If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?
“Didi, how far is the ATM from here?” – that is how I met Mahananda. In one of those serpentine lanes of the city of ghats. Thank goodness! I decided to accompany her to the ATM, or how would I have experienced the feat of this teenage bride?
I was exploring the chaotic winding lanes of the old city of Varanasi, when I met her. A young chirpy bride who turned around a disordered, poverty-stricken family. Sisters Ganga and Mahananda were married into the same weaver family of Raipura. With the advent of machine-made fabric, their weaver husbands lost their jobs in the loom. They switched to farming to earn a living. But their crops dried. As the hostile villagers didn’t let a drop of water for irrigation and formulated a ‘nikala’ (outcast).
Around that time, Kashika started a pilot SHG project in Raipura, and Mahananda met Manisha, the project supervisor of Kashika. Manisha introduced her to the wonderful world of SHG, and Mahananda also took her sister in its fold.
Soon other village women joined their SHG and it quickly became 23 members strong. This opportunity made microfinance tools like savings and loans available to Mahananda and her peers to start new businesses.
Mahananda’s zeal for a better life in a minimalistic state and my urge to experience the modus operandi of a SHG made me travel to Raipura. Regular systematic earnings for a village woman meant better access to healthcare, education and nutrition for the entire family. In a broader spectrum, it also translated to reduction in child labour and lesser school dropout.
SHGs in Raipura facilitated different kinds of vocational training, which upskilled the women for varied earning opportunities. SHGs also assisted women with better market linkages, which furnished additional opportunities for women to increase their income. Unschooled village women slowly shed their diffidence as they became an integral part of SHGs. Some of the more active women are elected as group leaders. They help spread the word, coordinate meetings and bring more women into the fold. Village elders were contacted by Kashika to identify suitable women candidates. The men in the families of these women were sensitized to garner support as their cooperation is key to the success of SHG.
In Raipura, women gathered for weekly meetings. They understood how to handle finances, start a bank account and maintain ledgers. With the guidance of Kashika, different functional roles like general administration, savings, loan and managing the cash book, were selected among the members of the SHG. They contributed their savings to build up a fund, take a loan, and repay the loan with interest. With Kashika as a facilitator, the entire operations of the SHGs was handled by the members themselves.
Mahananda’s ‘outcast’ weaver family could now comprehend their rights better and voiced their concerns for solving community problems. With the two sisters now taking leadership roles in the SHG, their family, considered outcast by the society began to gather a better image. The deprived families of the village saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Economic independence of women led to social independence as well. The elders of the society who frowned at the thought of ‘Ghar ki aurat kamake layegi’ – started accepting it as many jobless weaver families were rescued from the jaws of starvation. Many women from the village became the sole bread earners of their families and got rid of alcoholism and domestic violence.
With Mahananda coming out of the ATM and buying sweets for Diwali for her entire family, I experienced the immense empowerment of the women of Raipura. I could see the SHGs transforming the landscape of the rural society, breaking all boundaries and creating new horizons.Kashika Masala Unit Visitor
Names of the women have been changed to protect privacy.