Someone told Satbiri Devi that she won’t be able to grow “OLIVES” in Rajasthan. This ignited the stubborn woman syndrome in her. We call this “Dare The Devi”. It was this moment of cognition of inner perseverance, of doing something that one feels passionately about, despite the odds stacked against her that separates a leader from the pack. Satbiri Devi represents the type of woman who won’t accept defeat easily. We also realise that the world needs more stubborn women, like her. The kind of women, that society can’t tame into submission. These women scare the conformists.
To combat the insecurity, society feels when they are dealing with stubborn women, the easiest way to put them in their place, is to confine them by giving derogatory labels to snuff out their energy, so that they will stay in packs and won’t ever have the courage to run solo, against the wind. But stubborn women go ahead, irrespective of the hindrances, to make history.
Satbiri Devi decided to plant 6000 olive trees, on over 80 acres of desert land in Khichan, in Rajasthan. Her decision was hers alone. Undeterred she grew the olive trees, nurturing them under the harsh desert sun, that she called “Jaitun”.
Satbiri Devi is now 70 years old and has passed on the olive estate to Sapna Bhatia, who runs The Kaner Retreat and is younger, entrepreneurial and equally stubborn as Satbiri Devi. Sapna nurtures the estate and looks after it like her baby. Both these women share a common love for the land of their origin and the rootedness of their Rajasthani culture.
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This olive estate in the middle of the wilderness makes olive oil which is comparable to the best quality oil in the world. Sapna who has inherited the estate, looks after it lovingly. She prepares olive tapenades, olive tea, olive bread and multiple other things from the trees that produce the fruit with equal glory. This is also the only OLIVE farm where peacocks come to greet you, as you nibble on the olive treats that Sapna offers her guests.
One might question what are those qualities that differentiate stubborn women from the others.
The differentiation can’t be clubbed into one word. But for starters, stubborn women have an inherent self-belief strong roots, inner strength and great levels of persistence. These qualities are inherent in women but they are encouraged to enhance and embrace as they grow older. For ages, women have asked to comply. Being agreeable and nice is considered to be a virtue among the female gender. The nice girl syndrome that we know has killed many girl’s dreams and lives too.
But history is witness to women who pushed boundaries to create extraordinary things that posterity could enjoy.
In recent times, society has been learning to celebrate women achievers. The ones, who make it to the cover of esteemed magazines and are dedicatedly changing the dynamics and discussions of the economic power towards gender equality. But there are multiple women, whose amazing stories remain unheard and unseen.
Like Satbiri Devi we have Razia Shabnam, the first female boxing coach in India. She went against the norm and trained girls who came to her boxing class wearing burqas, to avoid the trouble, it could cause with their little act of rebellion at home. And once they are in the ring, they take off like a man, punching and kicking, just like the way they were born in this world, unaware of walls and boundaries pitted against her, for being born, a girl.
Razia Shabnam trains young girls, who want to pursue boxing as a sport. These unbelievable women, like Razia Shabnam, Satbiri Devi and many more, sadly remain uncelebrated. They are noticed within a very small crowd of the community and their immediate family. Most remain in obscurity forever. These women need corporations that will help them amplify their voices of dissent to break the taboo of gender discrimination towards a larger good for society.
By now, we know multiple projects that have been taken ahead by women who are driven by passion and stubbornness. In the same way, India's tryst with olives began with the former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who also happens to be a woman. She had visited Israel in 2006 and was struck by the lush olive trees in the Negev desert. She found Negev also an arid landscape, much like the terrain of Rajasthan. So she sowed the first seed of the olive trees. This Mediterranean fruit which is considered to be 8000 years old, has now begun thriving in Rajasthan, with women like Satbiri Devi who dared to cultivate the first batch on her land.
Currently, Rajasthan has seven large farms with 74,064 plants.
On 3rd December 2014 in Lunkaransar, Rajasthan, India’s first olive oil refinery was set up. It was called The Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Limited. The brand was named as Raj Olive. These trees need a subtropical climate and they do best with the dry climate of Rajasthan.
Dreamers and entrepreneurs like Razia Shabnam and Satbiri Devi remain unaware of their strength. Satbiri Devi isn’t aware of how large a market she has tapped into. It is this very spirit of a non-commercial attitude but more towards the nurturing of the fruit and the land, that differentiates a successful woman entrepreneur from the rest. It has to be beyond the self and women like these reiterate the big dream possibility to turn into a lush reality, where community is the greatest motivation.
For the first time, I had a moong dal, olive and tahini paste hummus that I devoured in Khichan, Rajasthan amidst the dunes and the bright dry sun.
Mohua Chinappa is an author and runs a podcast called The Mohua Show.