India Interior

The plot’s changing, with an all-woman team

Usha Rai | Updated on May 04, 2018 Published on May 04, 2018

All-in-one : The women, wives of migrant labour, did all the work on the farm, alongside minding their homes Usha Rai   -  Usha Rai

From sharecropping to shopkeeping, the women of Bahraich are writing their own scripts

Unlike the run-of-the-mill Self-Help Groups (SHG), the Renu Bachhat Samooh of Subharpurwa village, Chittaura block of Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, has big dreams of challenging the male farmers of the region. It has taken land on lease and is growing wheat and rice and offering competition to the more experienced male farmers. The dozen members of the SHG, all of them wives of migrant labour, have just harvested six quintals of wheat on the bigha-and-a-half of land this April and are jubilant.

Registered as an SHG in 2016 and groomed by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), the Samooh got ₹15,000 from the State Rural Livelihood Mission as revolving fund and quickly invested it by taking land on lease as sharecroppers. Having worked as farm labour, they knew the intricacies of farming and were capable of hard work. Like other farmers of Chittaura block they were encouraged to practise wheat intensification system of line plantation.

Guljara, the President of the SHG and Sangeeta, its secretary, said the women did the sowing, the irrigation, fertiliser use and de-weeding. In the midst of their household chores, they found time for the field work and divided their responsibilities.

Increasing the scope

As sharecroppers, they have to give the landowner half the six quintals harvested. The wheat has not yet been sold but with prices ranging from ₹1,500 to ₹1,750 a quintal, they hope to get ₹4,500 to ₹5,250. But there will be no resting on laurels for these women. They are planning to take on lease at least another bigha of land and extend their farming prowess to reap more dividends for the Samooh. Till the landowner repays the ₹15,000 they paid him for use of his land, they can continue to cultivate it.

With each woman contributing ₹100 to ₹500 every month depending on how much she can spare, the Samooh has ₹49,740 in its kitty and ₹17,000 is due as interest on loans given out. In addition to cultivating their personal land, growing largely vegetables for the family’s needs, the women are investing in goats. Each of them has three to four goats.

Many homes have a huge earthen grain storage facility, dehri as it is called in these parts, where up to eight quintals can be stored. Since the husbands are migrant labour, the Samooh is their second home where they exchange notes on health, children’s education and their problems. The AKF guides them on investments as well as improved agricultural practices, health and hygiene.

Two issues that need to be resolved are construction and use of toilets and assertion of their literacy levels. Though all the women can sign now, the banks find it more convenient to push them into using their thumb prints for bank transactions because it is faster.

Innovative enterprises

There are 85 SHGs in Chittaura block and many of them have equally heart-warming stories to tell. The members are into goat rearing, poultry farming and some are running shops. Sarwar Jahan, 32, a member of the Rabia Bachhat Samooh of Piprantola village, has been running her own grocery store for the last 10 months. Everything, from chocolates to the brightly packaged namkeens, popular with children, and all the needs of a family are available at her store. Jahan’s family had the shop but investments were needed to have it up and running. She took a loan of ₹50,000 from the Samooh and with ₹50,000 of her own money renovated and stocked up the shop. She has been able to return ₹40,000 of the loan at ₹1,000 a month. The interest on the loan is just 2 per cent.

Jahan has completed Class X and is proving to be a good entrepreneur. Her husband is a skilled construction worker and she has three sons, the eldest has also finished Class X. While her husband helps her to get the groceries from Bahraich, her son minds the store when she is busy with other work.

Shyamkalidevi, 45, of Chamaranpurwa village, Chittaura block, has been a member of the Radha Bachhat Samooh since 2015 and is also a member of the Federation or collective of samoohs. Taking a loan of ₹3,000 from her SHG, she got into sale of sanitary napkins that she buys in bulk from Bahraich and distributes locally to women and girls. She got into the business after women and adolescents of the block were educated by the Foundation on sanitation, improved health and well-being.

The pack of eight sanitary napkins is purchased at ₹18 and sold at ₹27. Of the net profit of ₹9, Shyamkalidevi keeps ₹8 as her income and a rupee is given to the Federation. In a month she is able to sell 100 packets. Women and girls come home for the sanitary napkins or she delivers them discreetly at their doorstep.

“Thanks to my business, I was able to save my 14-year-old son who needed emergency medical help,” said the entrepreneur. She needed ₹5,000 for medical bills and sold the 75 packets of sanitary napkins lying at home and rushed him to hospital.

While the older women collect the sanitary napkins in a black plastic bag and bury it in their fields, the younger ones collect and burn them. There are still some myths about burning of sanitary napkins causing infertility. The youngsters, however, say that the sanitary napkins could be thrown out when the fields are ploughed with a tractor. There is also awareness of the damage that plastic can cause to the soil. However, it may take more hand-holding by AKF for mindsets to change on the myths around menstruation.

The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

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Published on May 04, 2018
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