Three Anecdotes on Gender Identity & Identity Politics

Gagandeep Singh
5 min readApr 9, 2024



This blog is devoted to Pushpendra Singh Tiwari of Jeevika Bihar (Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotions Society), as I witnessed him anchor an institution building meet at a grassroot level in Vaishali district with a cohort of 50 women in the first week of April.

Jeevika is India’s largest organization with a membership north of 13 million women across a million plus self-help groups (SHGs), hundreds of producer companies & cooperatives in Bihar. In 2023, Jeevika disbursed more than Rs. 8760 crores and its balance sheet reads as it having Rs. 2748 Crores.

Three Anecdotes on Gender Identity & Identity Politics

Last week, I was traveling through three districts in Bihar and meeting more than a hundred women and school going children — to listen to their aspirations and their dreams when it comes to livelihoods and careers. This was a part of the Turn The Bus campaign partnering with Jeevika Bihar and Professor Madhu Viswanathan who had travelled all the way from USA to seed ideas on entrepreneurship and livelihood.

Sitting in Gudaul village in Vaishali district for a day amongst these fifty odd women, meant discovering many a narrative and anecdote that touched me deeply and immensely. Many of these were to do with empowerment of women — how women struggled and fought for their rights. These struggles and achievements are so taken for granted today in other parts of India.

Anecdote 1 — “Give me your father-in-law’s name …”

A woman recounted her recent encounter with a distant relative (an uncle) who wanted to come down and meet her and her family in the village she was living in. As they conversed over the phone on planning this trip, the distant relative quipped — “I will come the next weekend — give me your father-in-law’s (Sasur ji) name and I am sure the village folk would guide me to your house…”

The woman refused to offer his name and was adamant that the elderly relative find her home using ‘her’ name. The relative was stunned for in many parts of the country, you don’t deploy a woman’s name to find her home — the proper way is to quote the elder’s name. He tried to patronizingly tell her about the traditional ways of patriarchy.

The argument went on till the woman slammed down the phone (metaphorically — as this was a cell phone) saying that if he wants to visit her — he uses her name to discover her home in the village.

The next weekend when the uncle arrived at her doorstep — he very humbly and with folded hands said — “Had I used your husband’s name or your father-in-law’s name — I may not have been ushered to your home with such respect and warmth as much as refering to your name…”

The woman was a proud Jeevika Didi who had been empowering other women into prosperity and livelihood for years to achieve such significance.

Anecdote 2 — “Where do I show my face …”

It was Pushpendra ji who brought my attention to this extremely significant theme.

He asked all the fifty women a simple question — “Where do you show your face?”. The question was strange and perhaps even intrusive, till many a women recounted the same story … the story of the ‘ghoonghat’ …

A ghoonghat (ghunghat, ghunghta, ghomta, orhni, odani, laaj, chunari, jhund, kundh) is a head-covering or headscarf, worn primarily in the Indian subcontinent, by some married Hindu, Jain, and Sikh women to cover their heads, and often their faces. Generally aanchal or pallu, the loose end of a sari is pulled over the head and face to act as a ghoonghat. A dupatta (long scarf) is also commonly used as a ghoongat.

In traditional villages, once a woman is married, she has to wear the ghoonghat in public and sometimes even at home in front of her family — covering a part of her head and face, as a gesture of propriety and respect to others. Many of them would have traditionally rued the fact that they get to show their face, their head, and their hair only in their mother’s home (maika).

All the fifty women who were seated on the rug along me (and other male strangers) were ‘showing their faces’ — glowing with pride. The community of Jeevika Didis — as stated earlier — some 1.25 crore women have achieved this over the past 18 years of struggle.

Anecdote 3 — “How do I claim my identity …”

Most of the women that we work with have not had the simple privileges of going to school and learning to read and write. The fifty women who sat with me, recounted with pride how each of them have taught other women to ‘sign’ their names on letters, forms, and applications. Each gave me a number ranging from 4 to 10 women, and how difficult it was to achieve this goal. And yet how grateful their students were — when they learned to sign their name.

It is far easier to use a thumb-pad and leave an imprint of your finger or thumb and far more significant to diligently and slowly scrawl your name out on the form.

The very point of using your name (and names ranging from Sarita to Mohini to Sunaina to Shefali) was an endorsement of your identity.


My trips to Bihar as a part of TurnTheBus initiatives have always been humbling and leave with me awe on how Jeevika has empowered women in Bihar. Today I know many of the people who have built Jeevika from an experiment way back in 2006 — and have taken the organization through phenomenal growth and transforming the lives of 10 million families.


TurnTheBus ( is devoted to education and livelihood — we have more than 250,000 students in Bihar using the TurnTheBus App to access lessons, quizzes, lectures on all subjects for classes between 9 and 12 for the Bihar State Board for free. TTB is also exploring how the smartphone can be deployed and leveraged for livelihood training apart from education.



Gagandeep Singh

I work in the realm of Organization Development and focus on transformation, alignment and culture. I am doing my doctoral research on hybrid social enterprises