Empowering and employing rural Jharkhand

Junaid Kamal Ahmad, the Director of the World Bank in India, might not have even thought that his visit to tribal-dominated Jharkhand could present before his eyes live examples of rural women empowerment and self-employment, courtesy the innovative planning and executional approach of the State government. That he visited various tribal districts in the State and was all praise for the efforts is now an oft-quoted news.

Jharkhand might arguably be the most backward region of the entire Indian sub-continent but the way Raghubar Das’s government, through its various programs, including the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society, has embarked on a mission to empower rural women and enhance the prospects of their livelihood while still staying in the villages, is not only praiseworthy but could also serve as an example to be followed.

Describing the efforts, Bishnu Parida – the CEO of Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Council (JSLPS) – says: “Under rural department, through JSLPS, we are implementing various schemes which are aimed at reducing or eliminating rural poverty and at the same time empowering rural women to take up gainful livelihood activities. The main program we are implementing is the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and through this we are promoting community institutions of poor, for the poor. And through these community livelihood missions, we are targeting rural households all across Jharkhand.”

Elaborating further, Parida says: “We are building their capacities, we are training them to take up gainful livelihood activities and also linking them to financial institutions, mostly banks, to avail credit, which is prerequisite for any economic activity. “

The programs are actually people led programs and the Government has gone a step ahead by even eliminating the NGOs and middle-men from the execution process. The community members are being directly trained with an aim to create a cadre of trained community professionals, who will eventually handhold their neighbours and household members.

Tells Parida: “In the initial phase we have our own professional team who are placed at cluster level, block level and district level, but subsequently we are also grooming and nurturing these community institutions through trained community professionals, and be it social mobilization, financial inclusion or even livelihood promotion, all these activities are being taken care of by the cadres only.” These community professionals have been provided quality technical inputs and then they are disseminating and sharing the knowledge with community members.

Giving further details, Program Manager with the Society Kumar Vikash says that the women self-help groups so created have been given the name Sakhi Mandal. A group of ten to fifteen women from the same socio-economic background, and from the same village, are grouped to form a Sakhi Mandal. While some funding is done by the society, and their micro credit plan analysed, they are passed on to banks so as to meet their credit needs.

Various cadres are being promoted, all of whom have their own success stories. One such cadre is PashuSakhi which seeks to promote livestock (goat/sheep/pig/poultry) rearing as a source of livelihood for rural poor especially women. PashuSakhi is a practicing goat farmer from the community (mostly an SHG member) who is promoted as para veterinary worker in the villages to give services to the goat rearing farmers from within their villagesfor better upkeep of their livestock. This has helped in reducing the goat mortality rate in villages where PashuSakhis are in operation. Till now access to on time, low cost, door-step livestock health care, first aid and knowledge has been a key constraint in livestock production, which has adversely affected poor people’s livelihoods.

Another innovative enterprise by Sakhi Mandals is the Ajeevika Didi’s Café. Through Ajeevika Didi’s café, JSLPS aims at creating a brand for restaurants, dhabas and catering in the form of an enterprise run by women entrepreneurs of Sakhi Mandals, thereby not only creating a chain of quality eateries all across Jharkhand, but at the same time also involving a team of women entrepreneurs from each village, cluster, block or district, to create high income business models.

Four to five Ajeevika Didi Cafes have already started operations while more are coming up. The Chief Secretary has recently issued instructions to all districts to push this innovative strategy on priority.

Ajeevika Didi’s café would be a community owned and managed brand aimed at providing livelihood to women entrepreneurs in Jharkhand. It will be a for-profit venture. Through these cafes, the people can also avail traditional, home-made, and healthy food away from their homes.

TabletDidi is another innovative program based on Narendra Modi’s Digital India program. Consequently, the women of rural India who did not even know how to use mobile phones are working on Tablets today to seek information, are also keeping accounts of others and even playing games and seeking knowledge through the Internet. Interestingly, there are more than 700 women in Jharkhand today who are working as TabletDidi, many of whom didn’t know till sometime back the difference between this electronic Tablet and the medicinal tablet that we consume upon falling ill.

Ajivika Krishak Mitra too are out there telling the poor villagers the latest techniques related to farming and training them in their use. Consequent to these efforts, several rural women have become self-employed and taken themselves out of poverty. Whereas they were unable to make the ends meet despite farming and working as petty labours, many of them are now sending their children to private schools.

Empowerment is the key to poverty alleviation and Jharkhand has realised it far earlier than most Indian states. This empowerment is happening through community institutions in the form of Self Help Groups (SHGs). Through nurturing and strengthening these community institutions and providing them with relevant training through professionals, it is possible to make a significant impact on the rural community.

Seeds of the good work have already been sown and the buds in the shape of results have already started showing!

Aziz Haider

(Article exclusively done for Outlook Magazine)