This is my account of meeting Hirbaiben, an admirable woman who has inspired the Siddi community of Jambur to use cow dung as a means for earning and saving for the development of their families and village.
A Social Alchemist
By Pratik Shah
On my last visit to Sasan Gir, the lone abode of the Asiatic Lions, I traveled to Jambur, a village of the Siddi community. Mustafa, a 20 year old Siddi dancer who performs Siddi Dhamal (a traditional tribal dance of the community) was my guide to the village. On the way Mustafa briefed me that Siddis descended from the forests of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). Centuries ago, Portuguese and Muslim rulers brought their ancestors to India as slaves and warriors, who then settled across the continent when they were freed. Mustafa also mentioned that because of the community’s ethnic origins, Jambur is frequented by Indian film and advertisement makers to depict a village in Africa.
On the way we got to talking about Hirbaiben, the person whom I was going to meet at Jambur. Mustafa described Hirbaiben as a care taker of his tribe and said it is because of her efforts and foresight that they have managed to rise in society. She has also helped them avail of facilities like education and health care. 

As we reached Jambur, I could understand why filmmakers used the village to show an African village. Narrow alleys lined with earthen houses built from mud and brick dominated the landscape. Kids from the village came running behind us playfully as we started walking towards the house of Hirbaiben. While I was observing the surroundings, the adults of the village kept staring at the camera on my shoulder. Mustafa joked that they probably thought I was a film maker.  

When we reached closer to the house of Hirbaiben, Mustafa noticed her standing outside, buying vegetables. She greeted us with a smile. “Musa, I hearyou are not regular in the computer classes these days,” she complained. 

We followed Hirbaiben to her house and we sat on the setti, a wooden sofa often found in villages. She asked someone in the house to get water for us. 

“It seems you are really tired child, would you like to have some tea?” she asked me. 

Touched by her compassionate offering, I couldn’t refuse. 

“Mustafa, I hope you contribute to your mother’s savings, she told me she is going to increase it from next month,” Hirbaiben said. 

Mustafa nodded at her with a smile. 

“We are planning to increase the quantity of manure for crops this time,” she added. 

While having tea she asked me, “Tell me my child what would you like to know?”
I asked her if they buy manure with their savings. She explained that the ladies of the village manufacture fertilizer from cow dung and other biological waste and then sell it to the farmers to earn, save and support themselves. They also use these savings to give loans to other women of the Nagarchi Mahila Mandal (the village's Women’s Association). The women use the loans for their children’s education or to buy crops for their farms.

With their savings they have also opened up several anganwadis (nursery schools and child care centers) in the villages, run by women from the community. The women of the village keep their children in the anganwadi while they and their husbands go to work during the day. They have also started healthcare centers and computer classes where the children pay 100 rupees for the basic course. 
Surprised with the way the women of the village utilized their earnings, I was curious to know how Hirbaiben started this effort. She said that in the past the women of the village were financially dependent on their husbands, who hardly gave them anything. She found inspiration through radio programs discussing agricultural development and with the help of her husband she began working for the community about 15 years ago.  Now the women earn and save money themselves and have grown more independent. Today these women use their savings on their children’s education and healthcare.  

Only when I probed did Hirbaiben share, very modestly, that she has received several awards such as the Women’s World Summit Foundation Prize and Janki Devi Bajaj Award for Rural Entrepreneurship. The awards have accelerated the community’s development and enabled another 51 branches of women’s associations in 19 villages.

When our short meeting was about to conclude, I congratulated her for all her endeavors. I joked that I was sitting with a celebrity to which she replied, “The biggest reward is the feeling of contentment I get from my community’s development”.

With a smile on her face, she bid me farewell and I got in the taxi to leave the village. As the kids ran behind the taxi and the adults looked on, I thought about Hirbaiben and her social alchemy—transforming cow dung into hope for her people. 

Posted on: May 09, 2011


  • Payal

    Inspirational! :)
  • Chitra Parmar

  • Akash Hans

    It has been a long time since I have read a straight article without any trapping of needless showmanship. Good Writing.
  • palak shah

    nice blog with a fresh read.. thumbs up...!!!
  • Naman Thakar

    Great encounter story. Its people like Hirbaiben that can truly change hundreds of lives in Indian villages.
  • Niyati Shah

    Nice article :)
  • Charmi

    Good very Touching story....
  • Rayann

    And I thought I was the snesilbe one. Thanks for setting me straight.
  • Demarlo

    Woah nelly, how about them alppes!
  • Niraj

    Wow, that is an amazing stroy. I am actually planning on doing service work in Jambur, something sustainable, during my trip to India this June. I have some great ideas, and have read a lot about Hirbaiben online. Is there any way I can contact her? Please, if you could help me, I would greatly appreciate that.

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