By Subha Kawatra
An inspiring story on how a women's group is changing the dynamics of a village
Image Courtesy: Wikicommons
Sarada Muraleedharan in her article Democratic Decentralization and Citizenship states that as part of the responsibilities of the Self Help Group federation; participating in gram sabha and assisting the Panchayati Raj Institutions in their development programs comes under the National Rural Livelihood Mission framework (Muraleedharan, 2014). These areas form the platform for citizenship engagement in which the Panchayati Raj Institutions and the Self Help Group can benefit from each other.
This model of development; the convergence between the Panchayati Raj Institutions – Self Help Group will help in local development and attempt to deepen democratic decentralization. However due to numerous reasons this vertical of National Rural Livelihood Mission has not been explored to a great extent.
In 2018, Kudumbashree – National Resource Organization’s Panchayati Raj Institutions – Community Based Organizations convergence project (PRI- CBO) was started in 10 Gram panchayats of Banda district, Uttar Pradesh. The project draws from the experiences of Kerala’s model of development and aims to bring two important stakeholders together namely; the local self-government and SHG federation for the alleviation of poverty. Since then, the gram panchayats have embarked on the journey towards convergence; Jari Gram Panchayat of Bundelkhand region is an example of one such journey. In the context of Uttar Pradesh, the challenges encountered from this flows from the existing social structures in the village; the elder men are seen as the jaith (brother-in-law) hence demanding that the women stay in purdah and avoid interaction with them; resulting in negligible interaction with panchayat representatives. Furthermore, there have been lesser discussions on the local social issues by the Self Help Group federations which have prevented them from occupying the public space. Despite these constraints, the women from Jari Gram panchayat have shown a way forward as to how to overcome such obstacles. The following section elaborates on this further.
During the Gram Panchayat development plan preparation; basic infrastructure and resource development mapping was conducted and during that process, the community demanded having a market in the village. The need for the market arose from the geographical location of the panchayat and limited access to public transport. Thus increasing the dependency of women on men for buying the essentials. The community resource persons and mentors continuously motivated the members of the village organizations towards working on their demand. During one of the special meetings of the second tier of the self-help group federation; Ujjawala Mahila and Nari Mahila, a major agenda was addressing the identified gap. The output of the meeting was that the women decided to have a dialogue with the panchayat on the proposal and at the same time tried to finalize the list of the potential vendors. Subsequent to this, the SHG members started to discuss the opportunities they could reap from the weekly market. Amidst this entire process, the NRO team helped the village organizations in preparing the plan for the market and supporting them in negotiating with the panchayat. In the consultative meeting with the panchayat, the decision on the place for the market, time and date was taken. The panchayat came forward to assist the village organization in providing a vacant land for the market and getting it ready. Post the identification and finalization of the date and venue the village organization members set off to organize an outreach campaign for increasing pubic interest and attention towards the weekly market. The SHG members used different mobilization strategies: one of which was taking out rallies. The panchayat representatives were also part of those rallies. The panchayat also extended their support in the campaign by getting the banner and pamphlets ready.
On the morning of 15th March 2020 in the usually quite panchayat; a commotion of women could be seen. Soon the preparations for the inauguration ceremony began; a banner was put up and a red ribbon covered with flowers was waiting to be cut by the Pradhan. This was such an inclusive platform, which encouraged the Mahila Pradhan and other non SHG women to attend it. For the first time, the Mahila Pradhan came out in the public space and inaugurated the market. A total of 45 vendors had put up shops ranging from vegetables to eatables etc. Out of these; 38 vendors were from the Self Help Group network or their families members. This platform opened opportunities for the SHG members to try their hands in entrepreneurship. They took small loans from their respective SHGs to put up their shops. The encouragement from other SHG members gave them the confidence and courage to try something which they never thought earlier. The sales on the first day itself were around 8,000 rupees. Officials from district and block had come to support the women for this initiative.
This weekly market has given hope and understanding to women on collective decision making; how with each other’s support they can reach new heights. At the same time assisting panchayat for the economic development of the village. Seeing the way the market has turned out to be, vendors from outside the village have started to approach the panchayat to be part of it. This initiative has become a good sign of convergence between the panchayat and the SHG network through a slow and gradual process. In the post-COVID-19 world, reverse migration and employment loss will be the highlight. Hence such initiatives will provide a platform for self-employment opportunities. The local government authorities should encourage local self-governments and SHG federations to come together with more such innovative programs to cater to the homegrown needs amidst these times following appropriate preventive measures.
“Bohot acha laga pradhan ji ke saath kaam karke, ab agar koi samasya ayegi toh unse baat karne se ya madat mangne se koi samuh ki sadasya hitchkengi nahi.” - Mamta (SHG member)
(It feels very good to work with the pradhan. Now no one in the village will hesitate in raising their demands).
Ms. Kawatra is a field coordinator with Kudumbashree-NRO. She is a post-graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The views expressed are personal to the author.