How a women’s group led the Covid battle in Bihar

Mar 05, 2022 05:15 PM IST

Among the women's groups which threw their energies to fight Covid-19, JEEViKA from Bihar stands out. Here's why

Now that the third wave is in retreat, the efforts of women’s groups across India in the fight against Covid-19, which have been nothing short of remarkable, must be documented and used as a template for future campaigns against such eventualities.

Jeevika “didis" in Bihar during the second wave. (File Photo) PREMIUM
Jeevika “didis" in Bihar during the second wave. (File Photo)

Among the women’s groups which threw all their energies into the battle against the virus, one that really stands out is JEEViKA from Bihar, which worked relentlessly to tackle misconceptions against the vaccine along with sensitising and mobilising the rural masses, especially the youth, at the community level.

It is India’s largest women’s socio-economic empowerment programme working with 12.7 million families in rural Bihar. It works on a three-tier architecture — the self-help group as the primary unit, the village organisation as the secondary unit and the cluster-level federations as the tertiary institution. At each step, it has worked in complementarity with the state administration. It leveraged strong digital platforms to get its message across through localised songs and videos backed up by audio messages and leaflets. Today, it operates in 34,656 villages across 38 districts.

Sweety Kumari, who works with JEEViKA in Shakrapura block in Hasanpur, Samastipur, says, “Initially people refused to be vaccinated. This includes the illiterate but also those who had some degree of education. People told me to go and get myself and my family vaccinated first, some said that vaccines were causing disabilities and death. I did that and made a video of the process. I was able to win over people this way. I feel that I have done something for my country through my small efforts. It has been an incredible experience for me.”

JEEViKA’s network of self-help groups proved invaluable in knowledge creation and sharing, relief work among the vulnerable, funding mobilisation for essential items, providing economic opportunities and infrastructure and logistical preparedness for marketing and supply chains. Here again, as in the case of many such groups, the seamless working with the district administration, and state machinery ensured that there were few impediments and that credit was shared all around.

JEEViKA’s Abhilasha Kumari from Amritpur says that initially she and her team were attacked with brooms. “People spread rumours that the vaccine was made of cow blood. I took the vaccine and made that public. My spirit did not break. Today, thanks to my efforts, every single person has been vaccinated in my region.” What has worked is that people were given sites for the vaccine, which were easily accessible, they were guided through the process and their fears allayed. Misconceptions were cleared up at meetings with government officials present to support JEEViKA’s efforts.

Of course, the JEEViKA workers were given incentives but this small sum hardly explains their dedication and commitment. Their work went far beyond the call of duty and many attribute this to the fact that they got respect and a certain stature within their social milieu. Now the workers have turned their attention to the younger population. The biggest strength of the organisation is the fact that the workers interacted with people individually and on a daily basis, going back repeatedly to households that initially resisted, to address their concerns and persuade them. This coordinated approach with a human touch has worked wonders in Bihar, not always the easiest place to work in. And it is this approach which must be adopted going forward to tackle the myriad socio-economic and health problems that rural India faces. 

The views expressed are personal

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    Lalita Panicker leads the opinion section at Hindustan Times. Over a 33-year career, she has specialised in gender issues, reproductive health, child rights, politics and social engineering.

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