(Article) How empowering Rural Women can bring positive change?

Fourteen year old Piari Purti from Gaddara village in Jharkhand began working as a farm labourer when she was just eight to nine years old. She used to get 60 rupees a day. When she attained 11 years of age Piari Purti began working in a brick yard and was paid 80 rupees a day. She left home every morning at 6 AM and returned at 6.30 PM in the evening. Back home, she also had to help her mother and look after her younger siblings. Belonging to an extremely poor family, Piari says there were days when they could not get two square meals a day.

Piari says that in her village the upper class families looked down upon them.

“They wash the charpoy if we happen to sit on them and if any of us used the tap before them, they made it a point to clean the tap before using it and there was no question of ever entering their houses. For girls it was double discrimination”, she says.

“Boys are preferred over girls to be sent to school in our village, but I was lucky that I got a chance to come to Mahila Shikshan Kendra”, says Piari.

It was in April this year that Piari Purti was selected for admission to Mahila Shikshan Kendra in Jamshedpur. For Piari who had never been to school, it was a dream come true, for she always wanted to study. Before the completion of the 11 month crash course she was undergoing, Piari will have learnt lessons up to class V and then she would be admitted to Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya.

“I want to become an engineer”, she says.

MSKs are run by the Mahila Samakhya scheme under the Human Resource Development Ministry of the Union Government. Recognizing that education can be an effective tool in women’s empowerment , the programme was first started as a pilot project in 1988 in three states including Karnataka , Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh but is now being implemented in nine states including Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Uttarakhand .

There are 30 girls and young women (between the age group of 15 to 35) in each of the MSKs where lessons up to class fifth are taught during the almost year long course. The aim is to make them self reliant through Life skill education, vocational as well as computer training. Teaching them to view things from gender perspective, developing self confidence and leadership qualities are also part of the training at MSKs. The objective is to create a pool of well trained, literate, motivated women who become agents of change in their villages when they go back.

According to Dr Smita Gupta, State Program Director, Jharkhand Mahila Samkhya Society (JMSS), specially designed curriculum is followed to develop leader ship qualities and audio visual techniques, computers, television etc are used to arouse interest and curiosity among the learners.

These young girls at the MSKs also get a chance to participate in sports, karate, plays and celebrations of days like Wash Day or Teachers day etc.. They are also taken to banks, post offices, railway stations etc., to acquaint them with the services, working and facilities there. Sometimes they also get to participate in workshops and seminars.

Participating in a workshop on menstruation health and hygiene in Ranchi, one of the girls, Asha Tudu who had come along with other girls from the Jamshedpur MSK said that she will spread awareness about the importance of cleanliness during menstruation and hygiene among women and young girls. Asha says that people in her village are very poor and she wants to become a doctor so that everybody is treated in the village itself.

“I want everyone in my village to be healthy”, she says.

Ashtami Sardar from village Khanda Dera who also worked as a farm hand for 50 rupees a day before she was selected for admission to MSK Jamshedpur says that she wants to become a teacher so that no one remains illiterate in her village.

There are 14 MSKs in Jharkhand, one each in 11 districts, one for women prisoners in Birsa Munda Jail in Ranchi , one in Khunti for survivors of human trafficking.

Trafficking of girls is serious issue of serious in Jharkhand which is considered a source state from where several girls are duped into exploitative situations due to extreme poverty. It was only last year that one MSK for women and young girls rescued from trafficking was started and the first batch has completed the 11 month condensed course.

The Khunti District Programe Coordinator Anchi Horo says the biggest challenges they face in mainstreaming the trafficking survivors is to bring them to MSK.

“They are too scared to come out of their homes after they have been rescued. Even when they come to MSK, it takes time to get them out of fear psychosis.” says Anchi Horo.

“Five out of the first batch of 32 have been admitted to KGBV, many have stayed back to complete their vocational training. Craft and beautician’s course is what most of them prefer.” says Anchi Horo.

The MSK in the Birsa Munda Jail has 24 women inmates as trainees. According to a functionary, the first thing they have to do is to take these young girls out of depression and then get them interested in studies.

It is the most marginalized women and adolescent girls who are selected for admission to MSKs. Mahila Samakhya groups identify the trainees for the MSK. Girls and women who have keen interest to study and do something in life are preferred. To start with, selected women and adolescent girls have to participate in 10 days literacy camp. The list is finalized in accordance with their performance in the camp by the warden, teachers and ex-MSK trainees.

A total of 104 batches have so far come out of MSKs in the state, thereby benefitting 3456 girls and young women, out of which 2169 are from scheduled tribes, over 900 from scheduled castes, 315 from OBCs and 63 from minority communities.

What is however worrying is that girls like Basanti Purti, sister of Piari Purti who is just 11 years old continues to work in brick yards or farms to earn a living. There are thousands of them like her who instead of being in schools which is their legal right, have no choice but to slog for 50 to 60 rupees a day or are forced into trafficking because of extreme poverty .

Also in the 4th Joint Review Mission of Mahila Samakhya, it was pointed out that poor quality of teaching, infrastructure and inadequate learning material in the MSKs was an area of concern . It was said that many girls, as a result were unable to get admission to KGBVs.

The silver lining, however, is that there are girls like Asha, Piari and Ashtami , who are not only looking forward to getting higher education but have already been motivated to become forceful agents of change in their villages .

By : Sarita Brara

Courtesy : PIB