When she was old enough to understand things, Punam Toppo’s mother told her a tale that was to leave a mark on her life forever. Her mother told her of how the family had taunted and cursed her for giving birth to a third daughter. She spoke with pain of how on a warm summer night, while the family slept, she had stolen away to the fields determined to kill both her child and herself. But all she had done was cry till she had no tears left and return home dry-eyed and with a name for her newborn child. Her mother called her Punam in the hope that she would be able to dispel the gloom her birth had cast on the family. In the remote village Bhusur in Ranchi district of Jharkhand, Punam was just one more unwanted girl child who had luckily survived. But Punam’s travails in life had just about begun.
Punam was barely eight when her father died leaving behind a destitute wife with three girls and two boys. To make ends meet, her mother began working as a labourer. Punam, too, began working round-the-clock as a domestic help for a pittance. Her mother died soon after leaving the children on their own. A reluctant relative took them in but refused to support them after some months. Punam slaved in fields, selling grass and firewood and continued to go to school. Just when the family managed to ensure a decent life for themselves, the village ojha declared Punam’s grandmother to be a witch who devoured the lives of the villagers. Soon after this pronouncement, a man in the village died. The villagers stormed into Punam’s home and beat up the whole family. The village panchayat immediately reiterated Punam’s grandmother to be a witch and declared the family to be social outcastes. They were barred from entering people’s homes and the marketplace. If anyone as much as set sight on them on the streets, they were brutally beaten. Punam and her siblings came to be called the ‘witch’s children’. An indignant Punam confronted her tormentors once but decided it was better to leave the village. She left for Ranchi to complete her class 10. She came in contact with like-minded people and with a small grant of Rs 25,000 she set up an organization called Mahila Sangathan whose objective is to work in slums. She was just 19 then. Today, the organization covers 32 slums colonies in Ranchi and holds rallies and protests. Their drama Gudkayan Dahoto create awareness on the issue of women being unfairly branded as witches has gained recognition all over Jharkhand. Today at 30, Punam works with many social organizations on the issue of violence against women. “I actively promote stage dramas to create awareness among people,” she says.
- Master trainer on theater, also 10 years experience on theater performance
- Working experience on women’s issues basically women atrocities and Gender From last 5 years
- Working experience in Ranchi slums as displacement Patta Right from last years
- Working experience with administration and police
- Won “Best Change Maker” Youth Award, in 2004, presented by Mr. Sunil Dutt (renowned Bellwood Film Actor) through OXFAM
- Represented India as Speaker at Colombo (Sri Lanka) in 2006
- Contributed in a documentary film “TANTRA” highlighting practice of violence against women in the name of Witchcraft, which was prepared by National Geographic Channel
- Documentary film prepared by Funding Agency (OXFAM GB) on my contribution and success of advocacy for the rights of women
- Average one-two Articles on Women related issues are published in almost all the local news papers of Jharkhand
Punam Toppo, India
by Chris Mirzai, United Kingdom
Tackling issues of domestic violence against women, Punnam Toppo has battled a traumatic childhood to become a successful campaigner. Today she works for the Association of Social and Human Awareness (ASHA), empowering local women in Jarkhand, India, the area in which she grew up.
From the age of eight Punam was forced to work as a domestic help, to support her mother following her father’s death. Feeding five hungry mouths was no easy task and Punnam’s mother passed away shortly after her husband. Taken in by a reluctant relative, Punnam slaved in fields, selling grass and firewood to make ends meet so she could continue with her education.
Just when the family managed to ensure a decent life for themselves, the village ojha declared the children’s grandmother to be a witch who devoured the lives of the villagers. Soon after this pronouncement, a man in the village died. The villagers stormed into Punam’s home, beating up all the family members. Barred from entering people’s homes and the marketplace, the family were declared as ‘social outcasts’ by the community and persecuted mercilessly. Known locally as the ‘witch’s children’, Punnam and her siblings were brutally beaten if anyone set sight on them on the streets.
Eventually, tired of the constant abuse, Punam moved to Ranchi to finish her education. It was there that she was able to obtain a small grant and set up Mahila Sangathon, an organisation which works to improve the lives of slum dwellers. Today the organisation covers 32 slum colonies in Ranchi, holding regular rallies and protests in support of local community development. A big supporter of the arts, Punam has been widely praised for using drama to create awareness on the issue of women being unfairly branded as witches. Her play Gudkayan Daho has gained recognition all over Jharkhand and is giving people a better understanding of the ‘witch hunt’ violence that she suffered growing up.
With more than 10 years of experience in theatre, Punam was awarded the “Best Change Maker” Youth Award, in 2004, presented through Oxfam. Meanwhile, she has also contributed to several inspirational documentary films including National Geographic’s Tantra, which focuses on the theme of witch hunters and a women’s rights film.