Helping women irks men in Haryana district

A non-govemmental organisation attempting to help women in Haryana's and Rewari district is hampered by caste factors and male chauvinism.
Helping women irks men in Haryana district
Women trained in handicrafts a (Credit: Shailendra Kumar / cse)THOUGH Haryana is an agriculturally developed state, its Rewari district is poor and handicapped by lack of drinking water, sharp gander inequality and educational backwardness.

Rewari averages 65 cm of rain annually, not enough for efficient fuming and its salinity is such that cultivating the undulating stretches of the Arivall! hills is a tough proposition. Farmers have increased their use of chemical fertiliser five-fold since the 1970s and all they can expect from the land are meagre harvests of mustard, bajra and jowar.

Traditionally, Haryanvis depend on ponds and johads (check dams) for their water needs, but with the advent of tubewells and the subsequent collapse of community control, the ponds have silted up and the check dams have eroded. The water-table has now fallen more than 11 m and is highly saline and so potable water is scarce. In the early 1980s, the state government provided piped water to many villages, but the supply is too erratic and Chintamani Devi of Mayan village says the taps there are often dry for as long as a week.

. Moreover, chronic drought, increased population pressure on forests and large-scale mining have made fuelwood and fodder in short supply in Rewari, adding to the people's misery and impoverishment.

Devolopmnt package The Haryana Social Work and Research Centre (HSWRC), a non-govemmental organisation based in Khori village, launched an integrated development package in 1983 to ameliorate the condition of Rewari women. HSWRC director Sunder Lal explained the package consists of income-generating schemes, rainwater-harvesting tanks for drinking water, earthen check dams for farming and bio-gas plants, offering an alternative to firewood.

Initially, HSWRC selected women from 10 villages, chosen solely by economic criteria. They were trained in handicrafts and handlooms and provided raw materials in their home. Apni Dukan (Our Shop) was opened to handle raw material supplies and provided employment to at least one woman in each village. Sardar Singh, head of.HSWRC's marketing department, said, "We insist the artisans come to HSWRC to sell the finished products and collect cash payments. We also take them to exhibitions in Delhi and Bombay and this adds to their selfconfidence."

Kanta Devi, a 52-year-old landless artisan of Mayan, has participated in two such exhibitions and says she is confident now of running her own business. She makes five durries (rugs) and four galichas (carpets) a month and earns Rs 400. Along with Rs 800 that her two sons earn each month, the family can meet its expenses. But, her neighbour, Chintamani, disagreed and explained, "I have seven members in my family, including two daughters of marriageable age. I take 40 hours to make one durry, but it fetches me just Rs 60. So I can earn a maximilm of just Rs 300 a month."

HSWRC's income-generating schemes have helped more than 600 women in 55 villages in Rewari district. But in only 70 of them are the villagers from the scheduled castes included. "That's because they number less and also because they find daily-wage work more profitable," Sardar Singh explained.

Four months ago, HSWRC began training classes in typing, drafting, book-keeping and office management, and photography, in a bid to discourage girls from early marriage. But the turnout has been poor and there are only 16 girls enrolled at present in the typing class. Sheela, a Harijan girl from Gotada. village, described her difficulties: "I travel 13 km each day to come here. I hope when my training is over I can get a typist's job."

Hoping to mobilise village women to solve their own problems, HSWRC set up a Mahila Vikas Dal (MVD) unit in each village. Shrimati Kamlesh of Batori village said, "MVDs choose sites for drinking water hand-pumps, hodgeholds needing biogas plants, rainwater-harvesting tanks and training centres for tailoring, making durries and bed-sheets and leather work."

Anita Chauhan, 33, who heads a 19-member women's team in HSWRC, explained: -MVDs don't have presi- dents or'secretaries. Any member can schedule a meeting to discuss issues."

But not all village women are MVD members, mainly because of caste factors. "We convene MVD meetings alternatively in Harijan and upper-caste villages," said Chauhan, "but upper-caste women usually avoid the Harijan meetings, at times because of opposition from their menfolk."

However, many of the women criticise MVD's approach to problem-solving. Says Chintamani, "I seldom go to its meetinos because nothing happens. HSWRC workers speak,the village women listen and then they go home, oblivious to what was said there."

Water projects
Another of HSWRC's activities is the promotion of biogas plants so as to ease. the village women's firewood needs. Niranjan Sharma,,'thief of HSWRC's biogas department, disclosed, "According- to our survey, a biogas plant saves a woman four, and-a-half hours, which she can devote to other work." *spite the finances involved and frequent stiff opposition from husbands, more than 800 biogas plants have been installed so far in 53 villages.

HSWRC's emphasis in providing drinking water is on hand-pumps and 3,000-litre rainwater-harvesting tanks, though it has also helped to build three johads in the area. HSWRC worker Ram Lal explained, "A tank filled .during the rains provides water for four months. So far, 120 tanks have been constructed in 23 villages, along with 80 hand-pumps in 26 villages. But the tanks cost Rs 3,000 each and so they are too expensive for the poor. Moreover, the houses require a cement roof so that rain water can be funnelled into the tank."

HSWRC built a 30-metre earthen check dam in Khori village in 1988. Though maintenance is a problem, the dam has made it possible to recharge wells and a pond and reclaim about 50 ha that had been reduced to a rocky bed by flash floods. The reason for poor maintenance is that villagers were not consulted when the johad was built and so they don't consider it common property. This lack of involvement has also led to the felling of trees in an 85-ha forest, regenerated around the johad.

Unfortunately, HSWRC's income-generation schemes for women are encountering a backlash among unem- ployed young men and Lal explained why: "As we have no programmes for them, they feel discriminated. Besides protests, at times they have even teased the girls attending our vocational training courses."
Down To Earth