being learnt by five girls online for now. They plan on launching the full-fledged online course in November. And as far as the residential format goes, they are in talks with NGOs who will help with the execution.
Which brings us to the Sapna Centre. Surabhi dreams of seeing these skilling centres across India, where, "The career pathway for girls will be built," and which will take their objective from, "women development to women-led development." Coming to their first course, Rural Development and Management, Surabhi calls it a culmination of all that she learnt at UC Berkeley tweaked to suit local needs. The first six months will be about learning career intelligence which will cover core skills like, then the next six months will be dedicated to specialised courses, which will be taught with the help of their learning partners. And an additional two months will be dedicated to job mapping, relationship and network building. Throw in a year-long mentorship promise. Now, doesn't this sound like a sweet deal? Especially when you consider the fact that it's a 'job first, pay later', model.
Surabhi tells us there are four key components to every course. Life skills like relationships, reproductive health, emotional quotient and so on, English, rural development modules and career intelligence skills. It is the latter that will help them create that pathway to a career. "The ability to receive information and convert it into knowledge through design-thinking, problem-solving and other skills, forming a support network, goal setting and so on form an integral part of this," states Surabhi.
Surabhi | (Pic: Surabhi Yadav)
Then, she goes on to tell us about a few determined girls who are already learning under her care. Santoli aspires to be a part of the Bihar police and she had stood first in her class XII exams. "That's the only reason her parents even allowed her to study with us," she informs. Then there is Rinki, who wants to be a social worker. Recently, Rinki's mother looked at the progress her daughter is making and exclaimed, 'I wish I had the opportunity you are having' and that was a huge compliment for Surabhi.
The beginnings of their podcast
To further enhance their skills, on August 30, Surabhi launched Sapnewaali, a podcast on Spotify, wherein, a young adult from a village interviews women from rural areas who have done exceptional work. Youngsters prepare their own questions, run them by Surabhi, and ask them of these inspirational women. Surabhi lets us in on this anecdote, wherein, Savita Verma from Pilani (Jhunjhunu) spoke to Kamla Bhasin, the famous Indian developmental feminist poet and activist for their second podcast. "Now Savita has short hair too, just like Kamla Bhasin and is known to be a little tomboyish in her ways. So Savita asked Bhasin, 'You have short hair and you speak your mind, don't you get pressured for it?'," she shares. And that's what happens when you get young adults to ask questions. And since podcasts are always more about the interviewee than the interviewer, Sapnewali really changes the game.
When women were captured while at leisure
Surabhi was also in the news for something else entirely. Her Women in Leisure series, which was featured in The Guardian just this month. On Instagram as @women_at_leisure, Surabhi started this project in 2018, four years after her mother passed away. "It started out of curiosity when I realised how little I knew about my mother and after her friends said that my mother was the naughtiest in their group. I just couldn't imagine her that way," she says flabbergasted. The feminist angle to this is that we don't see women relaxing. "Our imagination is so limited when it comes to women," she says. She started documenting her sister's life and soon captured many other women. The ones that stand out are women enjoying ice cream sticks on a sultry day, a girl learning how to drive a scooty and so many more.
A picture from her series Women in Leisure | (Pic: Surabhi Yadav)
According to Surabhi, women in rural areas are either treated as objects of curiosity or subjects of pity. "It's like India is a painting, in which, 70 to 80 per cent is the golden rural area, while a red dot at the corner which represents cities, gets all the attention," she laments. "Most amazing innovations based on rights and laws have come from rural India. If it wasn't for Bhanwari Devi, we wouldn't have the Vishaka guidelines. If it wasn't for Aruna Roy, RTI would still have been a distant dream. And just look at the Narmada Bachao Andolan, spearheaded by rural women," she says, making a case for rural women.
"Everyone remembers #MeToo, but who remembers Dignity March, when over 6,000 women marched to Delhi in December 2018 to end sexual violence against women and children?" she asks. "Or take the Unnao rape case for example and how Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the convict, was sent to jail. A girl who was raped, went against a rich, upper-caste man and won. I think she is the true face of #MeToo movement in India because she fought an economically, socially and politically powerful man, and won! We should ask her how she did it," she implores. Surabhi concludes for us that when it comes to rural women, "It's not that they are voiceless, it's just that we are deaf."