Monday, December 21, 2009

Versha from Bundelkhand

“There is nothing in my life to be happy about” she said a minute ago but now I can see a faint smile on her face. We are sitting across from Versha the President of Abhilasha Gram Sanghatan as she tells us her story.

My mother died when I was young and my father soon became an alcoholic in his sorrow. I was brought up by my Dadi (paternal-grandmother). Soon my Nana (maternal-grandfather) took me home to stay with his family. With limited resources in the house this led to problems with my aunts and soon I was back in Lalitpur. My Dada used to support my brother, sister and me. Though shifting between my grandparents homes did cause a problem for my enrollment at school the teachers were kind and allowed me to get back to my classes.

In class 9 when I was giving my final exams I came home between papers to find some waiting to see me. I did not stay long and returned for my next paper but in the evening when I returned I found people in the locality celebrating outside my house. The next thing I new was that I was getting married. My father I remember was not in favor of the marriage because of my tender age but my grandmother was insistent, she wanted to see her grandchildren before she died. I was 15 when I got married.

After a brief stay of two months at my home post marriage I came over here to live with my husband and his family. From the moment we started living together I told my husband that we should rent a place in the city and live there so that we could educate our children. My husband worked as a security guard first in Jhansi then at Babina and then he went to Maharashtra to work as a driver. He would visit us once in 2 months or some times more often.

Some months ago he returned to live here with us and worked at the military area as a daily wage laborer. One day in August he complained of a stomach ache so I asked him to rest. When he did not get better I asked my mother in law to come over and she massaged his stomach with the leaves of the Andi tree that used to give him relief in the past but it did not work. Later in the day my father in law gave him a pain killer to ease the pain but that too did not help so the next day we took him to the block hospital. At the hospital he was given an injection and some medicine. The treatment failed and by noon he could not swallow. I too began to have similar symptoms but kept quiet since I did not want to worry him and the family. Soon he could not keep his eyes open and his speech too began to falter. When his situation deteriorated to a point that he could not breath properly we got terribly worried and took him to Jhansi.

First we took him to Kapoor Nursing Home, there the doctors asked us for two thousand rupees that we promised to pay and we admitted him. You know he had no bad habits, he did not smoke or drink, didn't chew tobacco, he didn't even eat meat! At the hospital when he began to throw-up from his mouth and nose I could not hold myself together any more and broke down. Since the doctors were not giving him proper care we took him to Kherati Hospital.
The doctors at Kherati hospital told us he was serious and put him on an intravenous drip and asked us to take him to the district hospital.

At the district hospital we waited for an hour before some one attended to him and when they did they kept asking him to confess what he had eaten. I don't know why but they suspected that he had attempted to commit suicide. They put fingers down his throat to make him throw up and all the while kept asking him to tell them what he had eaten. When he repeatedly told them that he had eaten nothing they just left him. I thought they had gone to discuss and decide what to do for him but they did not so we had no choice but to take him elsewhere. We took him to D M Mishra hospital where he was immediately admitted into emergency. Since I too was quite ill by then the doctors admitted me as a serious case. I could not see him from where I was but I new he was there. I was given an intravenous drip I remember, but then I passed out.

When I woke in the morning I was told that he was doing better but had to be shifted to another hospital. My relatives told me that we should return home, no one told me that my husband had passed away while I was sleeping. When I got home I found many of my relatives waiting at the house, I thought to myself how lucky I was to get so much concern from them because of my illness. But it was when I finally entered the house that I learnt the truth. I was then dressed as a bride and taken to the river for the ceremonies. My family had hidden the truth from me all the way from Jhansi till I got home.

At this point she wipes a few tears from her cheeks that have seen thousands others roll down in the moths that have passed since the fate-full day and then continues with her story.

The women from the Gram-Sanghathan are better than relatives you know. When they heard this news they came with food and money to help me out. Today I am four months pregnant but cant have an abortion because I am of frail health, but I already have two children so I don't know what I will do. I plan to open a shop in the village and make ends meet, I’ll take a loan from the Samhoo to do that.

Later in the evening we returned to the village to attend the meeting of the Gram Sangahtan (a village level association of SHG’s) and met Versha again. There with representatives of all the 17 SHG’s that form the association she was a changed person. With all the problems she has she vowed to lead the women in helping them solve their problems. To see some one in such dire straits smile is unthinkable but she did and it shook me to the bone.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Vinya, is an inspiration not only to the impoverished women in Bundelkhand but to all of us at the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Pariyojana.

Having been associated with her “Samhoo” - (Self Help Group), for over 10 months, sitting on the steps of her house Vinya recounts for us her story.

Vinya needed money to buy a goat. Historically all villagers borrow money from the village “sahukar” (money lender), thus subjecting themselves to almost a life term in debt. Since she needed the money she too had no choice at the time.

After joining her “Samhoo” Vinya was able to borrow from the local nationalized bank, with better interest rates and accommodative payment terms. With this help she was able to free herself from the clutches of the moneylender.

Vinya is now a proud owner of not one, but 12 goats! She has also managed to sell a few of them and generated profits for herself.

Today, Vinya is not only the President of Roshini Samhoo but, also of the village level association.

Like many other women benefiting themselves through Roshini Samhoo, Vinya believes that their Rs. 10 per week saving has been able to rid them of their dependence on the sahukar for financial help.

Over the next half hour, Vinya shares with us the future plans which the women in Roshini Samhoo have – to work towards developing medical facilities, in the light of the alarming rise in deaths due to pneumonia tops their list.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Overcoming Discrimination

This is a story repeated time and again whenever RGMVP touches a new village. For eons now our country has been plagued by caste discrimination but now there is hope for the future as the story of Geeta Prajapati clearly shows us.
Here is her own story.

Discrimination is strongly rooted in our society. In my opinion it is a curse on us. Several situations in life have made me hate myself for belonging to a lower cast. Discrimination bothered me right from childhood. I often felt ashamed of myself just because of my caste.

Growing up our village was like any other but the one thing that pinched me was the difference between the lower caste and upper caste
that was so apparent in our world. If one of us from a lower caste visited a higher caste persons home we were never allowed to enter inside the house. At public functions we were always made to sit separately, even at marriages we had to sit separately and made to dine last sitting on the ground. This treatment always annoyed and depressed me making me anxious to get equality in society. As a child I often asked my mother why there was this difference and discrimination towards the lower castes, but my mother would censure me “Don’t high fly otherwise we will stop your schooling”.

While my mother did succeed in keeping me quiet I was not satisfied and kept
my thoughts alive within me.
Some years ago I learned that the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojna was working for women welfare in our village, a Community Resource Person from Andhra Pradesh with came to my home and explained the benefits and importance of group. She also asked me to join the group. Belonging to a lower caste, I refused to join but they convinced me to join the group when they told me group does not discriminate. Hesitant as I was I stood in a corner to watch one of their meetings. When a Community Resource Personal saw me, she took me by the hand and made sit in the circle with the other upper and lower caste women, I was afraid of my sitting along with all of them but I was surprised that none of them objected. Not only did I face no objection the women both upper caste and lower caste welcomed me with open hearts giving me great confidence.

Over time the fear and hesitation inside me was ab
orted and soon I started keeping accounts of group. Now I look after bank linkage in the group and deal with the bank officials. The discrimination has died, there are no upper or lower caste in our group, all are equal.
Now no one is hesitant to sit and eat with me. Often group meeting are conducted at my home. My family and I get equal treatment in the society at functions as do others who belong to the lower castes.

Now I have my own identity that is not a servant of my caste. Everyone in the vil
lage takes my advice, mainly related to bank and accounts and I try my best to help them. Today I don't have to remember that I belong to a lower caste, or worry if I am with people of a higher caste, and I cant help think that this would not have been possible without the help of our “Swayam Sahayata Samooh”. Discrimination is man made and man himself can end this evil if he should choose to.

Today Geeta is the president of her Self Help Group (SHG), the Cluster Level Association (CLA) at the village as well as the the President of the Block Level Association (BL

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Breaking Free

When Saroj Devi first met an animator from the RGMVP she was in dire straights, her husband was deeply indebted to a money lender, and their income was too low to sustain their family. Often they went hungry! Convinced about benefits of joining SHGs she joined the Jai Maa Durga Swayam Shayta Samooh, and almost immediately her life took a turn for the better. The weekly meetings where members shared their problems and discussed ways and means to improve their lives gave her the opportunity and education she needed.
After being trained in several RGMVP camps, Saroj found a new freedom, and a space outside the four walls of her house. She became the Samooh’s Community Resource Person and helped manage and increase its resources of Community Volunteers.
From the first CCL credit of Rs. 25,000 she borrowed Rs. 10,000 and paid of the moneylender’s debt, and freed her husband from his clutches. She now saves regularly with the bank, and enjoys a credit that it extends to her. With the new resources available to her she has been able to set up a detergent manufacturing unit.
Over time, Saroj has come to be the proud owner of a house, a small piece of cultivable land, and a burgeoning manufacturing unit. She has also managed to have her children enrolled in school, which they had dropped out of because the family’s financial condition. She too has started to sign, and is educating herself.
Today she extends her help to those around her, through the Samooh, and has helped over 45 families escape the clutches of moneylenders.
Even in this day and age where the government has innumerable schemes to help the rural population get the much-needed financial help, ignorance of these facilities force many into the vicious net of the money lender. RGMVP consistently educates and facilitates families to avail these life saving opportunities to help them improve their lives and the future of their children.

Friday, August 21, 2009

We can and we will!

When Mr. Gandhi walked into the hall the eagerly waiting members of the Self Help Groups (SHG) broke into a thundering applause as they greeted him with much affection and joy.

The meeting was held to find and formulate, pro-poor environment and CRP strategies to empower the lower sections of rural society, and to facilitate social mobilization and community participation.

Members of the SHGs case studies of the SHG’s influence in their lives, and the change and opportunities it now presented them. They explained the SHG’s roles in alleviating the hardships of the poor, and stressed the need for SHGs and similar projects. They all expressed their gratitude for their achievements, confidence, and new found awareness.

In his speech Mr. Gandhi explained vision for development in UP, with women playing an instrumental role in it. Seeing SHGs as the key to empowering women, he stressed that it was time to bring women into the mainstream of development. Viewing the SHG movement as an exciting change, and with the success it achieved in Andhra Pradesh, he expressed his confidence of similar success in UP. He pointed to the already improved conditions of women in Raibareli and Sultanpur, and hoped all of UP would follow their example. Encouraged by his motivating talk the women were specially moved when he joined them on the floor of the house rejected the elevated podium to explain his views and ideas.

In response to all the encouragement that they received the women promised to spread the SHGs to the entire nation.

“We can and we will” the hall echoed as faces smiled one and all.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi inaugurating a Mobile Micro Credit Van from the BUPGB that would take the bank to village thereby facilitating growth and development.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The eleventh of august, 2009, will be remembered in Tala Gopalpur(village) of Rahi block. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi visited them, and the women of the SHG welcomed her, and told them their stories. Of how they went from being dependent, and hapless, to confident, and a force of change, and empowerment. They told her, about life before SHG when no one would come forward to help them, and they had no voice. They couldnt tend their families well, and were frustrated.
They put up a little skit, depicting the hardships of women in rural India. They told Mrs. Gandhi about the several bondages that women have to suffer: a women can’t speak, she can’t think, she can’t listen, she can’t go anywhere, she can’t do any work, she is bound to have babies according to her family’s wishes.
Then they told her how the SHG had helped them all, find a voice and each other, and become a source of strength, but also, how they were now, educating their families, and even doing incomce generating activities, to help their husbands in the house.
They expressed profuse gratititude to Mrs. Gandhi, for her example of leadership, and empowerment, and the inspiration she provides each one of them. They also thanked her for the very idea of the RGMVP, and for ‘hand holding support’ which has empowered them to take action both in their own lives and the life of the village.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Opening the door when opportunity knocks!

Fareeda was a poor and illiterate woman of Kaziyana village who earned a pittance. When RGMVP volunteers visited her village, with the intent of creating a woman’s Self Help Group (SHG) and spread the message and empower the women of the village, Fareeda thought that SHG was something meant to benefit the rich, and upper castes, and that no one would really reach out to the poor. When the pariyojana volunteer visited her, she did not pay much attention to him, as she was too caught up in her own problems.

However, the opportunity may have been wasted, but thankfully, the SHG of the village found a firm footing, and later she was visited by members of this same groups, who were trying to reach out to other ladies like themselves, and give them the support and backing of the SHG to improve their standard of living.

They explained the functioning of the group, and related experiences wherein they had benefited immensely from the SHG. They discussed her problems of caste, social status, and low income with her, and convinced her that together they could help her find a better way of living. She finally joined.

In the group they discussed her problems, and helped get a loan to start her own poultry farm. Also the group made her appreciate the value of an education, she also started to teach herself to read and write.

When the Village Organization (group of SHGs) was later formed, she was nominated as joint secretary, and then, to the Village Level SHG federation, and even as a representative on the Block Level SHG federation (BLA).

Though the moment was the greatest of her life, the BLA office was too far away from her village, making walking there a problem, but she has taught herself to cycle, and now cycles to office and back everyday. This, her story of empowerment, and leadership, serves, as she does, to help others find their legs, and make more of themselves than otherwise possible.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Example to follow

The story of Rajpati and the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP) is an often repeated effort of the program to bring empowerment and understanding to women in the remotest parts of the nation. Rajpati, coming from a backward class and suffering from the practice of parda, never realized that there was a wider world outside the four walls of her house, and that, more importantly, she could participate in that larger world. Through the work of RGMVP, she has discovered not only her own latent abilities, but is now helping others to do the same!

When she first approached the RGMVP team, she was a purdah clad woman, barely able to speak to them. She stammered her name, but was almost unintelligible. Nervous and unsure of herself, she was another example of so many of India’s neglected women in villages across the country. Bound to their houses and by veils, they fail to realize that they can do so much more.

But the change in Rajpati is a beacon of hope for all the other women like her. Boosted by RGMVP, she now is a confident woman, sure of herself and unfettered by the binds of her past. But what is amazing is that she isn’t content to have found herself, she’s now leading others to leave behind the same chains, and discover their role in the wider world. As a Community Resource Person with RGMVP, she is helping women find the same confidence that she now has.

Rajpati has become an adept public speaker and is fluent in conveying the goals and ideas of the RGMVP to gatherings, and her own story is her best metaphor. The change in Rajpati, from a nervous, shy, and helpless woman, to a teacher and guide, truly is a story of empowerment and growth one should be proud of.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Together we can

Every day at dawn, a new story begins. One more woman stands up to the test of time and takes the step towards independence and happiness. Malti's story is one such story that reminds us of the difference that we can make in the lives of the poor. 

"When we were not in the samooh, we were scattered. When we came together, we got to know each other, we became strong because we are united. Recently when there was a fire in village Rudali, some houses were burned down. All the sisters got together and we helped with grain, clothes, other material.
We meet every week, which we all enjoy. At the meeting, the first thing we ask all sisters is what problems they have. If someone has a problem, we give the loan to them first.
We have learnt how to live together, we can now speak publicly. I have stopped doing pardah. We have decided we will not give or take dowry.
In the beginning my husband did not want me to join – he said why roam around here and there. Now he doesn’t say anything. In fact we hold meetings in the house and the men see what we are doing. When the men need money, they ask the group."