One of the poorest districts in Chhattisgarh, Surguja, has made it to the textbook of Chhattisgarh Education Board as a success story of women empowerment.
Between 2010 to 2012, more than 400 children died due to malnutrition. As reported by a national daily, last month, the administration identified over 400 children in the district who were in need of “assistance”.
But now the district has a different story to tell. The problem of malnutrition has been successfully checked in a tactful manner by the district by empowering the women.
As per the report, the women of the Oraon tribe, one of the poorest in Chhattisgarh, now run pig farms and brick kilns, work as masons, contractors and suppliers in various departments, run the Collectorate canteen and supervise its parking area, and also drive auto-rickshaws.
The women were encouraged to form a self help group (SHG) with government aid. They are given proper training as per their skills and preferences. Later, with the help of a loan, they begin their ventures, with the assurance that their products would be bought by government departments.
The District Collector, Ritu Sain, initiated a 15 month drive to ensure that every woman between the ages of 18 and 60 in the district and coming from a poor family would be a part of any of the various self help groups.
“A scheme targeting malnourishment based merely on supply of food or rations would work only for a limited period. Economic empowerment of women is the best way to tackle malnutrition,” says Sain, as reported by The Indian Express.
Another program initiated by the Collector involves charting the health parameters of women of the district.
Reportedly more than 50,000 women have undergone a detailed check-up, revealing 315 cases of suspected breast cancer, 9,166 of suspected cervical cancer, 3,027 cases of cataract and 2,522 of anemia.
Surguja now has around 12,000 SHGs, employing at least 1.25 lakh women out of the district’s 3.25 lakh.
In a country like India, especially in places like the rural areas of Chhattisgarh, women empowerment doesn’t come easy. This indeed has made the district of Surguja exemplary. It is high time women start to take matters in their own hands, because the empowerment of women will definitely aid the progress of the nation.
There is a sense of excitement in India’s Patuka village — adults and children look curiously as signs with the names of daughters are hammered outside several homes. It is a novelty in a village where patriarchal mindsets have long held sway.
As Mubin Sumssu poses proudly with his family after the name of his 14-year-old daughter is posted outside his gate, he envisions a new future for her. “I hope she studies well, progresses in life, does a good job and makes a name for herself.”
This is not the life that girls can traditionally aspire to in this Muslim-dominated village, which lies in one of the country’s most backward districts in the northern Haryana state. Many girls do not complete school and their lives revolve around household chores and looking after siblings from an early age. Most are married off young.
The nameplate campaign, called “Daughter’s Pride Festival,” hopes to make a difference by persuading village families to treat girls on par with boys. The aim: Names of girls plastered outside doors will carry the winds of change inside homes that continue to be ruled firmly by men.
The head of the village council is a 23-year-old woman, Anjum Aara — laws mandating female participation in local bodies have brought women like her to prominence. More educated than most girls in the village, Aara has been emphasizing the importance of educating girls since she came to Patuka after her marriage.
She is optimistic that the latest campaign will raise consciousness about the need to empower women. “It will make people understand that the daughter is the identity of the family,” Aara said. “They will be inspired to educate girls. Those with negative thinking about this will become more positive.”
It is not an easy goal in places where women traditionally never had a voice. One village woman approached by a reporter for her reaction to the campaign refused to speak without her husband’s permission. The girls whose names have appeared outside homes are shy and appear to have limited understanding about its significance.
Nonetheless, the man spearheading the campaign, Sunil Jaglan, is optimistic that such steps will slowly usher in social transformation. The nameplate campaign is part of a model he followed in his village, Bibipur, when he was its head. It has now been adopted by the government in scores of villages.
Jaglan says it is not easy to persuade men to put their daughters’ names outside homes in villages with deeply entrenched customs.
He points out that virtually no women get a share of parental property despite laws granting them equal rights. Terming the campaign a “mind-strike,” Jaglan says that “this is a symbol to make people understand that putting the man’s name is not enough. The woman also lives there. She also has an equal stake in the home, in the property, in the village.”
The initiative cuts across religious communities in a country where patriarchal mindsets prevail among both the majority Hindu community and minority Muslims.
About 20 kilometers down a road that cuts through fields blooming with the golden mustard crop, 25 out of 700 homes in another village boast of nameplates with their daughters’ names. Alipur is more prosperous, but traditional mindsets rule here as well — women automatically cover their heads when they see men.
Skewed gender ratio
In this Hindu-dominated village, the campaign is addressing another challenge: a skewed gender ratio. In Alipur, as in thousands of other villages, the number of girls dwindled in recent decades due to illegal sex-selective abortions. The practice, known as female foeticide, has flourished in a society that traditionally prefers boys.
Nobody knows that better than Mahesh Jangra, whose home flashes the name of his 10-year-old daughter, Dipti. Growing up in Alipur, he saw many more boys than girls in his village. But he says the imbalance has brought an awakening.
“Now people realize that who will the boys marry if there are no girls?” Jangra said. “First everyone gave priority to sons, now we want to treat sons and daughters equally and put the daughter’s name ahead.”
That is why he willingly put his daughter’s name outside his door, instead of that of his 15-year-old son.
So far it is the more affluent families like that of Jangra that have opted to post their daughters’ names. But as they are usually the trendsetters in the village, the hope is that others will follow suit.
Komal, a 19-year-old college student, is one of the few girls who has received a good education. She says her family did not need any persuasion to put her name outside. Komal feels the nameplate will send a message.
“When a passerby sees this, it will encourage them to do the same and take their thinking a step ahead,” she said.
As such campaigns make a mark, the state’s gender ratio has improved from 834 girls for 1,000 boys, according to the 2011 census, to 914 last year.