Women Turn Pathfinders in the Wild
Rengoda is a small village in Bhandara district of Maharashtra situated in the middle of a forest. It is inhabited by approximately 900 people. The village has no roads and transportation facilities. They have no access to Government’s benefits nor do any officials visit the village. They lived in complete ignorance until Nagpur Diocesan Development Association (NDDA, the development board of Nagpur Diocese) started working in this village in 2002. The village was selected by NDDA because it accessible to any development programs or Government’s schemes.
Mr. Deepak Margade initiated the development work in the village by mobilizing the community members to work together for the community’s benefit. During this process many awareness programs were conducted on health, education, income generation and accessing the Government schemes. While working with the villages he observed that the men were coming forward while women kept away from taking initiatives. He realized that the patriarchal system was no different in this village. The women had a set of rules and responsibilities to take care of and the men were the decision making bodies. The men believed that a woman’s only responsibility is to take care of her family members, children and perform household chores. Heavy responsibilities of the household and restrictions from the community had neglected the well being of women in the community. They forbid women from raising their voice, participating in decision making even if it is about their own children. Women are thus deprived of their rights and are further suppressed at the hands of those, who head the system.
Keeping this in mind the NDDA team eventually started organizing women’s meet to talk about their situation, discuss and derive resolutions to overcome their problems. The group felt that contributing to family income will empower them and provide them their sense of worth. In 2011, a Self Help Group with the name Maha Maya Mahila Bachat Ghat was inaugurated. They started collecting Rs.50 per month from each member and in 2014 they raised it to Rs.100/-, the SHG had an average saving of Rs.11,000/- per year. They used the fund to support and help each other, their rapport grew strong and they worked together to resolve each other’s problems. The SHG strengthened itself by providing internal loan to the members at 2% service charge to cater to their personal needs such as livelihood, children’s education, health facilities, marriage etc. As the family’s needs increased, the SHG took a loan of Rs.12,000/- from the Government in 2012 and repaid the loan judiciously, but the group realized that they should start their own means to raise capital.
The SHG members had a discussion with the Community Enabler (the front line worker of DBSS) on the needs and issues of their community. They realized that there is no PDS (Public Distribution System) center, locally known as Government ration shops in the community as a result of which they had to travel 8-10 kms to the nearby PDS centers and sometimes they fail to receive the right amount of food grains. The SHG members then decided to open a PDS center in the village, which would also help them to distribute the right measure of food and grains at the right prize.
The SHG members and the DBSS worked together and presented a budget proposal for Rs. 3 lakhs in the Panchayat and the loan was approved in August 2012. They at once applied at the Food Inspector to open a PDS center and were successfully allotted the same. But community members who belonged to higher caste were not pleased with the PDS center as most of the SHG members belonged to Schedule Tribe. They used their power to hold the opening of the center. The SHG members protested against this and convinced the food inspector that they can run and manage the centre very well. As result of their constant efforts and support from the DBSS, the PDS center was finally opened in August 2014. Right weight and right price is strictly maintained at the center, it has also controlled the corruption in the nearby villages as well.
Women in the village are now empowered and exercise their rights, they participate actively in the decision making procedures; they have also gained respect in the eyes of their family members and community. The initiative and skills of the women have not just availed the PDS facilities in the community, but it has also opened doors to other development initiatives in the village. The attitude of community has changed to a great extent. The Maha Maya Self Help Group sets itself as Pathfinder of the village, setting them wrong who doubt or negate the power of women.