Women take the lead in three MP villages to bring about change
Villages in Madhya Pradesh are turning their lives around by creating solutions for the problems they face.
For villagers in non-descript Sendhwah, 60 km south of Indore, much of their time and money was spent on bringing wheat flour—for the everyday roti—home.
That came after day-long toiling in the fields.
“Manual work on the fields consumed most of our lives. Haath jalte the khet mein urea aur dawai chidakne mein (our hands used to burn while sprinkling urea and pesticides),” said Phoolwanti, a resident.
The earnings — Rs 150-200 a day for men and Rs 80-120 for women — were barely enough for sustenance.
Going to the nearest town, 8km away, either on foot or on a bike or a bicycle, for getting the wheat ground, and for every other small need took a long time and ate up much of their earnings. If it rained, crossing the Choral river was impossible, resulting in a diet without rotis.
But all that changed after a talisman was invoked on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi’s self-reliant village economy.
Sendhwah was tied up with two neighbouring villages Kundiya and Mehandikheda. Women from these villages formed self help groups (SHGs) and started a flour mill in Sendhwah, a chilly-cum-pulses grinder in Kundiya and those in Mehandikheda began preparing organic pesticide using a mix of cow urine, neem and leaves of locally available plants.
Additionally, the SHGs procured small farming equipment like sickle, pesticide sprinkler pumps, ground nut filter, soya filters, cans, and others and rented them out at rates ranging from Rs 1 to Rs 15 per day.
The money collected was deposited in bank accounts of the groups.
“We slowly started realising that money collected through our collective efforts is more beneficial to us than divided savings. We used to save money in our vessels, but it never used to grow and satisfy our needs,” said Phoolwanti.
A cyclic connection was established between the villages. Residents of Kundiya and Mehandikheda came to Sendhwah for wheat flour, Sendhwah and Mehandikheda went to Kundiya to grind their chilly and other pulses, and Kundiya and Sendhwah got their organic pesticide from Mehandikheda.
The women, who were confined to houses and followed many stereotypic practices, started coming out, holding weekly meetings to run small rural enterprises and discussing their problems and helping anybody in need.
“We come to a mutually discussed arrangement (on lending money). A minimal interest is charged, which is again deposited in our account,” another woman said.
The group is now planning to supply anganwadis flour and pulses for midday meal, and reach an arrangement with dhabas/restaurants on the highways in Barwaha, Ram Kanya of Kundiya said.
“We are planning to set up a shop in our village,” said Phoolwanti, who has never undergone any formal education, highlighting the advantage of collective purchase to meet their needs.
She and others have used the power of collective bargaining to get seven LPG connections under government’s Ujwala Yojana.
“The gas distributing agency was charging Rs 1,750 per connection. Seven of us went there in a group and started asking for bills and about crosschecking with their helpline numbers. They (got frightened and) requested us not to complain and immediately provided us connections,” she said as the other women laughed.
“Collectively we feel stronger,” she said.
The women, who observe purdah in front of elder male members of their families, made another bold move. They attended a village panchayat meeting for the first time and demanded toilets in their hamlets.
For Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), the NGO behind the change in these villages, the task was far from easy.
“We approached the villagers, went to their farms, told them about SHGs, but returned without any progress for about four months,” said Nilesh Dewda, project coordinator.
“We showed them movies, told them what women groups did to build Amul, and slowly convinced them to take up rural entrepreneurship,” he said.
“Once they were convinced, leaders started emerging within the groups. They took roles and responsibilities and started managing affairs and accounts,” IGSS assistant manager Varghese Mathew said, observing that SHGs “are excellent agents to do wonders in closed backward villages”.