Re-thinking Women Economic Empowerment

While there could possibly be no two opinions about the progress that has been made in the filed of socio-political empowerment of Uttarakhand women, more particularly rural women, the same can not be said about their economic empowerment. Commencig from the lead given by our border-women of Raini village in Chamoli, where they gained a recognition which is un-parallel in the annals of Indian history, the process received a fillip via stray incidents of Mahila Mangal Dals, one of the oldest women-groups organized with the help of NES/Block development activities suo moto agitating against increasing alcoholism in the mountain regions. Later, Union Government's salutary initiative in the shape of Mahila Samkhya albeit limited in its reach withing states and even within districts of states, sustined their social-mobilization, with added emphasis on taking frontally the issues like atrocties against women and making them aware of their rights. In Uttarakhand, their invlvement in carving out of Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh, arguably when several cvacant posts in the eight hill districts were feared to be filled-up by the OBC quota, subsequent to Mandal Commission recommendations, aded a new found rationale, and that momentum was suitably awarded politically, so to say and very ustifiably so, when Chief Minister Khanduri unileterally reserved 50% of all posts & subsequent to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment. 

Socio-political Empowerment

Chief Minister Gen Khanduri's 50% reservation of all PRI posts certainly has mobilized a women-ground swell which logically should have resulted in an out-cry over the present economic marginalization of women, especailly in rural areas, now that Uttarakhand women have had nearly two rounds of 50% reservation in all PRI posts. It is rather surprizing that this socio-political mobilization of women, if we leave out the 30% horizontal reservation of women in all public vacancies and posts, has not manifested itself in any major development project that has as its main objective the economic-development of Uttarakhand women. True, a Gender -Budget exists, but its examination would reveal that it is just a aggregation of all women-centric development budget flows, quite like what was tried earlier in the case of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the Special Component Plans and the Tribal Sub Plans. In qualitative terms, one does not see the same kind of corresponding progress in their economic-empowerment. Why is it so  and what can be done about it ?

Constitution of Uttarakhand Women Commission, whatever this writer knows of it, has by and large met the fate as this intrument has experienced in almost all States, or should one say even at the Centre ? As Chief Information Commissioner tthis writer once tried to assist the State Commission for Women, but its fundamental architectural weaknesses came in the way. So, even this opportunity has not been able to address the objective of economic-empowerment of Uttarakhand women. 

Gestation-period  or Mainstreaming ?

During his Naini Tal Academy Director's tenure this writer had been able to underkae capacity-building programmes of all elected women PRI office-beareres. He remebers that he was invited by some of trained women -representative to attend their BDCs and see them how they handled their BDC meetins ! He did attend at least three such meetings, and in one he witnessed aWomen DDC Chairperson order throwing out of a dead-drunk member of the BDC, when she found that he was drunk and unable to spek coherently. One of them later participated in Assembly elections, and won her seat, even while her candidature was not sponsored by her political party.The other won her BDC chairperson' seat in succession. The question still begs itself, why this political empowerment has not so far resulted in at least a single women-centric scheme which is out and out benefitting women, especially the one who have no male-support for the family ? Is still gestation-period, as it is said, or their are certain faul-lines that are not perceived properly by our planners ? Soon after the state was created one of the women MLAs asked a question – Is the Government aware of women-drugery, and if yes, what has it done to address it. Raising of such a question certainly indicated that the day of women's economic empowerment is also not far of. The Naini Tal Academy continues its work of  capacity building of women representative of PRIs through its Gender Cell.

Trajectory of Economic Empowerment

Those who follow the post Independence developmen history of our country would recall that the constitution of Mahila Mangal Dals ( MMDs ) and Yuvak Mangal Dals were the earliest organized attempts on the part of the state and it surprizingly continues after say nearly five decades of its creation. How effective these MMDs are, that is another issue. When the state commenced its poverty alleviation programmes the individual benefit centric, loan cum subsidy interventions, held the day for nearly 15 years, in due course DWCRA appearing, as a poor cousin of various other schemes meant for women-empowerment.

By the time this state came into existence, in November, 2000, the individual poor centric poverty alleviation approach ( IRDP/DWACRA ) was abandoned, as a mixed-failure failure, and the new emphasis shifted to what Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu had shown as an ideal way of poverty allevaition, via formation of the Self Help Groups ( SHGs ) of all kinds of identified poor, even non-poors in some case and their capacity building. Later, a mix of predominantlt Below Poverty Line ( BPL ) beneficiary with a few APL, cam as a pragmatic realization-as the real were too poor to organize abd take care of themselves ! This made two streams of women-development work through our development blocks, the MMDs going their old way and the economic -empowerment being attempted in  post IRDP now SHG and Fedrations of SHG way.Without going into the later changes in the effort, which experiment with at least 33% women-particiaption etec, revolving fund, bank-lingae etc, but the story remained, by and large, as in the past. 

A large Newt-work of SARAS Marketing Kendras

However, what the policy planners of pre 2005 phase in the state could manage were quite a few futuristic schemes that could have been considered very foresight-ful to day, had the subsequent policy makers could match that expectation based on which ths huge SARAS Marketing infrastructure, 42 at Block level, 13 at each Disatrict level, and one State Apex, now called TERA GAON, near the IT Park on Shashtradhar Road. These were secured as a 80: 20 CSS patter from the Ministry of Rural Employment and Development, Governemnt of India.

Also secured were a very innovative, again 80:20 pattern Uttarakhand Rural Poultry Project, first at RIRD Complex at Rudrapur, which after some land-encroaher cum private housing -builders mafia obstructed, shifted at the initiative of Chief Minister Tewari assisated by Vice Chancellor, Dr Gautam, both development-thinkers. It was helped by the famour Rural -poultry revolutionaery Mr Kapoor, of the Kegg farm reputation. Kegg-farm approach of poverty alleviation through indegenous red-fowl became such a success that it have given the dominant, European egg-production project. Uttarakhand Rural Poutry development project's benefirs were mainstreamed , on a very large scla ein the Ajeevika Phase I and the World Bank assisted watershed project. Later the state's poultry development department also took up rural poultry development programme through various streams. This was oe scheme which on a very large scale beneditted rural below poverty families and continues, till this day.The vast SARAS Marketing ntwork still awaist activisatin of the rural development departments's SHG-Federation activisation leading to sustainable use of these SARAS Marketing outlets. All departments which are supposed to work for economic empowerment of women ought to converge their markting outlets through these SARAS Marjketing outlets. 

Women and Tea Cultivation

Tea cultivation revival in the hilly districts of then then Uttarakhand in 1993. On the heels of Commerve Minister ND Tewarii initiative in this direction, as Tea falls under the Commerce Ministery at the Centre, this writer as the then Hill Development  Secreatry, involved KMVN and GMVN, in a big and innovative way. Starting with Ghorakhal Sainil School, Vijaypur and Dharamghar the tea cultication, following the lead given at several hilly tracts like Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, Ooty in Tamil Nadu and Pennar in Keral, took shape and as a concergence schemes of the then Jawahar Rojgar Yojna ( JRY) and other schmes of UP, it culminated in a Tea processing Unit, from an Assam Tea Company installed at Kausani. In the process the so called "small and fragmented hill holdings" syndrom was broken through when this tea-cluster came up in several sights, all over Uttarakhand. With tthe dawn of Uttarakhand in 2000 the Tae cultivation saw furheraccceleration and by 2005 as much as 300 heactares of so-called "small and fragmented hilly fields" had been covered under excellent tea plantations. The innovative scheme ensured a secured land develped by the owner himself. Main beneficaires, it goes without saying, were ethe women-folk.

Simli Model of Women-Tea Nursery

While searching for the oft-touted problem of "small and fragmented hill holdings" as this writer scoured districts after districts during 1990s, meetig scores of people reputed to have sizeable chunks of lands, lying fallow. During one such interview with a retired Subedar of Army he was asked, " Where do you think my daughter-in-law will get grass and fodder for the cattle, if this land is to be covered by tea-cultivation, if his peice of land was found suitable ?" His daughter-in-law, who was harvest almost dried and brown grass infomed that she hasd to spend hours on end , collecting hust a fe kiligrams of this dired up grass. Green and adequate quality of fodder provided the key ad the Subedar;s query offered a solution. When the tea cultivation programme eneterd Farhwal via Pandu-khal-Kalimati-Gairsai ADi Badri route and further north, Garur-Gwaldum-Deawl-Karnprayag route, the meeting point Simli, in Chamoli was suggested as the best place for a centralised nursery.Simli Nursery raised tea saplings both for the first plantation at Nauti, the origin place of the celebrated duo-decennial Raj Jat. The Simli Nursey engaged exclusively rural women of neighbourhood, and a sizeable part of this Central Nursery was also earmarked for raising the fastest growing and luscous Napier grass.

During the best part of the day a large number of rural women worked at the Tae Nursery, paid thie wages via post-office accounts, and at the end of the day, could cut as much Green Napir Garss, as they needed, according to their own internal distribution, as bonus, free of cost. Whenevent this writer passed through Simli, on either route he made it a spppoint to evaluate how this Women Tea Nursery experiment was doing. Inside a year one could sta major change in th health and confidence of these women, as they had adequate ban balance in their post office account, and many admitted their own status within their own household has improved considerably. Napier fodder and the payment through post-office and exclusive meengagement of local woemn, made all the difference.

Simli Tea Nursery Model became a Template for Tea development through Women economic empowerment, and was replicated every where, commencing with a bigger Nurseri, when Tea cultivation in Champawat district was extended. Uttarakhand Tea cultivation proved several things, e.g. Woemn-economic empowerment did not need an out and out development programme conceived for women only, and its could be plugged in all possible development schemes, and its size culd be easily developed. It also proved that not only tea cultivation in Uttarakhand hillls was possible but it could be improved further. Smaller tea processing plants and a very large number of land, about 12,000 heactares was also enlisted as suitable for Tea cultivation, where farmers had given their willing ness, after the soil quality had been tested at the Bhowali Soild Testing Laborarory, of the Tea Development Project. GM mehra and Technical expert Dr Tamanag played a stellera role in reviving tea cultication in Utarakhand in post 1992 phase of its development. Today, about 600 hectares of tea coverage, all on rainfed small and fragmented land holdings prove that so much is possible, without wasting time of feasibility studies. This writer was happy to learn that Agriculture Minister Hraka Singh Rawat has resolved to expand its coverage to 1200 heactares, which is quite feasible. Organic Tea lessons have also been mainstreamed and it has a potential of nbecoming a major programmeof economic empowerment of rural women in the state.

Mahila Dairy and Mini Dairy Programmes

During this writer's Dairy development days a STEP project called Mahila Dairy project was commenced, soon to be followed by Saghan Mini Dairy project. The first was commenced in five districts of UP and the Mini Daity project in about 12 in the first phase. Both the projects were women- centric, all members of the dairy co-operatives being women. This roaringly successful project was continued in as many as seven phases, every time assisated by the Central Women & Child Development Ministry. Evaluation showed that the impact of these two interventions on the families benefitted was more than just economic. It had a multiple-impact outcome, improving almost all human development indices ( HDIs ), not least being the improvement in the status of the lady in the hosehold, as the payment was to be made to her. 

Use of RTI, Cluster Handloom Scheme and Women

" How could I find out whether the additional age benfit of 5 years for STs is included in the upper age limit given in a Notification issued for Maila Sangathak under the PRD department ?, " asked Champa Pangtey, a post graduate ST lady who thought she has crossed the upper age limit of the Notification. Champa wished to know ehether an application under RTI would do, as people in these parts have started relying more on RTI route than any other source. It though the trigger of Champa that this writer got to know the mess that is presently on show, in Munsyari block at least, by our Industries department, in the name of a handloom Scheme for women. Yet another woemen-economic empowerent scheme. meeting the same callous treatment at the hands of yet another department, one wondered ?

Cluster Schemes is a Scheme being implemented by the state industries department directly in Munsyari and Dharchula blocks, where as many as 480 women have been grouped into 32 women-weavers groups, women-weavers are registered and CLUSTERED, as a registered society. Johar Ghati Mahila Handloom Sawayattshahi Sangh is one such Cluster, where more than 30 women-weavers' groups are federated in a Cluster. The chairperson, as was told by her, is a lady who is herself not a weaver, lives some 20 kms away, quite unwilling to come to various meetings called for various activities, as she rightly feels cheated when not allowed any allowance to travel ! Result being, no meetings take place, as no provision for such periodical meetings exists.The governig board members, all elected receive no guidance of any help. All that has been done is that they have been given some yarn, sone 3 quintals in tptal, and this Sangh is now expected to make do with it, all by themselves.i.e. meet their running expenses through rotation of this yarn, attend various Exhibitions about whih they get told, starting October ever year. A Common Hall has beeen consructed near Pandey Lodge, a anumber of looms have been kept there, although no group of women weavers or any women-women come to this Common Hall and make use of the so calle Common Facility Hall.

In their name , however, some male weaver from Kashipur does the weaving and this is supposed to be being done by the Cluster women !. When the time comes for exhibitions, whatever gets woven by this Weaver, a male professional weaver, and all ths stuff that the registered women weave privately at their respective homes, somehow gets sent to these exhibitions, that one sees in the Dehardun Parade Ground, and some, with great effort, gets exhibited at Dilli Hat !.

Left Hand and Right Hand of Government

Obviously the so called Cluster Handloom Scheme of the Handllom division of the Industries department, a Government of India DC Handloom 's ambitious project for weaver class women, so very important for almost all border regions , particularly tribal and wool-rich regions like Munsyari and Dharchula.

" Why the women-weavers, whether assisted by ths Cluster Cheme of even privately do not use the SARAS Marketing Centre, so conveneinetly located and in existence since 2005, " asks this writer, who lives only a few meters away from this SARAS Centre. " Oh, a Show Room under the Cluster Schems has been sanctioned by the Industries department, under the Cluster Schemes, and it is about to be constructed, that will be used for marketing the woolen products of all the groups and the Cluster of ths scheme, as soon as the Show Room comes up.," replies Champa. Its interesting that whie there exists a SARAS Marketing Centre for all local weavers, which has been used by almost all woemn-weaver, either under SHG, or privately or through any programme, which has also become popular as a major destination for all tourists who visit Munsyari, for quite some year, is not used under the Clsuter Schem, instead a new Show Room has been proposed, and sanctioned to be constructed under the Cluster Scheme, which is not at all supervisied by any official , who stays in Munsyari !

Pravin Panchapal, who looks after the Industry combing plant, based in Dharchula, comes occasionall to look after the similar unit in Munsyari, and is asupposed to be looking after the Cluster Scheme. The Assistant Director, on Fateh Bahadur, base in HKashipur, who has been given extension for two more years, looks after from remote Kashipur, the Cluster Schemes, in Munsyari and Dharchula. A Show Room without about 15 lakhs of tax payers money is going to be spent in Munsyari while there exists a SARAS Marketing Centre, for more than 10 years at least, if not more. Not that the management of this Saras Marketing Centre is being looked after any better, as the CDO and the BDO could not care less as to why the building has not been repaired ever since it was constructed, or what happend to the Federation which was supposed to manage it, or as to why two rooms of its first floor, alleged to have been used by a NGO named GENIUS, have remained closed, for so many years now ? Just no one seems to be bothered or worried about this open mis-management of almost all , repeat all, schems which were conceived to benefit women, where tax payers money is being spent left and right, leaving all the citizens and the targetted beneciaries totally flummoxed.

Here is a classic case of the Left Hand not knowing what the Right Hand is doing !.That is the story of almost all departments, without a single exception. It has been a story of utter and callous neglect on the part of the related depatments, realted organisations, across all political regimes. Illustrations have been given, in brief, where for women economic empowerment you need more attention, care a little attenton to details of eavery scheme by which every development scheme can be made to become a scheme for economic development of women, particularly, rural and women of marginalized groups.

In Totality and Renewed Emphasis

Right from Mahila Mangal Dals, IRDP/DWARCA, Self Help Groups-Federations and some exclusively women targeted economic interventions like STEP assisted Mahila Dairy, Mini Dairy, and CSS like Saras Marketing Centres and now Handloom Clusters Schemes there have been programmes developed to achieve their economic development. All these with Financial Inclusion thrust and their fructification via innovative schemes like Tea Cultivation, both the Simli model and Tea cultivation for mountain regon, could have matched the efforts that have been made, very admirably so, via their 50% reservation in all PRI posts, yet this realization seems have remained unrealized. Most of these schemes, it would be observed would have mainly rejuvenated the remore and rural mountain regions, and resurrected the primary sector. Ironicalli, although all these schemes have been implemented during the past 15-20 years, none of these find mention as possible trigger to activate the mountain regions development. Of late, with reported emphasis on Tea cultivation, promotion of Organic Farming there seems some attention to these neglected priorities. Till the half of the mountain population does not actively participate in the revival of the primary sector any hope of development of mountain regions is a mirage.  

With the re-structuring of the Centrally Sector Schems and huge flexilbilty being allowed to the states, under the new NITI Aayog dispensation, it is high tie that those departments who are primarily conected with women development, economic development in particular, make fulllest use of the new dispensation and improve and upgarde efforts, both by way of increased flow of funds and removal of managemenet problems and take it to its logical end.

Tail-piece:

"Congratulations Daju ( elder brother )", this Mahila Dairy Scheme is just great," said a caller from Srinagar. On being asked the reasons of his excitment the caller revealed that he was just coming from a Mahila Dairy programe, where on receiving a few rupees by way of first payment, this rather old women-dairy member, breaking out in tears of happiness had disclosed to the gathering around her-" It is for the first time in my 60 years of age that I have touched a currency note ! When I was a child my father handled money, when I became a wife my husband handled the money matters, later my son took over, and I never knew how a rupee note feels like. I have always remaned a receiver, a supplicant. Today, ift is for the first time I know what money feels like. Even thought I will be spending every rupee that I have received today, giving it to one of the other, I now know what it feels to be e GIVER, and not a RECEIVER ! " 

After long sixty years, this old lady realized that power is synonymous with GIVING, or the power and capacity to give. Social and political empowerment is fine, and it has come to Uttarakhand in plenty, What is needed now is to cap it with Economic Empowerment, which is the main empowerment. Ask and watch any self employed or salary-class woman, how she feels and how she is treated, even by her own family members.

 

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R S Tolia

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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