A tale of fortitude

Tribal women in an obscure block in Bihar churn out a success story

By Rakesh Agarwal
Published: Thursday 30 November 1995

A tale of fortitude

Sundra Mahato tends her vegeta (Credit: Rakesh Agarwal / cse)TUCKED away in the flat valley of Dalma hills in East Singhbhum Patna district, Bihar, lies the village of B I H A R Pagda. Although only 20 km. away from the steel city of shedpur, it had remained jamPat impoverished and underdeveloped until five years ago. Pagda today, however, tells a different story; so do 65 other villages of the Patmada block where the Shramajivi Mahila Sarniti (sms), an unit of a local NGO Shramajivi Unnayan, is carrying on participatory development, besides fighting social evils since 1988. The village samiti, representing all the households of the village, is the smallest unit of the organisation. A panchayat samiti, having two members from each village sarmiti, coordinates the activities of all village samitis. The cential body of the sms, comprising of one member from each panchaytif samiti, is entrusted with the task of running the programme. Over the years, the women have achieved something they are proud of-, not only have they successfully resisted the atrocities committed on them, but they have also run constructive programmes of literacy, health and incorric-generation.

One notable front on which the sms dowry. Last year, has been fighting is immediately after her marriage, Aloma of Kuini village was sent back to her parents for not bringing adequate 'Sundra Mahato tends her vegetable field in Kandih dowry. The village mahila samiti organised a meeting of the panchayat which passed a stricture against her in-laws, forcing her husband to take her back. "Now they live happily," informs Kunti Mahato, the samiti treasurer.

The motivation has extended to the women managing their own centres for adult education and health care. So far, the sms has established 10 centres for adult education and 8 health centres. Conducted by an anudeshika (instructress), the adult education centres work after sunset. The menfolk, on their part, see a practical purpose behind female literacy. "Village traders won't be able to cheat our women once they are literate," says Surendra Mahato of Kandih village.

The health centres too have made a major impact on the women's living conditions. "Because women receive a timely and proper health care now, they don't have to depend on their husbands, especially during and just after pregnancy," says Adomani Devi of Pagda.

Organised in groups of 10 each, the women are trained in skills like mushroom and vegetable cultivation fruit processing. A credit society is established thereafter w loan of Rs 500 is made-available to each member.

The results are evident. In Jala village, Gumari her companions started growing mushroom six month inside their huts. Claims a gleaming GunjaTi, "Today we upto Its 400 per month from selling mushrooms and have own money to buy whatever we like, without being depm on our husbands."

While the movement has enabled the women of Patw to come out, fight against injustices and participate in development process, it is also aiming to make the villages sustainable. The 10 per cent interest charged an the repam of loans goes to the fund of the village samiti.

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