Case studies

Boosting women’s earnings

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Life for women in Chilgajori village, Jharkhand, in eastern India, was challenging, as agricultural employment was seasonal. However, with the support of PACS and partner JVP, the women were empowered to form a self-help group (SHG), seek additional work under MGNREGA and to increase their incomes.

Women of Chilgajori village attend an SHG meeting.

‘Disguised’ unemployment

As one enters Chilgajori village, in Amrapara block , Pakaur district of Jharkhand, it is easy to mistake the lush greenery, fertile paddy fields and rich herds of mulching cattle for signs of the prosperity of the 150-plus Santhal families residing there.

But scratch the surface and you will spot signs of poverty; the lack of work out-of-season, the poor infrastructure and other evidence of deprivation.

Villager Suruj Kisku, aged 40, describes the reality of life in the village for herself and her co-villagers, such as Gulabi Soren, Talamai, Mati Hembrom and Bhagat Murmu, before PACS signposted extra opportunites for employment.

She says, ‘We had no work during summer and winter, only in rainy season when we would go to the fields for paddy plantation and then to chop it three-to-four months later. It made us entirely dependent on monsoon-based farm income, which was not sufficient to meet our needs and nourish our children.’

This tale of ‘disguised’ unemployment was common to most of the women of the village before they decided to look for a solution. Fortunately, PACS partner Jharkhand Vikas Parishad (JVP) was on hand to inform them about the benefits of forming SHGs, and of MGNREGA – the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – which guarantees rural households up to 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour.

Collaborating to seek work

Gulabi says: ‘Some people from JVP came to meet us and enquired about our hardship. We had no knowledge about getting MGNREGA jobs before that.’

With the help of  JVP, 12 of the women formed the Emili SHG in 2012. ‘The group helped us learn how to apply for jobs under MGNREGA, and approach  the rojgar sevak (village employment worker) and senior official,’ says Suruj. ‘For the first time in my life, I visited the block office.’ 

The villagers work around the pond they dug, as part of the work allotted under MGNREGA.

Later in 2012, the SHG ran a kam mango abhiyan (job seeking drive). Mariyanous Soren from JVP says: ‘The women knew about MGNREGA but had hardly any knowledge of how to seek jobs, where to apply and what to do when not given any work. They were not confident about their role in running the SHG and negotiating for their rights with  the Block Development Officer and local banks.’

In 2014, the SHG’s collective efforts led to 45 local women from the village jointly demanding jobs under the scheme. Suruj recalls: ‘Before that, one or two jobs were given under the MGNREGA. But the major boost came on June 17, when 45 villagers applied, seeking jobs before the rojgar sevak. We got the work relatively quickly 17 days after the application.’ 

Contributing to the village economy

Best of all, the work they were allotted was relevant to the economy of their own village. Bhagat Murmu, another villager, says: ‘The work was digging a pond on the periphery of the village which would not only store precious water flowing down from hills nearby, but also reduce fear of regular drought under its catchment areas.’ 

The villagers prepared the pond that is currently filled with monsoon water and helps irrigate paddy fields. It also gives villagers the opportunity to fish, and boost their incomes. 

Empowered and informed

The confidence gained by the Santhal people of Chilgajori helped them significantly in future endeavours like gaining information about the schemes passed by their gram sabha (area meeting). PACS, in association with JVP, introduced the women to the ‘right to information’ (RTI) Act, in addition to MGNREGA.

‘We used RTI and filed an application in the block office, seeking information about the schemes sanctioned by the Gram Sabha for the village,’ explains Suruj. ‘We came to know that, in its meeting in January 2015, the gram sabha passed 36 schemes for the village, with a budget of Rs. 63.20 lakh.'

Ramesh Tudu, head of Chilgajori, concludes: ‘Now we often discuss how to get new work and also talk about the new schemes being brought to the village. We are more informed and that has opened up additional sources of income, apart from farming.’


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