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Pardhi Women Cast Away Backwardness
Mere formation of self-help groups was not enough. As the mission of MAVIM is the economic development of women, it was imperative to achieve economic prosperity for these women who had joined the movement in spite of facing the wrath of the menfolk.
A section of the society which faces neglect and exclusion even as of date is the Pardhi community. Level of education is very low in this tradition bound community, more so amongst the womenfolk. The community, which has remained out of the ambit of the established social structure due to its traditional occupation of bird trapping, has not even realized the importance of acquiring an electoral card, leave aside securing benefits of government schemes. Ignorance, lack of education and the branding as a criminal tribe have resulted in keeping the community away from the mainstream of social life. Any crime in the vicinity will even today result in the police vehicles reaching their settlements even today. However, the process of bringing about a change in this reality has now commenced. The community has come forward to cast away its past and strive for a bright future.
Pardhi women from Pardhitola-Chinora in Waroda tehsil of Chandrapur district are moving towards throwing away the yoke of traditional restrictions. With them on this path is, of course, Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM). The women have undertaken poultry farming with the guidance of MAVIM under one of its innovative schemes. The success achieved by them in this venture proves that they have cast away their erstwhile backwardness with the help of MAVIM. In other words, this hunting community has hunted down their own backwardness.
The process of empowerment started about a decade ago. However, it did not move beyond the formation of self- help groups which existed merely on paper. The winds of change did not reach them though they were located near the taluka centre. Pardhitola consists of about 70 tribal households. The only mark of gender equality was the equal number of men and women. Their principal livelihood was to hunt birds such as titar, bater etc. from the forest. It is a daily routine for men to spend the money earned from selling the prey on liquor. On rare occasions will the man of the house be compassionate to get food for the family. The women will then manage the house and feed the kids by working on brick kilns or by activities such as gathering and selling fodder for goats. A number of women too have fallen prey to addiction. In such a situation, working for empowerment of women is, no doubt, an arduous task. However, it can be said that MAVIM has been successful in achieving this.
While embarking on this venture, MAVIM first carried out some studies. It tried to understand the economic and social issues of all the women in the village. An awakening week was organized for this purpose. It was realized that it was necessary to bring the village residents together for earning their trust. However, a pardhi tola (hamlet) gets “live” after nine in the evening. Liquor flows as if there is a flood and quarrels follow. The sahayoginis, however, continued their mission of holding regular meetings in spite of the daily routine of drunken quarrels, abuses and in spite of the distrust. The entire year of 2010 was spent for the groundwork for empowerment. A self-help group was formed by the end of 2010 against the background of objections from men and internal conflicts between women. A pleasantly surprising development was MAVIM’s success in forming three more such groups.
The tola now had four self-help groups. However, mere formation of self-help groups was not enough. As the mission of MAVIM is the economic development of women, it was imperative to achieve economic prosperity for these women who had joined the movement in spite of facing the wrath of the menfolk. The search for an economic activity suited to this social segment commenced which led to identification of poultry as an appropriate activity. It was a challenge to ensure that the group which was used only to hunting of wild birds takes to poultry farming. However, such issues do not deter those addicted to accepting challenges for scaling new peaks of achievement. MAVIM accepted the challenging task. The women were excited by the thought that arrangements were being made to start a poultry unit for them. However, the idea of women starting an enterprise hurt the ego of men who began opposing the venture. Women knew very well that addiction to alcohol was the main cause for the misery in their lives. They first decided to target the illicit liquor brewing units in the village. Women from the houses of liquor sellers joined this movement of the Pardhi women. They kept the men confined within the houses. As a result, three out of four liquor brewing units in the village were permanently closed down. To ensure this, the Pardhi women kept constant vigil at nights with sticks in their hands. The persistence of the women resulted in the disappearance of the main cause for discord in the tola.
A new phase of women empowerment had begun in the true sense. The work of starting the poultry unit also took momentum. 45 members of four self-help groups were given the necessary information about the poultry business and the intricacies were explained. The District Agricultural Superintendent also offered the necessary help under the Atma project for this venture. To provide for the capital required for the business, the Pardhi women raised as much as Rs. 15,000/- through the four self help groups. An amount of Rs. 17,000/- receivable under the entrepreneurship development programme of MAVIM was added to this capital. The Agricultural Department also offered young birds worth Rs. 17,000/- on noticing the enthusiasm and resolve of the women to start the business. The women decided to implement the project for indigenous poultry birds which yielded better returns in view of the newly growing sectors of various industries, power generation and transportation. The entrepreneurship training programme design was also changed and the expenditure incurred during training programmes on meals, snacks, tea etc. was avoided and the amount thus saved was added to the capital. Knowing fully well that the project can be successful only with the willing participation of the women, MAVIM organized the training programme on the tola itself. Finally, the poultry business took shape with the garnering of the requisite amount of capital.
Tejaswini Women Poultry Farming Group was formed. In order to build up the confidence of these women without any acquaintance with education, who could not even count the currency notes correctly, MAVIM organized study tours of poultry units in Nagpur and other centres. These included government as well as private poultries. The women enthusiastically participated in the selection of the place suited for setting up the poultry business, appointment of women members for supervision of the business and in acquiring technical skills. Finally the day arrived when the results of the efforts taken to bring the women together could be witnessed. The birds were brought in the poultry set up by the women. The question now was about the way to proceed and dispose of the birds. In the meantime, the opposition of the dissenters within the village had died down. To elicit their co-operation, a week long campaign was organized. The sahyogini and the women entrepreneurs were successful in this campaign. During the period before direct sales of the birds was possible, the women learnt the techniques of delivering feed to the birds, tending to them in times of disease, maintaining cleanliness and in vaccinating. The assistance of the veterinary officer in the village was taken for this purpose. When the birds were ready for sale after a period of about three months, the issue facing the women was about managing to sell the birds. As it is said, where there is a will there is a way. The very customers who used to buy the wild birds in the past became the customers for the poultry birds. The desi variety of birds raised by the women started fetching good prices in the markets in Warora and other places. Some dhaba owners and hoteliers also decided to purchase the birds from these women. The women who used to carry out their work under the fear of police and forest officers now could work with confidence. It is expected that each woman would be able to earn a net income of Rs. 1500/- to Rs. 2000/- every month after accounting for all expenses. However, plans are being drawn out now to see how the unit is viewed as a regular source for buying desi birds and to ensure a monthly income of Rs. 3000/- to Rs. 3500/- can be earned by each member.
Phulabai Dhotre, who is one of the entrepreneurs, is overwhelmed by emotion when she narrates the story of the enterprise. She states that though the Pardhis have been living here for four generations, they had never seen the days of living with confidence and without fear as they do today. Padma Ghosre used to do the back breaking work of demolition of stables etc. She is now confident that the situation in the tolas will now change for the better. Just when it was being felt that the business is stabilizing, the landlord threw all the birds in the open because of overdues of rent. The district office took immediate note of this event. District Co-ordinator Kanta Mishra and Sahyogini Anita Dhawas discussed the issue with the sarpanch of the village. Considering the changing situation in the Pardhi tola, he agreed to allot a piece of land in the village for the poultry business. Self help groups from ten districts of the state, besides the self help groups from within the district, paid visits to learn about the business started by Pardhis, a community which was only a target of ridicule of the society till recently. District Co-ordinator Kanta Mishra narrates this development with pride. This reflects the essence of the empowerment of the Pardhi women. One can list many names of empowered women such as Kalawati Nannaware, Netra Dadmal, Sangita Shirpure to name only a few. These women are now enthusiastic about raising the living standards of the entire Pardhi community through the business of poultry.
It is not that only women have achieved progress. The pressure from self-help groups has resulted in the construction of roads in the village and the problem of drinking water shortage was resolved by the digging of a borewell. Moreover, the entire management of the poultry business in retained in the hands of women. The tolas have started undertaking developmental works. MAVIM also intends to address the issue of working on brick kilns as labourers during spare time. It intends to resolve this issue through the skills known to the Pardhis.
A major role was played by Anita Dhawas, sahyogini from the Savitri Loksanchalit Sadhan Kendra under Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM), Chandrapur. MAVIM has brought a ray of hope in the lives of these women. The women have successfully faced all challenges on their own strength. They have hunted down their own backwardness !