Case studies

Pink is the Colour of Power

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Mahadevkhurd village in Siddarthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh was beset with many problems till a women’s self-help group decided to take matters in their own hands. Supported by PACS partner Purvanchal Gramin Seva Samiti (PGSS), they are now resolving village issues collectively and holding officials accountable.

The women of Mahadevkhurd village in Uttar Pradesh have organised themselves into a self-help group with the support of PACS.

Women mean business

In Mahadevakhurd village, in Siddarthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh, a group of women laugh while recounting a recent incident when they chased the local Lekhpal (village revenue employee) round the court to get their due. Prabhavati, president of the Nav Jyoti Mahila Sangharsh Mandal, a federation of self help groups in the village, says: ‘That was the day many people who doubted our determination to act went home convinced we meant business. And if that meant chasing the corrupt around court premises, so be it.' 
   
After a particularly devastating hailstorm, the government had announced compensation for those whose crops had been affected. When months went by without the money, the women decided to do something about it. 

They had constantly been requesting the Lekhpal to intervene on their behalf and finally decided to accost him. However, he wasn’t to be found. They kept searching  till they found they him.  However, when he spotted them, he made a run for it. All dressed in pink, the women chased him around the court premises, caught him and dragged him to the office of the Additional District Magistrate’s where they revealed that he had been asking for bribes to clear their dues, and forced him to write out the cheques.

Sharing their issues

Dashra, a member of the Ujala (Light) self help group (SHG) and president of the school management committee (SMC), says the group was formed in 2012, with support from PACS partner Purvanchal Gramin Seva Samiti (PGSS). ‘Every time there was problem, a member would try to address it herself or with the help of her family. We always thought it may not look nice if we shared our problems openly with each other. But after several discussions, we also realized it was good to share because most of us had the same concerns while everyone was trying to arrive at solutions in different ways. After several discussions with PGSS, it finally dawned on us that the more we shared with each other, the better the chances of resolving the problems were. And that has been the defining motto of our group since: share with each other all problems, issues, happiness and disappointments.’

The women dress in pink, as a mark of solidarity.

Anand, programme coordinator of PGSS, says: ‘Under PACS, we have paid particular attention to the quality of SHG activities, ensuring that members meet regularly for transactions and training, thus creating solidarity and social capital. This has helped facilitate coordinated action and a positive effect in addressing issues like reducing exclusion, improved childcare, creating community awareness, promoting institutional delivery, childhood immunization, community monitoring, etc.’

Ujala meets on the 6th of every month while the women’s federation meets every 20th of the month. The group also does inter-loaning, for which each member contributes Rs 100 per month towards the corpus.

There are certain rules for holding meetings: the dress code is pink – all members wear pink saris to the meeting or if they are going out of the village for a demonstration, meeting with block or district-level functionaries or for protests etc. The meetings start with an invocation to the Gods to keep everyone safe and healthy, and to give them the courage to do their work to the best of their ability. Dasra says: ‘It just gives a feeling of oneness and empathy, and helps focus our minds to the issues at hand.’

No dearth of issues

Gulabi Devi, the group treasurer, says that the women had taken loans worth about Rs 125,000 under a government scheme for inter loaning. However, they were finding it difficult to pay the money back and every year, it was only getting bigger and more difficult to foreclose. ‘So we went to the Lok Adalat (public court) in 2014 and pleaded to make the loan terms more reasonable. Seeing our resolve to repay the loan, the bank waived the interest, and we could pay off the principal in full.’

In another case the women had not been paid since 2010 for 12 days of MGNREGA work. Moreover the Rozgar Sevak (employment officer) had taken their job cards and they had no way of proving their case. ‘We approached everyone we could for help and then, supported by PACS, we called the MGNREGA toll-free number and lodged our complaint. In a day, the Rozgar Sevak came and returned the job cards and our wages were also deposited in our respective accounts,’ says Gyanvati, a member of the group.

Dashra once caught a teacher sleeping during school hours. She shook her awake and told her to perform her duties. The group escalated the matter to the Block education officer and the matter was resolved.

Sister Briggette, Block Coordinator, faced a similar situation in the local Aanganwadi (government-supported day-care) centre, where the worker refused to visit the Dalit habitation because she considered them lower caste. ‘Even if she came, she hardly did anything – the rations were not distributed, the Anganwadi  benefits were not explained to the beneficiaries and she was rude and insensitive. So we made a representation to the Pradhan (chief), took away the rations from her and distributed them ourselves. Seeing our proactive stance, she agreed to mend her ways and now runs the Aanganwadi efficiently.’

Galvanizing the community

She adds that the SHG has emerged as a forum for members to support to each other. It also enables them to learn to cooperate and work in a group environment, and it is this spirit of cooperation that has galvanized the community at-large.

In 2014, when registration was being done at the local school for making RSBY health insurance smart cards, the women’s group held a meeting and shared with the community the venue of the registration, the documentation required and the fee for the registration, where and how to use the smart cards, who was eligible for the card, etc. Sister Briggette adds: ‘As a result, a lot of confusion was avoided and everyone eligible for the card received it the same day. Some have already used it and are excited with the results.’

The women have resolved many other issues, like having a concrete road constructed for children to travel to school.

News of their work has also travelled; a local reporter  visited the village in March 2015 to talk to them about women’s empowerment and to document their struggle. 

Campaign against open defecation

The women have now pledged to eradicate open defecation from the village. They have submitted an application to the BDO and Zila Adhikari (district officer) for the construction of toilets in their village, and have been  assured that toilets will be sanctioned for their village. To facilitate the process, PGSS helped develop an application format and circulated it across 40 gram panchayats. A core member of the federation took a delegation to the District Magistrate to submit the application. The DM was so impressed she immediately called the District Panchayati Raj Officer (DPRO) and requested him to take action. 

To sensitise the community, the women have also developed a short street play on the menace of open defecation, a story of a young bride who comes to the village after marriage, only to find the village has no toilets. 

The women are also involved in bleaching of all hand pumps shallower than 80 feet to check the spread of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in the area. They also ran a campaign on the deplorable condition of hand pumps in the district and showed the evidence to the Pradhan (village chief), sending photos to the BDO via speed post. The hand pumps were repaired the next day.

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