Support system: This Chhattisgarh SHG began to fight leprosy stigma; it has now made women self-sufficient

Sahara has got a liquor distillery closed down; enabled women to participate in local governance and improved livelihoods
Support system: This Chhattisgarh SHG began to fight leprosy stigma; it has now made women self-sufficient

When Chhaya Namdev contracted leprosy in 2005, she knew the disease would have severe health and social implications. “I could not leave my house. There was a lot of stigma against the disease in our village, Amoda, and people would be afraid to share space with me,” she recalls.

However, nearly 20 years of work by Sahara, the first women self-help group (SHG) in Amoda village, located in Jajangir Champa district, Chhattisgarh, has turned things around. “People are now more aware about the disease and understand its implications and treatments,” says Namdev, who is also a member of Sahara.

Hamida Begum, another member of Sahara and a former leprosy patient, adds that the SHG has also helped her earn a living. Begum owns a bangle shop in the village.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the SHG helped her avail Rs 10,000 in assistance from The Leprosy Mission Trust India, a non-profit that works for the welfare of people affected by the disease in India. Using the funds, Begum expanded her business and now earns Rs 5,000-6,000 per month.

The Leprosy Mission had also played a role in the setting up of Sahara. “In 2006, we received reports of a large number of leprosy cases from Amoda. When we visited the village, we saw that people were not aware of the disease’s reality and treatment options,” says Kismat Nanda, The Leprosy Mission’s coordinator for Chhattisgarh.

“Further, discussions around health and welfare were dominated by men; women did not even participate in meetings. So we decided to reach out to women to spread awareness,” says Nanda.

The SHG grew slowly, and real change was seen only in 2012, says Saraswati Srivas, a member.

“There was a liquor distillery in our village due to which most of the men used to consume alcohol and indulge in fights at home and outside. By then, there were a few other SHGs in the village, so all the groups approached state authorities and asked them to shut down the distillery. We were able to ensure a ban on liquor distilleries within a 5-km radius of the village. It instilled confidence within our group,” says Srivas.

Next, Sahara focused on increasing women’s representation in local governance. As per state policies, Amoda village is governed by 20 panchs and a sarpanch, elected by the residents. “In 2015, I contested as a panch and won. During my tenure, we were able to help women get ration cards and avail housing support,” says Srivas.

During COVID-19, the members of Sahara decided to come together to improve livelihoods. As mushroom farming is prevalent in the region, the women began cultivation of the crop.

In 2021, the SHG earned Rs 19,000 in mushroom production, against an investment of Rs 4,500, while in 2022 it earned Rs 23,000 with an investment of Rs 6,000. The combined income of SHG members’ own work and mushroom production is Rs 80,000-1 lakh a year.

Srivas says now, Amoda village has more than 20 SHGs, where women have also come together to spread health awareness, learn about their rights, and participate in local governance.

This was first published in the 1-15 March, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth

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