Thursday June 21, 2018

Growing Runner Beans to counter Child Marriage and Trafficking in West Bengal

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FILE - Young girls pose as they tend to vegetables they are growing as part of the Girls’ Project that teaches land literacy and helps prevent trafficking and early marriage in Charmahatpur village in West Bengal state, India, Feb. 13, 2017. VOA
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For a teenager, Sarjana Biswas has rather modest ambitions: finish school, go to college and become a government healthcare worker in her village.

But for young girls like Biswas in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, even these would have been impossible dreams just a few years ago in a district plagued by a high rate of school dropouts, early marriage and human trafficking.

Thanks to a state program to keep young girls in school with cash incentives, coupled with efforts by land rights advocacy group Landesa to teach land literacy, girls like Biswas are daring to dream and plan for better futures.

“My sister got married when she was 15 years old. I didn’t want to get married that young,” said Biswas, 17, as she examined runner beans in the small vegetable garden that she helps tend to at the village community center.

“I have learned that girls should not get married so young, that we can also own land and cultivate what they want, earn and not be dependent on anyone,” she said.

Cultivate crops

Nearly 70 girls like Biswas, aged 11 to 18, are enrolled in Landesa’s Girls’ Project that teaches them how to cultivate a small vegetable garden in their family plot.

Alongside, they learn about the importance of education, the problems of early marriage, the benefits of nutritional food, financial literacy, and their rights – including land ownership.

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Partnering with the state, the program has reached more than 48,000 girls in over 1,000 villages in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, helping reduce child marriage and school dropout rates, and preparing the girls to stake their claim to their own piece of land some day.

Bordering Bangladesh, the area is largely populated by poor farmers and migrant workers, and is a hotbed of trafficking. Young women and men are tricked into traveling elsewhere in India and to the Gulf region to be commercial sex workers.

West Bengal accounted for more than a third of India’s trafficking victims in 2016, official data showed.

Girls who have been through the project, which was launched in 2011, are more likely to stay in school, marry later, and have an asset in their name, said Sumit Gupta, chief revenue officer in Nadia district where Charmahatpur village is located.

“These issues are all linked to poverty, and landlessness is the biggest indicator of poverty. So using land literacy and land ownership to address these issues is a practical approach, and it has worked,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We want to see these girls be independent and live with dignity. For that it’s important they know their rights and the importance of land ownership,” he said.

Small plots

West Bengal has a checkered history in land reforms. It was among the first states in India to enact a land reforms law as early as 1955, to give land to poor tenant farmers and to impose ceilings on land holdings.

Yet it has been slow to implement measures to redistribute land. About 70 percent of the state’s rural households do not own land, higher than the national average of 56 percent.

The Girls’ Project, which is being scaled up to reach 1.25 million girls, aims to bridge the gap for women.

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Girls learn to grow vegetables or fruits – even timber – in a corner of their family plots, so they can supplement their meals, as well as add to the family income, or set aside some money by selling some of the produce.

Their efforts are complemented by federal and state schemes for poor adolescent girls. The girls receive 750 rupees ($11) a year from the state toward their education, and 25,000 rupees ($380) on turning 18 if they are still in school and unmarried.

Despite a law banning girls from being married before the age of 18, nearly half India’s girls are married before that age, according to UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency.

Staff at the community center have stopped about half a dozen child marriages in recent years, said Pinaki Haldar, Landesa’s state director.

“Girls, particularly in rural areas, are seen as a burden, and are married early because the dowry that is demanded of the parents rises with older girls,” he said.

“Educating girls on land impacts their thinking, their life, and builds their confidence. Even if she doesn’t get much of an education, she learns to be independent, and also gains some value at home,” he said.

My home, my land

State chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who won an election in 2011 largely on the platform of supporting the rights of farmers and villagers over land, is a champion of land rights.

She introduced the ‘Nijo griha, nijo bhoomi’ (my home, my land) scheme that allocates plots of about 2,200 sq feet (204 sq meters) to each landless rural family, so they can build a small home and cultivate the rest of the land to sustain themselves.

More than 200,000 families have benefited so far. Some have daughters who have been educated about land rights and farming.

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At the community center in Charmahatpur, about a dozen girls who have finished school for the day inspect cabbages, beans and spinach growing in the small garden in the back. They chatter and giggle as they pull out weeds and check for pests.

It took a while to convince parents about the benefits of the program, said Dilwara Mondal, the supervisor.

“Earlier, parents would stand by the door or peep through the window to make sure we weren’t corrupting their daughters,” she said.

“Now they send their daughters willingly. They can see the difference it’s made to them, and to their lives.” (VOA)

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Savitribai Phule: The Pioneer Of The Women Education In India

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life

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Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
  • Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India
  • Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra
  • Savitribai Phule started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848

Savitribai Phule is India’s first Modern feminist and a well-known social reformer who along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women’s rights in India during the British Rule. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.

Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra, British India. She was married to 12-year-old Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine. Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.

Battling for women education

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social issues like women’s liberation, removal of untouchability and widow remarriages. Due to her efforts for women empowerment in the society, Savitribai Phule used to be followed by orthodox men and was abused by them in obscene language. People would target her with rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes, stones but she ignored all that, just to reach her school. After suffering so much, she once decided to give up but her husband, Jyotiba Phule came in full support for her. Jyotiba Phule encouraged his wife to continue with her cause.

Also Read: 15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

But still, both husband and wife faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society. Savitribai Phule got herself admitted to a training school and came out with flying colours with another Muslim lady, Fatima Sheikh. After that, she started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848. Although, the response Savitribai Phule got was not that much uplifting but she was determined by what she was doing.

In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons

With the passage of time, people started to accept them and hence both husband and wife were able to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. Taking a note of Savitribai Phule’s hard work, British government honoured her for her educational work. Jyotiba and Savitribai were also opposed to idol worship. For their work, both husband and wife were socially isolated and were attacked by the people whom they questioned.

The next big step that she took was to take a stand for widows. In those days, if a man used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left, widows. The windows were treated like an unwanted piece of dump in the society. Widow’s head was shaved and they were not allowed to use any cosmetics that may make them look beautiful. Such a condition of widows moved Savitribai Phule and her husband. Thus, they went on for a protest to stop barbers from shaving the heads of widows.

Also Read: 10 Facts You Need To Know About Homi Bhabha

Here are some of the facts related to the life of Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule during there struggling for various social causes.

  1. In 1897, Savitribai Phule with the full support of her son, Yashwantrao Gupta, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nallasopara. As per records, she used to feed two thousand children every day during the time of the epidemic.
  2. Two books of her poems were published posthumously, Kavya Phule (1934) and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1982). Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated. Being a poet and a philosopher and wrote on the importance of education and knowledge and removal of caste discrimination.
  3. In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University to her honour deeds.
  4. Savitribai Phule died on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.
  5. Google India Celebrate her Birthday January 3, 2017, with Doodle.
  6. Savitribai Phule was herself a victim of child marriage as she was married to Jyotirao Phule when she was only 12 years old.
  7. Savitribai Phule opened ‘Infanticide prohibition house’ care centre for pregnant rape victims and helped them to deliver their babies. She put up boards on streets about the “Delivery Home” for women, who were forced for their pregnancy. The delivery home was called “Balhatya  Pratibandhak Griha”.
  8. Savitribai Phule worked towards abolishing the caste-based and gender-based discrimination in the Indian society.
  9. In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes.
  10. After her marriage, Savitribai Phule enrolled herself in a training centre at Ms Farar’s Institution at Ahmednagar and in Ms Mitchell’s school in Pune.

Also Read: 10 Must-Know Facts About Subhas Chandra Bose

In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons

Savitribai Phule fought against all forms of social inequalities for any section of the society. They even moved by the plight of untouchables in the society. As untouchables were not allowed to take out water from the wells, meant for the upper caste. So, Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule started their own reservoir of water for the untouchables in the vicinity of their house.