Pulling a woman out of the cycle of poverty and abuse by educating her is one way to empower her. The Self-Help Group (SHG) revolution sweeping rural India is adopting the alternative route with great success – empowering women by enhancing their incomes. In turn, their social standing improves, leading to the ability to pull the entire community out of poverty.
Agriculture and selling milk are the main occupations of the women who live in Anupshahr. Despite Bulandshahr district being the second-largest producer of milk in Northern India, the milk collection and selling is still not organised. Companies still do not buy directly from the farmers.
The norm is that the women care for the cow/buffalo, feed it, and milk it, only to have the man of the house take the milk, sell it to the middleman, and pocket the money. Alongside this is the evil called money-lending, with the local doodhiya (milkman) acting as the moneylender. The poorest families put up their sole money-earning product as collateral – milk – only to find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of debt.
As is typical of any woman in this area, Latesh Devi, Kashmiri Devi, and Gyanwati Devi faced serious opposition from their husbands when they wanted to join their respective SHGs. Only when they could easily obtain low-interest loans from their SHGs did their families come around to support them.
It was during one of the local block meetings organised for the SHGs that the three of them were inspired to join hands, and under the guidance of Pardada Pardadi Educational Society, open up an SHG-owned dairy in Hiranbund village.
Was it easy? No! Getting all the members of the three SHGs to agree took weeks, since most of the women were under some debt with their village milkman. Then there was the tie-up with Mother Dairy for milk collection. Next came finding a woman who could read and write enough to manage the dairy and its accounts, and finally, the biggest hurdle was fighting the established system itself.
In the nascent stages of the dairy being established, the local milkman would get drunk and gather his goons outside the dairy during collection time to intimidate the women. The three women stood strong and continued their work, even if it meant fighting it out everyday with a bunch of men. Seeing their chutzpah, their husbands and families started standing up for them. Eventually the entire village turned out in their support.
“Let them try to shut us down! We are 5,000 strong! You think they would stand a chance against 5,000 women standing up for their rights?” – Latesh Devi, mother of two, who sends both her children to school.
Was it worth it? Definitely! Since the dairy became operational, the member women have seen an increased income of ₹10 per liter. This means an average increase of ₹1,200 per month per woman. By putting aside this extra income, the women are collectively able to pay off the debts that members of their SHGs owe. Thus, slowly but surely, they are making their way towards being completely debt-free.
Monetary empowerment aside, these three women have managed to take a huge step forward on the road to a gender-just society by opening and successfully running the first-ever all-women owned dairy in western U.P.
“I cannot wait for the day we can start extending monetary help towards women who are still indebted to the milkmen in the area, and freeing them to come and join our dairy.” – Kashmiri Devi, a mother of three, whose daughter studies in the Pardada Pardadi school run by PPES.
Inspired by the success of the Hiranbund dairy, another SHG has taken the initiative to open a milk collection unit in Bagsra village under the guidance of the PPES community development division.
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