Its human nature to search for a silver lining even in midst of the most difficult circumstances in life. We, humans, need hope, assurance of change, and better days to keep us motivated even in the face of challenges.
This story of hope, faith, and change is of Suchitra Gayen from Thakurpukur, Maheshtolla Block, West Bengal. Hailing from a very poor family, and living with an alcoholic husband had made her quite distressed and sad over the years. Gazing long from her mud house, she used to wait for a miracle to happen. The meager income from making cow dung cakes was not sufficient to feed a family of four. And that too with her husband squandering off his daily wages in shanty liquor shops.
The 2-acre land she owned was some respite but she didn’t have enough resources to till her land and make it useful for farming. Sustaining days of sore limbs after getting beaten every day by her husband and seeing the tearful eyes of her two children, she knew she had to do something to emancipate herself from her situation.
Her story of change began somewhere in 2012 while working her daily chores and selling cow dung cakes in the village. During that time, CNI SBSS Kolkata team was conducting awareness workshops for women on alternative livelihood options through the concept of Self-help groups (SHGs).
Suchitra eventually attended one of these workshops and was encouraged to be a part of Tagori SHG, already comprising 10 other women from her village. At that time Tagori was in its 6th month of existence.
|Self-help groups have been one of the most powerful incubators of female resilience and entrepreneurship in rural areas. It is a powerful channel for altering the social construct of gender in villages. The absence of finances and regressive social norms prevents them from taking a full plunge into any decision-making role and setting up their own independent business. As a member of an SHG, however, enables these women to build confidence, access finance, and get social support to set up their own enterprises. SHGs are typically groups of 8-10 women who meet once a week to collect money from their members, connecting them to banks and loaning them money at low-interest rates. CNI SBSS has been working with more than 3000 SHGs across six states of India. The SHGs are engaged in alternative livelihoods like stitching and tailoring, piggery, goatery, phenyl making, leaf plate making, mat making, papad and pickle making, creating jute products, saree decoration etc. From time to time, the women are provided with financial training to increase their capacities. They are contributing to the income generation of their families and also improving their role in the family and enhancing their position in society. Women are also linked with various Government schemes related to health, livelihood, housing, and social security.
CNI SBSS helped Suchitra and the other 10 women to get small loans for their various needs from Tagori. The paperwork and understanding of the fine print were done by the CNI SBSS Kolkata project staff who had been helping numerous women in the area through the SHGs.
Suchitra took a small loan of Rs. 10,000 from her SHG. She utilized half of the amount on her children’s education and the other half to start a small fish shop. CNI SBSS project team helped her get linked with fish wholesalers in the local market. She bought a weighing scale and other necessities to run her business, and stocks of fish like Rohu, Katla, Mrigale, and Tilapia to sell within her village. On average, she bought fish worth INR 3000 and made a profit of Rs 300-350 per day. Slowly her business began to grow.
Today, as a family, they are able to earn INR 12,000-15,000 per month from the fish business, selling cow dung cakes, and daily wages earned by her husband. Subsequently, she was able to earn sufficient through which she got both of her children educated from good colleges. Talking about the future she says, “I want to grow my fish business and breed my own fish in my pond. I eventually want to open a big fish shop in the local market.”
While she earns adequately to meet the basic needs of her family, certainly her family economy is better but the domestic atrocities on her continued. She was very sad yet hopeful that everything will stop one day. In the meantime, CNI SBSS informed her about Mahila Adhikar Manch (MAM) which is a people’s organization and a platform to address domestic violence and other issues faced by women in the village and asked to share and discuss her concerns with them. Finally, she found a safe space she was craving for a long time and shared her problems with her husband. MAM talked with her husband and counseled him. Today, he is an improved man and supports Suchitra in running the family and her business.
Over the years Suchitra has gained the respect she wanted in her community and her husband has also stopped ill-treating her and is supportive of the work she does. They both are also part of CNI SBSS nutrition program. They have utilized their two acres of land to create a multi-layer farming structure for nutrition gardening, supported by CNI SBSS project. They are making organic manure and using it to grow vegetables like bitter gourd, pumpkin, different types of gourds, beans, and Amaranth. She and her family are consuming the vegetables in their household and the excess is shared with her SHG friends. Suchitra has also become a very enthusiastic spokesperson for CNI SBSS. She is proactively participating in creating awareness among the mothers in the village on good nutrition and health.
With substantial savings in her kitty now, she is building a pucca house of brick and mortar after years of living in a humble mud house.
Saikat, her 25 years old son was able to complete his schooling and went on to get a Diploma in Civil Engineering. He is presently pursuing his B. Tech and wants to become an Electrical Engineer. He is also one of the very smart and energetic Youth Resource Persons (YRP) of CNI SBSS who is being trained in the current Nutrition and Food Security project of CNI SBSS. His sister Moushumi (22 years) is a happily married woman today. Suchitra’s life shines as a compelling story of perseverance and resilience to cope and escape the enduring grasp of poverty. With access to relevant resources, network,s and a push of encouragement, she was able to experience the dignity of self-reliance, building stability for herself and her family and making a positive impact in the community.