TBI Blogs: The Story of a Child Bride Who Was Awarded a Padma Shri for Empowering Women in Chhattisgarh

Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation was established in 1977, in memory of Jamnalal Bajaj, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. The Foundation aims to serve the ideals to which he had dedicated his life and promotes Gandhian constructive activities in which he was deeply involved during his lifetime.

Phoolbasan Bai Yadav is a well-known name in rural Chhattisgarh, given the remarkable work the school dropout has done in the area of women empowerment and child rights. 

Phoolbasan Bai Yadav was born on the 5th of December, in 1969, in Sukuldaihan, a remote village in the district of Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh.

At the tender age of 10, she was married off to a cattle-herder. Illiteracy and lack of employment opportunities meant that the duo were forced to live in abject poverty. But rather than disheartening her, the dire circustances fuelled in her a desire to do more.

“We have faced endless nights when we went to sleep without a morsel in our stomach, and realising the pain of hunger and poverty, I vowed to improve not only my situation, but the situation of all such families living around and I tell you, there are countless such people in our state,” shared Phoolbasan.

Determined to carve out a better life for herself and her family, Phoolbasan began to participate in the activities of the self-help groups in her locality. These self-help groups are viewed by the government as a means to women empowerment. In Phoolbasan’s village, the group collected money to help women participate in a cattle rearing scheme.

Within no time at all, Phoolbasan experienced first-hand the benefits of participating in such a group. Heartened, she decided to form her own groups, including ‘Pragya Mahila Samooh’, ‘Kiraya Bhandar’ and ‘Bazar Theka.’ This marked the beginning of Phoolbasan’s foray into social activism, after which she went on to establish fair-price ration shops for the distribution of food among people below the poverty line.

Later, she consolidated her numerous groups and social activities under the umbrella of the Maan Bamleshwari Janhit Kare Samiti, an NGO named after Goddess Durga, which started with 11 women.


Image Source: Youtube

The NGO, which acts as a watchdog and keeps a keen eye on the working of various government departments, is believed to have under its aegis, 19,000 women self-help groups (WSHG) and 2325 adolescent girls’ groups, with over 200,000 members. By collecting Rs. 2 per member, per week, the organisation was initially able to accumulate an impressive corpus of Rs. 150 million.

The NGO, and the many groups that worked under its banner, have played a crucial role in empowering women and ensuring their financial independence; while also improving the living conditions of the residents in the village.

The groups participate in health and sanitation programmes like the Pulse Polio initiative, and encourage others to extend their support to the initiatives as well. There are more than 70% WSHG members in the Panchayat Health Initative as Mitanin.

The groups have also been instrumental in implementing the mid-day meal scheme in 1741 primary schools, and are also creating awareness about the Bal Bhoj nutrition initiative in schools and 4225 anganwadis. They have also helped prevent 570 child marriages, with the support of the district administration. Further, they have helped organise group marriages of 33 underprivileged girls, all under the leadership and guidance of Phoolbasan.

Their efforts have also led to 625 villages prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. Close to 2800 children have also been adopted, thanks to the groups.


Phoolbasan has also contributed to stop open defecation in the district. Since September 2014, under Phoolbasan’s leadership, 24 villages were adopted and made open defecation free (ODF) villages, without any help from the government.

In 2016, Chhurria and Chouki were declared ODF blocks. Work is underway to make 5 more blocks ODF;  the target is to make the district ODF by December 2016.

Phoolbasan’s driving inspiration continues to be the empowerment of women. She is determined to create awareness among them about their rights and duties, help them gain independence and improve their economic status. Through her efforts, Phoolbasan has ensured the social and economic empowerment of oppressed, un-organized and exploited women.

Phoolbasan has encouraged women to save money and work towards their financial independence. Since 2001, 1,82,145 women from 12,143 WSHGs in rural areas, have together saved more than Rs. 25 crores through their meagre savings. Phoolbasan has, through various beneficial schemes of the government, ensured their economic progress.

Presently, 33,732 women from 2811 WSHG are running various businesses and many have Phoolbasan to thank for contributing significantly to their self-sufficiency. Her efforts have further helped women gain self respect, an identity and a position in society.

Given her success with self-help groups, Phoolbasan and her group was given Rs. 900 crore from NABARD to use for different women’s groups of Rajnandgaon District, for self-employment.


Image Source: Youtube

Under the leadership of Phoolbasan, the WSHGs have taken up the cause of education and keep an eye on enrolment and regular attendance of the village children, especially girls.

Phoolbasan has also contributed significantly to the literacy campaign in her district, even winning the Maa Bamleshwari Award by the State Minister, for her ‘Save the Water’ campaign.

Since 2001, she has contributed to building more than 20,000 water soak pits with the help of women, using their own resources. Also in 2013, she contributed for more than 5,00,000 sapling plantations to be carried out.

In the year 2004-05, the Chhattisgarh Government bestowed upon her the ‘Mini Mata Samman’, that entailed a cash award of Rs. 1 lakh. The prize money has helped Phoolbasan to provide quality education to the 52 SC/ST children, she has adopted.

Phoolbasan has come a long way indeed, from being a Class 7 drop-out who yearned to study but could not afford to do so, to now spearheading literacy programmes and ensuring the education of children in her village.

Under her leadership, Pad Yatra was organized for 344 Kms., in backward tribal forest areas, for women empowerment.
Since 2011, her work has reached more than 160 villages. This has led to more than 90% families being inspired to be associated with WSHG in the district.

Phoolbasan’s efforts have won her recoginition and awards from various sources. She was given the National Award for Best Performance, sponsored by NABARD, the ‘Maa Bamleshwari Award’ by the District Administration three years in a row, and the Award for Women Empowerment from the Union Bank of India, Mumbai.

In 2008, she was conferred the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, in the category for Development and Welfare of Women and Children.


In 2012, she was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. She was also given the Stree Shakti Govt. of India Award, S.R. Jindal Award, Bhagwan Mahaveer Award, Life Time Achievement Award, India Pride Award, Surdutta Award, Aamodini Award, Sadguru Award.

Phoolbasan’s work continues to be a source of inspiration for thousands of women in the district. Her leadership skills, politeness, dedication to work and inspiring personality have made all her endeavours a grand success.

Know an inspirational changemaker working for rural development at the grassroots level? Click below to nominate them for Jamnalal Bajaj Awards 2017.

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Featured Image Source: Youtube

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