The story of Janakamma is one of the many tales of societal change that have been told and retold in India's southern states.
Despite being an illiterate, the 45-year-old tribal woman proved how education can lead to women's empowerment, which in turn can act as a catalyst for the most backward of societies.
"Janakamma went from door-to-door pleading with politicians, bureaucrats, ministers and influential people to force the government to set up a secondary school at Abbalathi," said Parimeala, district programme coordinator of the Karnataka Mahila Samakhya (KMS), a society for women's equality.
Abbalathi is a tribal-dominated backward village about 80 km north of the Mysore district headquarters in Karnataka.
"She managed to persuade the government to set up the lone residential school at Abbalathi, securing education for the children of 200 forsaken tribal families," Parimeala told a team of visiting mediapersons.
Janakamma became a star not only in Abbalathi but also in the entire state. She was elected as a panchayat member and recently, in recognition of her tireless social work, she was invited by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend the Republic Day programme in New Delhi.
"The work of this illiterate tribal woman was not known to anyone five years back, before she came in touch with the Karnataka Mahila Samakhya, a registered society set up in 1989 for the empowerment of women through education," added Parimeala.
She said that Janakamma was now intervening in various traditional tribal superstitions like witchcraft, and was involved in several social issues like inter-caste marriages and dowry-related problems.
The KMS has been implementing the Mahila Samakhya Programme (MSP), initiated by the union ministry of human resource development in 1987-89, to translate the goals of the new educational policy of 1986 that is to play a positive, interventionist role in bringing equality for women.
The MSP was launched as a pilot project in 10 districts of Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh in 1989 with Dutch assistance. The project was later extended to Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam.
Parimeala and KMS resource person Savita said that their society is now working with 60,000 women, mostly underprivileged, in about 1,900 villages in 12 of Karnataka's 27 districts.
The KMS is also working with about 7,500 'kishoris' (adolescent girls) to impart education in life skills.
"Besides education, the KMS has been imparting training on computer and technical skill development, education about basic legal matters, health awareness and counselling to increase family income," said Savita.
The KMS leaders said that "with the aim of providing legal awareness, counselling and resolving family disputes, Nari Adalat (women court) has been formed from the village to the taluka (district) level".
Not only Janakamma, but also many other neo-literate women in rural Karnataka came forward through the KMS and are now taking an active role in solving societal issues and evil practices besides improving the quality of life of distressed women and children.