I left my Raju Guide’s house in deep thoughts searching replies of many questions that perhaps in my routine life, I would have just preferred skipping. Government has its own role and policies which are being implemented by government machinery. But one cannot ignore the contribution of big companies who silently keep working towards social and economic upliftment of rural masses. No, I am not talking about NGOs here, who have their own role; I am referring to large companies, like here in Rajasthan, Hindustan Zinc, who has been finding ways to connect more and more rural masses and bring them closer to the stature of socio-economic independence.
When you see these villages, it becomes easy to understand the meaning of policies and their executions. Government does make substantial plans and policies but you do need hands to effectively execute them. Quite a few private companies have come forward towards effective implementation of such policies.
My thoughts were moving faster than my mind could relate to; water, health, sanitation, agriculture, women up-liftment, electricity, education, the concerns are unlimited and the sources limited. I didn’t know when I slept, as if my mind was only waiting for the sun to shine.
I got up early and my plan was to connect to some one who could take me to different villages where Hindustan Zinc is involved in implementing community development projects.
The hotel where I was staying was small and while speaking to the owner of the hotel, I could connect to one of the Block Development Officer, Rajendra Kumar. He advised me to proceed to Chittorgarh where I should meet Jamuna, who was known to him. On my request, Rajendra Kumar agreed to take me to her house.
The journey began, first on smooth highway roads, which are almost a symbol of tourism attraction for Rajasthan, and then passing through the small roads and sub-lanes we reached a small house of Jamuna. A small house but clean and well maintained.
Jamuna, 30-32 years old, a mother of 2 children, greeted me and hugged me as if she knew me from much before. I was touched. We sat in `her Angan’ only and Rajendra left for his work. I was no journalist or some government official; I was just a human being interested to know my villages more than I knew sitting in the city. I think this honesty touched her.
Jamuna began, `I was married at the age of 20. Fortunately my husband has a good piece of land for agriculture so money was never an issue. But 3 years back when rains did not happen in Rajasthan, the financial situation became tense. Education of children, daily expenses, every thing needed money. I love my family a lot and was quite eager to do something that could bring the situation under control. I went to my village Sarpanch, Chanchal Pareekh who asked me to join a Self-Help-Group Shiv Shankar Sahayata Samooh. I had no knowledge of its working. Sarpanch Ji explained me how small contribution, free training, thrift savings, and collective working will improve my financial condition as it has done for many more women in the village, she kept narrating.
Convincing my family, specially my mother in law was the most difficult task, but once so many members of self help group came to my house and narrated their success story, I got the permission.
You won’t believe madam ji, my mother-in-law sold her earrings and gave me 100 rupees to contribute in SHG, Jamuna said with a soaring throat. I touched her feet and promised her that I will never led her down.
I could see the droplets of tears in her eyes. I could see the bonding in a family. You do not always need words to express gratitude.
Jamuna smiled, gone are those bad days. I received training in stitching. handicrafts, block printing, weaving, metal carving etc. I learnt so many things. We are a group of 16 women and each one of us today takes home about 3000-4000 rupees per month. We get orders from shops and we work only on orders.
Jamuna smiled again, `you know madam ji, in eight months I bought a new gold earring for my mother-in-law. She wears them with a lot of pride today’.
I was eager to see her Self-Help-Group and Jamuna was more than willing to take me. It was not far. Crossing some houses and lanes we reached. Amazingly, it was a full-fledged rural industry. I did not count the women but they must be about 20 working independently on some thing or the other. Two women were busy making records of payments as I could see one of them counting rupees.
I smiled, I was at the right place and I had a strange contentment and delightful satisfaction. Why ? I could see a banner fitted perfectly on the wall that said “Hindustan Zinc Bringing Empowerment and Socio-Economic Independence in Rural Women A Vedanta Group Company”. I was feeling home and so much proud and connected with this company.
Jamuna introduced me to Sarpanch, Chanchal Pareekh, who is actually Ward Panch of village Ganeshpura, district Chittorgarh. Chanchal spoke like a professional. She was clear that Rajasthan is known for colourful apparels, bandhani-bandhej, traditional handicrafts, heavy jewellery and various art forms, and the State has been a major attraction for traditional art lovers. People cover large distances from India and abroad to reach remote Rajasthan villages to admire the skills of these rural women.
`As always, the beginning was quite tough. The bigger challenge was to bring these women of different potential and temperament into one SHG and train them at par in different skills. This was essential to meet the objective of forming and making an SHG successful. Another important thing was to encourage the habit of thrift savings amongst these women, who would need this money for buying raw materials to make the products’, Chanchal said.
With upfront initiative by Hindustan Zinc I could form a Self-Help-Group of 15-16 women. Hindustan Zinc provided various skill based trainings in handicrafts, tie & dye, bags, cushion covers & bed-sheets, quilts, rakhi & bangle making, block printing, zardozi, terracotta products, imitation jewellery, tailoring and it also organized regular ‘Adult Literacy Camps’.
Pushpa Sharma a member of “Saraswati SHG” is now confident enough to deal with banks independently on behalf of the group. Saroj Devi, a trainer, is expert in dealing with the market and product development as per demand. Chanda Devi is expert in bringing quality in products. Jamuna is an expert in block printing and so is Radha Rani.
Hindustan Zinc has formed more than 200 Self-Help-Groups in Rajasthan and almost 4,000 rural women are linked with these groups, Chanchal informed.
Chanchal proudly recalled a proud day when Hindustan Zinc once invited her to Mumbai office of Vedanta Group. She went by airplane, first time in her life and to Mumbai. In Mumbai she was just delighted to meet the Chairman of Vedanta Group Shri Anil Agarwal himself. Shri Agarwal spent quite a time in understanding how things are happening and what more help I required. He was very happy to economic independence in Rajasthani women. His words worked magic. I came back with a new enthusiasm.
I asked Chanchal if she could take me to the round of her village and show me what more work is being done in her village by Hindustan Zinc. Chanchal agreed. We fixed up time for the next day and I left.
While leaving, I could see Jamuna working on block printing; perhaps she was making another way forward towards her prosperity and independence.
Indeed, it was a land of rural women entrepreneurs….
My journey will continue…