Archive for the ‘News & Issues’ Category


Didi aapki skin bahaut dull ho gayi hai. Aap paani zyada piya karo.” (sister, your skin is looking very dull, you should drink more water. I wouldn’t have imagined that an ordinary interaction with a midwife would take the turn that it did.

Mujhe toh bahaut pyaas lagi hai, lekin main paani nahi peeti. Poora din idhar se udhar massage ke liye jaati hoon. Bathroom aa gaya toh kahan jaoongi?” (I get thirsty a lot but I don’t drink much water. All day long I visit different homes for my massage appointments. Where will I go to relieve myself if need be?)

On further enquiry, I found out that even though she visits over 8 houses a day, nobody lets her use their washroom. She reminisces about the day she had to urgently use the washroom and the woman she was massaging told her to go to the back alley of her house.

This happened in capital city of India, a booming economy. One can only imagine the bleak conditions in small towns and cities.

In first part of a 2-part write-up,  I am going to talk about the civic amenities (or lack thereof) provided to the citizens of the country. Stay tuned for my next part on class/caste discrimination with focus on women.

According to the reports of 10 out of 12 zones by Municipal Corporation of Delhi, there are 3,712 public toilets for men and only 269 for women. And yet we spot more men defiling the nooks and crannies and even roadsides in the city than women (who travel long routes to find isolated areas to answer nature’s call).

Who can blame these men? Even the existing public toilets in the country are poorly located and in such bad state that one must be extremely shy of public nudity to think of using one. The health of a civic society is strongly dependent on its sanitary condition which is directly linked to public toilets. Over 15 million urban households in the country do not have toilets.

Devinder Sehrawat of Delhi Gramin Samaj states, “while the Corporations may rattle out any number of figures, they do not reflect the reality of rural areas on the ground. Out of the total 1,483 sq.km area of Delhi, over 500 sq.km with a population of over 30 lakh and covering 360 villages is thus bereft of such facilities.” In South Delhi Municipal Corporation, there are about 500 toilets but most of them are concentrated in commercial areas. Entire rural belt of Delhi stretching from Badarpur border in South-East to Narela in the north does not have even a single public toilet.

Sanitation facilities for women in other states are equally bad; Sanitation is a matter of health and dignity for women. Existence of public and personal toilets affect women’s ability to work, their mobility and their safety. Even Mahatma Gandhi said that sanitation is more important than independence.

Inadequate sanitation facilities render women in both urban and rural areas vulnerable to sexual violence who then have to squat in open areas, inviting sexual assault, harassment and murders. Lack of toilets as well as low maintenance of those existing create health hazards for women. In many instances, it also leads to larger number of girl drop-out rate in schools.

  • Lack of access to toilets causes girls aged 12 to 18 to miss around five days of school per month, or around 50 school days per year, according to the 2011 Annual Status of Education Report released by minister of human resource development.
  • A national survey conducted by AC Nielsen and NGO Plan India in 2012 found that 23% girls drop out of school after reaching puberty.
  • In Bihar, 872 cases of rape were reported till November 2012. “Roughly 40% to 45% of the incidents took place with the women when they went out of their homes to defecate in the open,” states Arwind Pandey, Bihar police’s IG for weaker sections.
  • An RTI filed in July 2012 revealed that the BMC has not set up a single separate toilet for women in Mumbai, while  there are 2,849 toilets for men.
  • A 2012 study on drinking water and sanitation by the WHO and UNICEF reveals that 626 million people in India do not have a closed toilet. It’s the world’s highest number, far ahead of Indonesia, which ranks second at just 63 million.

For a clearer picture, refer to this table from Baseline Survey 2012: All India Abstract Report:

BSL-Survey-All-India-Report

However, lately there is an increased awareness for need for better water, health and sanitation facilities in the country. Many initiatives, programmes and policies have been launched to ensure more urban and rural households install personal toilets for benefit of both men and women.

A PIL was filed by advocate Ashok Aggarwal highlighting the shortage of toilets for women in Delhi. The High Court has sought the presence of  member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board on August 6 and has even asked NDMC and Delhi Cantonment Board to file status report. [http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-16/delhi/39309334_1_public-toilets-status-report-division-bench]

Four years ago, the Haryana government started its ‘No Toilet, No Bride’ campaign, painting walls across the state with the slogan: “I won’t allow my daughter to marry into a home without toilets.” In just one year (2011), 330 gram panchayats have been turned into ‘nirmal gram’ or clean villages. [http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/a-slogan-boosts-sanitation-in-haryana/article3364896.ece]

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation has earmarked Rs 3 crore for setting up new public toilets to make Pune ‘open-defecation free’. [http://www.indianexpress.com/news/pcmc-to-upgrade-public-toilet-facility/1082365/]

35 NGOs in Mumbai launched The “Right to Pee” campaign in 2012 to collect as many signatures as possible to demand better public bathroom facilities for women and then present their case to the city’s civic authority, 50 percent of which is made up of women. Supriya from CORO, an organization under Right to Pee says, “we have surveyed 129 toilet blocks , did signature campaigns on 16 railway stations , organized workshops , met experts to understand the issue in depth, and submitted 50,000 signatures and analytic survey report to BMC.” She also reiterates about their experience in dealing with the authorities at BMC who claim that they have to charge women for using public toilets since they are not sure if women actually use the toilets for ‘urination or something else’.  Their campaign is actively working to improve situation of women.  [http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/right-to-pee-campaign-launches-women-restrooms-india]

One remarkable success story in recent times is that of a strong-willed woman in Odisha whose efforts resulted in 98% toilet coverage in a small village of Sagada in Puri. [http://www.indiasanitationportal.org/16817]

It must be a priority of the government and civic authorities to provide for better sanitary conditions to the people. Public toilets are as important as road, transport and communication infrastructure for growth and development of a State.

We could learn a lot from linfen, a Chinese city which only till a few years back was stated as one of the worst places in the world to live in. The local government began a ‘Toilet Revolution’ back in 2008 and built 200 public toilets in and around the city, increasing living condition, health and sanitation of its people. So much so that Linfen was awarded with UN-Habitat’s International Best Practice Award for the Asia and Pacific region.

Adequate sanitation is vital for social development as it boosts good health resulting in lower drop-out rates in girls studying in schools. Therefore it is a good investment as for ‘every 10% increase in female literacy, a country’s economy can grow by 0.3 percent. Educated girls are more likely to raise healthy, well-nourished, educated children, to protect themselves from exploitation and AIDS and to develop skills to contribute to their societies.’ – UNICEF

More toilets, coupled with better policing can control incidents of crime against women, specially in rural areas. We should start urging civic authorities in our areas to construct more easily accessible public toilets for both men and women for a cleaner, healthier and happier environment.


Navratri, a combination of 2 words, ‘Nav’ meaning 9 and ‘Ratri’ night is a 9-day Indian festival wherein 9 avatars (incarnations) of Goddess Durga are worshipped.

Durga is a Hindu Goddess of power/energy/force. She is divine warrior and has the combined energies of all gods. Goddess Durga was created to annihilate a powerful demon called Mahishasur who was awarded with the power that made him invulnerable to defeat from any male.

The festival of Navratri is celebrated with vigor all over India, mainly in North and West regions as well as in some Eastern states. For the first 3 days, avatars of Goddess Durga are worshipped, followed by worship of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and finally worship of Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of wisdom).

On the 8th day of Navratri, a kanya pujan (girl-child worship) takes place wherein pre-pubescent girls are worshipped by washing their feet and traditionally, offering rice grains and new clothes. These girls are worshipped according to the philosophy of ‘Mahamaya’ i.e. the Ultimate Goddess, Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of power). Another reason for worshipping young girls is because they are said to be the purest and most innocent. Feminine gender is at the core of universal creation which is what these girls represent.

In most families, this Kanya pujan is observed on Ram Navmi i.e. the 9th and final day of Navratri. This tradition is still prevalent throughout the Navratri-celebrating population and hordes of girls are ‘worshipped’ by each family in order to complete the Navratri pooja.

Let us now take a look at this celebration of womanhood throughout the country over the last 9 days i.e. from 11th to 19th April, 2013.

 

11th April, 2013 (West Bengal) – http://www.tibetsun.com/news/2013/04/11/monks-among-those-arrested-for-gang-rape-in-kalimpong

12th April, 2013 (Punjab) – http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1821724/report-man-rapes-ninety-year-old-woman-in-punjab

13th April, 2013 (Karnataka) – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/teenager-held-on-charge-of-raping-4yearold-girl/article4631013.ece

14th April, 2013 (Bihar) – http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-14/patna/38528481_1_complaint-class-vii-student-ssp

15th April, 2013 (New Delhi) – http://www.ibtimes.co.in/articles/457069/20130415/11-year-old-raped-inside-bus-delhi.htm?cid=5

16th April, 2013 (Maharashtra) – http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/maharashtra/Woman-beaten-up-foetus-dies/Article1-1045222.aspx

17th April, 2013 (Goa) – http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1823530/report-school-going-girl-gang-raped-in-goa-five-youths-held

18th April, 2013 (New Delhi) [Kanya Pujan]- http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/woman-allegedly-gang-raped-in-delhi-thrown-semi-naked-onto-road-355746

19th April, 2013 (New Delhi) [Kanya Pujan]- http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Candle-bottle-forced-into-minor-rape-victim-Doctors/Article1-1046989.aspx

9 days of Devi poojan or 9 days of devil worship.


Paloma Sharma is a  student, social activist and active blogger at Going Bananas. At a tender age of 18, she is more aware about social issues than most people. Following is an article on bride trafficking in India, a little known, less talked about topic.

 

According to the nation-wide census held in 2011, there are 940 females for every 1000 males in India. While the figures at a national level are disturbing, the State of Rajasthan accounts for an even lower sex ratio of 926 females for every 1000 males. The difference between 926 and 1000 seems small at first. However, Rajasthan has a population of 68,621,012 out of which 35,620,086 persons are male and 33,000,926 are female. With the natural human sex ratio being approximately 1:1, it is found that 2,619,160 females are ‘missing’ from the population of Rajasthan.

In 2012 Rajasthan had 308 cases filed under the Pre-Conception, Pre-Natal and Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act 1994 against sex-selection abortion, which was the highest in the country. However, according to unofficial estimates, 2,500 baby girls fall prey to female foeticide or infanticide every single day in Rajasthan. Though the grand old patriarchs of clans practicing femicide continue to pride themselves over producing only sons, their systematic, mass-scale  and merciless murders of their daughters are not only gross violations of a human being’s basic human right to life but they also present a predicament to the position of their precious sons in society. In a culture where marriage is seen as a universal and inevitable eventuality, the genocide of females leaves a significant number of men without partners; and so, the buying and selling of women as ‘brides’ prospers.

Bride trafficking is forced sale, purchase and resale of girls and women in the name of marriage. Girls and women are kidnapped or lured into bride trafficking and sold, raped and/or married off without their consent only to end up as a slaves and bonded labourers at the mercy of the men and their families, who have ‘bought’ them.

Bride trafficking is also commonly called bride buying – a strange term because despite their sale, these ‘brides’ are no commodities. They are real, living females who are victims of trafficking. They are just as human as any of us. How can anyone truly buy another living being?

According to Global Voices approximately 90% of the 200,000 humans trafficked in India every year are victims of inter-state trafficking and are sold within the country. The states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan are major destinations of trafficked ‘brides’. It is hardly surprising that these states also account for the most skewed sex ratios in the country. Although the buying and selling of brides was a well documented historic practice in undivided India, lives of today’s trafficked girls and women are cloaked in secrecy because neither do they have a voice, nor do they have the social-mobility or resources to acquire one and raise it.

According to a 6 year long analysis conducted by Empower People, 23% of girls from West Bengal are trafficked. Bihar is next at 17% followed by Assam (13%), Andhra Pradesh (11%), Orissa (8%) and Kerala (6%).

Trafficked brides are known as Paro (outsider), Molki (one who as been bought) or Jugaad (adjustment). Majority of trafficked brides belong to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes or lower economic classes. Some of them are kidnapped, some tricked and some sold into flesh trade by their own parents or other trusted family members/neighbors.

Another way of selling women has recently come to light due to the ‘Baby Falak case’. Pimps and traffickers pose as grooms, marry women with less or no dowries and then sell them off to other men. Isolated from their natal communities, in an alien land with no rights of their own, these cross-state trafficked brides are easy for their ‘grooms’ and in-laws to control and exploit.

Sold into a deeply oppressive patriarchal society where defiance of the caste and gender hierarchy is met only with bloodshed and death, these trafficked brides are seen as a ‘dishonour’ to the family because their origins, (i.e., castes) are not known. According to ‘Tied in a Knot — cross-region marriages in Haryana and Rajasthan, Implications for Gender Rights and Gender Relations,’ a study funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, trafficked brides are isolated and humiliated both publicly and privately due to their castes and duskier complexions. Children born to these mothers are not accepted in the community and are taunted by peers. In what seems like an unending cycle, boys born out of such unions are likely to buy brides just as their fathers did before them. The fate of girl children, if any, remains unknown.

Although a trafficked bride is technically married to only one man in the family, the man’s brothers or other male relatives see her as a property to be shared. The Eastern Post reports that 70% of trafficked brides are gang-raped repeatedly on a regular basis by their husbands and other male members of the family. Sexual promiscuity among boys and men goes unchecked and is almost celebrated in such social environments where using protection is not the norm. Hence, trafficked brides who are sexually abused by their husbands or other men are at a higher risk of contracting HIV, as are any children born to them.

Trafficked brides are used as agricultural and domestic slaves by day and sex slaves by night. Their sole purposes seem to be that of managing the household, working in the fields and bearing a male heir for the family. If they fail in any of these tasks and their ‘owners’ are dissatisfied with them, they are resold; if they cannot be resold, they are kicked out of the house and forced into prostitution.

According to The Eastern Post 56% of trafficked brides have been sold twice, 21% have been sold thrice and 6% of them have been sold four or more times. However, according to Global Voices, the re-selling rate on an average is as high as 4 to 10 times for every trafficked bride and 83% of girls have been sold more than twice. Also, in 89% of the cases, the trafficked bride is the second, third, fourth etc. wife of her buyer. It is clear from these statistics that purchasing women in the name of marriage is not a traditional practice of lower-class communities (although they are starting to practice it.)

Bride trafficking is more prevalent in rich, land-owning communities. As seen in the census of 2011, the top 20% of the population have the worst sex ratio. Wealthy families see baby girls (and the dowries that go with them) as a threat to their wealth. This is why girl children are either eliminated as foetuses or as infants and the absence of eligible girls is made up for by purchasing trafficked brides. It is an unending cycle that neither society nor the government seems to be interested in breaking.

On the legal front too, hope for justice seems almost non-existent for trafficked brides. The ITPA (Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act) deals especially with prostitution but does not cover all forms of trafficking. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 does not cover this form of trafficking and slavery either. More over, sexual violence faced by trafficked brides amounts to marital rape which, despite the Justice Verma Committee’s suggestions and vehement protests by various women’s rights organizations, is not a criminal act in India. Although IPC sec. 366 seems like an effective way to tackle this mass abuse and rape of women and girls, it does not have a provision for rehabilitating victims of trafficking. Despite all this, the ultimate barrier is that trafficked brides are either illiterate or only slightly educated and have little to no knowledge of their own rights.

Trafficked brides are often child brides or very young women who are sold to older men. A majority of trafficked brides are between the ages of 13-23 years. A trafficked bride can be bought for as little as Rs. 1,200. They are confined to the four walls of the houses of the men who have bought them and have almost no social interaction with anyone else, even in their own homes. Neighbours often don’t know who the bride is, where she has come from or if she even exists. The state of anonymity that these women live in is not only disturbing but a cause for great concern.

If we do not know how many women are there, how will we know how many women are missing?

In the Mewat region alone, there are 20,000 cross-border brides. But that number is an unofficial estimate, just the tip of the ice berg and the ship that India society is floating on seems to be heading straight for it.

While urban citizens in general seem to be blissfully ignorant of the trafficking and slavery of women in the name of marriage, the government chooses to turn a blind eye. It would dare not defy the Samaj Panchayats and Khap Panchayats who, while worried about the ‘purity’ of their bloodlines, see trafficked brides as a necessity because for them anything is better than having a daughter.

It is these very Panchayats who hold the fate of politicians in their hands. Every time election comes around, these Panchayats declare the name of a candidate and the entire community votes for him/her. For the government, it would be disastrous to act against bride trafficking and lose a vote bank. After all, why is it important to uphold the human rights and dignity of these nameless, faceless women? Who are they? Do they comprise a vote bank?

No, they don’t.

A vote bank seems to be the only solution to this problem. If a vote bank is what it takes for the authorities to turn a blind eye to bride trafficking and simply shrug and say that marriage is a familial issue when confronted with realities, then a vote bank should be organized. Right-minded citizens who know their rights and care about the rights of others must come together and put gender equality and women’s rights on the agenda for 2014.

Bride trafficking is not just a woman rights issue but a human rights issue. Bride trafficking is not marriage, It is a lethal combination of the darkest forms of domestic slavery, bonded labour and sexual slavery. Bride trafficking is the ultimate dehumanization of a woman; hidden under colourful veils and disgusting excuses of men’s needs, a community’s honour and a family’s necessity. It is an inhumane custom of believing that someone can put a price on another human being’s life. This custom exists because we, as a society, allow it to. But we don’t have to let this go on anymore. Unlike the women who are stripped of their humanity and sold into a sick perversion of marriage, we do have a voice.

But the question remains: are we brave enough to raise it?


 Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles. She has worked with Oltarsh & Associates for several years and has an extensive understanding of issues faced by immigrants (specifically women) today.

Women that immigrate to the United States do so looking for opportunities to live healthier, happier lives for themselves-and oftentimes for their families, too. But a transition into a new life and country isn’t always easy.

In 2011, more than half of all the people receiving a green card were women. These women immigrants in the US have suffered abuse at home and in the workplace, been victims of sex trade and have been denied health care, and the use of federal Medicaid.

Some have even been denied the right to work at all.

Through my association with an immigration lawyer in New York, I learned a lot about the struggles female immigrants face that I had never even heard of before, in particular the H-4 visa. The facts that I found out about these immigrants in interaction with the lawyer are mentioned below in the article.

What Is The H-4 Visa?

The H-4 visa is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to the immediate family (spouses and children) of non-resident immigrant workers. People holding H-4 visas are not given social security numbers and are ineligible for employment, which is usually a surprise to them.

This means they cannot legally work in the United States. No matter how educated, skilled, and deserving these women are, no company can hire them for employment.

This can leave tension in an immigrant household. With no employment, many H-4 holding women are beaten by their highly skilled spouses and because divorce is still a kind of taboo, most of these women do not speak out against their abusive partner.

H-4 visa holders are allowed to study, but most women immigrating to the U.S. have already studied in their country and would like to seek full-time employment.  Some resort to reinvesting in their education when they arrive in the United States. However, H-4 visa holders are not allowed to take any student loans, which then leaves their spouses responsible for massive personal loans.

The immigrants coming to the United States are usually skilled workers eager to work and/or start their own business. At least 25% of tech start-ups in the United States in recent years have been founded by immigrants. Unfortunately, H-4 prohibits immigrants from owning their own business, yet again leaving a family in financial turmoil.

The Effects of an H-4 Visa

In most cases, Indian women are issued an H-4 visa when they come to the United States to meet their husbands, generally as part of an arranged marriage. Some are united with husbands they met through online websites, found by their parents.

These marriages are arranged with complete strangers, and it isn’t until they arrive that they realize the H-4 visa they are holding makes them unqualified to work once they are living in the United States. They are in a new country, starting on a new family, and this leaves many women stuck “fulfilling” their duties of playing the conventional female role in the marital relationship.

This is the cause of confusion, depression and in rare cases even suicide.

In response to this problem, Indian women all over the U.S. have created tight-knit communities for themselves where they take up hobbies together like shopping, cooking and working out. These groups create a sort of safe haven for these women, harnessing the abilities of the individuals since they are unable join the U.S. workforce.

Unfortunately not all Indian women are fortunate enough to locate these groups or have one in close proximity to their geographical location. But with the new wave of technology and social media, it is becoming easier for women to unite and take action.

On Facebook there is a group called “H-4 Visa, A Curse”, with over 2,300 members and counting. They share stories, advice and political tactics, in an effort to change H-4 visas to something more useful like the L-2 visa, which gives the spouse a right to employment.

Purpose of this article is to raise awareness on the issue of immigration in the United States, specially for Indian women so they know what they are stepping into, before they decide to move to the country. An informed decision can make that much more difference to your life.


Guest post by Neha Thakkar on role of microfinancing in women empowerment and rural development based on her real life experience in Bordi, a village in Maharashtra.


“The greatest revolution in a country is the one that affects the status and living conditions of its women.”

~ Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of Indian, Page 160

Year – 2007

We arrived at Dahanu to find Malti Tai (sister in Marathi) waiting for us at the station along with a few other ladies armed with flowers to greet us. We were a group of four people welcomed by around twenty odd ladies to take us to the base camp located at Bordi – a small town situated near the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. This was our third visit to the place.
Bordi looked exactly the same as it did when we had visited for the first time. Our destination was Malti Tai’s hut. Wait, it was no longer a hut. It had proper walls, sans any paint on it. The size of her house was that of a hut, but it looked like a pakka-makaan (a well-built structure). We were really happy for her, our bit had paid off.
There are so many women like Malti Tai who may be dreaming of such a house. To them, size of the structure doesn’t matter; all they need is a shelter that stands during the monsoon and does not burn their skin in summers. But how many women see this dream coming true? Few years earlier, my answer would have been – one in a million. But now it has changed completely. Let me take you back in time when our journey actually started toward this once-upon-a-time hut.

Year – 2005

My law college arranged annual camps each year for a rural area visit. The usual destinations are places around Gujarat-Maharashtra border, situated within Maharashtra. Reason being simple – Charity begins at home. In my first year of college, I was assigned a project on women empowerment and the best means that could be provided to them to achieve that goal. Our Indian women living in rural areas are not aware about their simple and basic human rights. In fact most of us are not aware about all the basic rights available to us, as the citizens of India. Human Rights are those basic standards without which human beings cannot live in dignity. Human rights are indivisible, interdependent, inalienable, irrevocable natural rights which are held by all persons equally and universally with both men and women having equal access to these rights.

“Women have been given certain priorities under various Indian laws and provisions.”

The introductory lecture about my project matter started with this statement. Prior to this, I had heard about women empowerment and a few provisions drafted in the law books for women; but this project made me hunt in those law books about these provisions.

Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 focuses on the protection of women at the workplace. Article 11 of the  Convention states that, “State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights in particular; a] the right to work  as an inalienable right of all human beings”. India has ratified this convention in the year 1993. India formulated the concept of human rights during the year 1946. The Constitution of India directs that the International Charter should be interpreted in the same manner as an Act of the Parliament (Article 367[1] Indian Constitution). The Government declared the year 2001 as the year of women’s empowerment.

The Indian Constitution in its preamble has the goal of securing to all its citizens justice, social, economic and political and equality of status and opportunity. The preamble to the constitution sets out the aim and aspirations of the people of India which have been translated into various provisions of the Constitution. The Indian Constitution seeks to protect the interest of women through fundamental rights as well as directive principles of State policy. Our Constitution has various provisions for removing all kinds of disparities and discrimination against women. The Constitution aims at the creation of new legal norms, social philosophy and economic values which are to take effect by striking synthesis and fundamental adjustment between individual rights and social interest to achieve the desired community goals.

Thus there is a constitutional obligation upon the Constitution to see that while interpreting  any proviso of law, the goals enunciated in Part IV are kept in view (Dr. Jaiswal,  Directive Principles , Jurisprudence and Socio –Economic Justice in India, APH Publishing  Corporation ,New Delhi,1996,  Page 6).  The Central and the State Governments have enacted many women specific and women related legislations to protect the interest of women. However, the number of dowry deaths reported in 2004 was 7026, in 2005 was 6787, and in 2006 was 7618 (According to data compiled by National Crime Records Bureau,as quoted in Times Nation, March 11, 2008 Page 13). These statistics do not reveal the suffering of women as cases registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act are not included in the above data. The main reason of crimes against women is their lack of financial independence. Gender inequalities are a major factor impeding progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) seeks to promote various approaches to reduce human poverty by emphasizing equality, human rights and women’s empowerment.

After the first stage of basic research, I came to the conclusion that the problem of discrimination against women can definitely be solved by the way of empowerment. They must be aware of the rights available to them and must be able to have an independent life whereby they are not dependant on someone or do not have to take beating from their husbands which is the most common scenario in the rural areas. My further research gave me an altogether new connection between Women Empowerment and Microfinance.

Microfinance is a new and dynamic approach which has aided in global poverty eradication and empowerment of women by making them financially self-reliant. Professor Yunus, Managing Director of Grameen Bank, promoted it in 1974 in Jobra, a village in Chittagong of Bangladesh, and it has spread all over the world. It is a program that extends small loans and other financial and business services to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, thereby enabling them to take care of themselves and their families.

A group of ten students and three professors was shortlisted to visit Bordi – a small town for the purpose of our project. Our aim was to guide a group of 12 women who had agreed to start something on their own. Most of these women had more or less a similar background. Their husbands were unemployed and addicted to alcohol. The wives had no other option but to work as domestic help or in factories located in other towns at very low wages. Their children never got proper education as they could not afford to pay the fees.

When we reached Bordi, we were introduced to those twelve ladies. Now, the biggest disadvantage of having a group of uneducated village ladies is that they have very limited talents. They are too poor to even afford to learn to stitch on a sewing machine. It was a big struggle for us to look for an appropriate profession for these ladies. After giving the whole issue a lot of thought, the best option for the ladies was to start a tiffin service. There were plenty of Government schools around, where children from poor families studied. The Government had decided to provide them free food; and to supply free food, the ladies didn’t have to be educated.

Now there was a surprise waiting for us. We were supposed to teach those ladies how to cook – yes, we were supposed to teach them that. Cooking didn’t involve preparing fancy meals; it simply involved making khichdi or pulao for children as per the standards set by the Government. We were provided with the proper recipes and measurements for the ingredients; we just had to read that out to the ladies for them to remember.

We did not even realize how our weekend passed away staying with them, teaching them and even learning a tip or two from them. It was now time to return to Mumbai and prepare a small project on what we did on our visit to Bordi.

Now, there is one small hitch in case of these visits. Even though you are aware of the real purpose and motive behind these visits, there are many more stages involved to achieve the goal. At the time of our visit, more than 70% of the work was done by our professors and a few human rights activists. The very first step towards women empowerment was to convince these women and form a small group of 10-20 people.

The Government, with the help of institutions like National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) started Self Help Group (SHG) Bank linkage programme. Based on the concept of “self-help,” small groups of women have been formed into groups of ten to twenty and operate a savings-first business model whereby the member’s savings are used to fund loans. The rise of SHGs and more formal SHG Federations coupled now with SHG Bank Linkage have made this a dominant form of microfinance in addition to microfinance institutions (MFI). The significant policy announcements from the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India have supported growth of micro finance sector in India. Today, it is estimated that there are at least 2 million SHGs in India.

Year – 2006

Time flies. When you are studying in a law college you have so many topics to research on and you often tend to lose track of the previous project. Similar thing happened to me too. Not that I had forgotten about Bordi, but I did not get time to research further on the topic on which I was supposed to give a presentation the following year in front of the teaching faculty and students. My final exam eligibility depended on that project. But with many other researches under my belt already, my next visit was not due for another 7-8 months. I kept neglecting that project. But now it was here again. We got the dates for our next visit.

Such trips are bonding times with professors. They are a bit casual with you as they are outside the “classroom and college” environment. They kept visiting Bordi throughout the year due to some or the other work. They briefed us about the progress so far. We were happy to know that the loan had been arranged for and the contract was signed too. Their very first contract was a municipality school in Bordi. They provided food for primary school children for now, as they were on the probation period. At the end of the academic year, the school management will decide whether to continue to render their services. The group was now called “Shakti”.

Our agenda for this trip was to determine the success of SHG for women empowerment. SHGs have faced various hurdles in the past due to the shortcomings they have. The major points of concern that we found out in a general scenario were:

  • Regional Imbalances
  • Quality of SHGs
  • Capacity building of various partners in programme
  • Provision of micro-insurance to the SHG members

These shortcomings have been worked upon from time to time. The implementation of solutions may take time due to the vast population. But the Government has even planned for the future strategy for SHGs. The strategy is:

  • Massive capacity building efforts by other stakeholders. e.g. Banks, NGOs, Govt. Dev. Dept.
  • Banks to own the SHG’s linked with them as their client and nurture them to keep them in good health
  • Training the SHG members to maintain their books of account themselves
  • Federating the SHG’s sustainability
  • Graduation of SHG members to Entrepreneurship
  • Skill development training to improve work efficiency and develop quality product,
  • Ultimate aim is to make her an independent and self-dependent entrepreneur

“Shakti” was the very first SHG in Bordi, thus for them, the journey toward getting work was not so difficult. Our second visit there was the most memorable due to various reasons. The ladies were provided with the school kitchen to prepare the meals for children. They were quite hygienic and that’s saying something knowing the kind of environment they live in. They always maintained cleanliness, discipline, and punctuality. Needless to say, they were good at their jobs. We met with the faculty and they were very happy with the food and services “Shakti” was providing. Malti Tai, one of the ladies was the group leader who represented “Shakti” in front of the bank, the school and any other institution relevant to their work. She came to us with an unexpected query. They were paying the loan which was interest free and spending money on the food ingredients, but they didn’t know how to maintain proper books of accounts. This concern was communicated by one of our professors to the principal of that school. One of the teaching faculties agreed to help out “Shakti” in this regards.

On the second day of our visit, Malti Tai and other ladies took us to their homes. They lived in a poor condition. Malti Tai’s condition was a bit better and her hut did not have cracked walls and roof. She had only one daughter, who was studying in the same municipality school where Malti Tai’s group supplied food. But rest of the houses brought tears to our eyes. Half of them did not even have proper doors. Almost all the ladies had 3-4 children, not enough money to feed them twice a day, no good clothes. You could even see the sky through the roofs. They thanked us profusely for giving them opportunity to do something for their family. Even though I did not play any role in getting things done for them, it felt nice to see initiative coming together and dreams coming true for many. I was overwhelmed when they hugged and thanked me, considering the fact that I was one of those who played a very small part in the programme. This made me realize that no contribution is small. If we wish, we can do something, we can make a difference. If everyone thinks the same way, we will have a new India tomorrow. Our next generation will have a better and more peaceful life.

We left Bordi, this time with a heavy heart and a smile on our face. There was a sense of satisfaction in all of us, which we could not express in words. Our Journey back to Mumbai was a pleasant one.

Year – 2007

Malti Tai’s pakka makan is the result of their hard work and determination. Rest of the ladies have a decent life too. Though for them, it is difficult to reach the pakka makan stage so soon they are happy and content with their lives. They call themselves independent working women. They are proud to be the bread winners of their families. They pay off loan amount regularly now. The second contract talks are going on with another Government school which is the affiliation of the present Municipality school management.

Coming back to Mumbai from Bordi for the third time was the happiest journey for us. I was no longer running away from making a project and give presentation. Upon reaching here, first thing I did was to prepare my project. It went really well. Maybe the reason was that I gave it straight from my heart. My conclusion about the whole experience was that Microfinance Is the key. It helps a lot in women empowerment. There are many equally important aspects too, but Microfinance plays a major role here.

Role of Microfinance in Women Empowerment

Microfinance is a powerful tool to assist the stumbling economies to recover and strengthen, thereby making the lives of millions of poor people more self-respecting and dignified. Microcredit has made women more productive by providing them opportunity to be self –dependent in terms of their finance, helping them earn, making them aware of their rights and making them independent which in turn has empowered them.  Women are now included into socio-economic activities of the country, they are contributing to family income and are a part of decision-making process in the family  and they are able to exercise more control over their reproductive rights.

Microfinance helps in integrating the financial needs of poor people into a country’s mainstream financial system. It has been acknowledged that the development of a healthy national financial system is an important goal and catalyst for the broader goal of national economic development, which microfinance serves very well. Microfinance helps the poor, including women in not just obtaining loans but also inculcating in them habits of savings, investing in insurance policies and money transfer services. It helps them to raise income, be self-dependent, build up assets and have a better life and better standard of living.

A majority of microfinance programmes target women with a goal to empower them. Keeping up with the objective of financial viability, an increasing number of micro finance institutions prefer women members as they believe that they are better and more reliable borrowers. Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad or Lijjat is an organization that has acted as a catalyst in empowering poor urban women across India during the last four decades. Starting as a small group of seven women in 1959, today Lijjat has more than 40,000 members in 62 branches across 17 Indian states. Only women can become members of Lijjat.

Rural India represents a vast opportunity with its largely unmet demand for financial services. ICICI Bank seeks to tap the significant rural commercial opportunity as well as create a social impact on the rural poor. The primary function of RMAG is to provide financial solutions to the vast rural hinterland. The group is thus responsible for all of ICICI Bank’s rural, micro-banking and agri-business initiatives.

Micro Banking: - The Business focuses on establishing a healthy and profitable lending exchange through relationships with select MFIs( Microfinance institutions), and invests in building deeper and concurrent monitoring and control mechanisms to enable healthy growth of the industry. The Group is responsible for managing Commercial Banking opportunities with MFIs. The group also manages the Business Correspondent Network to enable ICICI Bank’s resolve towards financial inclusion.

Probably the most potential solution to ending poverty and enabling people to work their way into a sustainable, improved situation is called microcredit Microfinance. It has proved to be immensely valuable. It has become clear that poor need access to money to send their children to school, to buy medicines; they need financial services to reduce their vulnerability. As a result, worldwide, MFIs have started developing and delivering a range of financial products. This reflects Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – poverty reduction, education, health and empowerment. International year of Microcredit 2005:

Gender inequality is a major factor affecting progress towards Millennium Development Goals. In our country also, micro finance can be a tool for making women self-reliant. These women can provide their children, including girls, with education which in turn can empower them, thereby setting a new trend of independent women, enjoying their full potential. One of the powerful approaches to woman empowerment is the movement of SHGs, which can transform woman from being alive to live with dignity. The empowerment of women and improvement of their status and economic role needs to be integrated into economic development programmes, as the development of any country is inseparably linked with the status and development of women.

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Yes, I did make a difference. A very small deed for the women and a major one for myself.

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