• 06 Sep 2019
  • PGS
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IN THE MONTH OF JUNE THIS YEAR a group of girls in a remote corner of Prayagraj (UP) had attracted a bit of attention for doing a mans’s work in the village. Pushpa and other members of an adolescent girls group conducted repairs on two broken handpumps in Baithakwa which is a small village about 75 Kms from the city of Prayagraj. The village has rocky topography and there is considerable scarcity of water for irrigation and drinking. Baithakwa has been part of PGS intervention area in the region for many years and currently there is one functioning SHG and a grain bank as part of the PGS program.  

Pushpa and her team are members of an adolescent girls’ group formed through facilitation of PGS in the year 2018. The girls belong to freed bonded laborer families of indigenous Kol tribe. The Kol habitation in the area faces water scarcity every year during the summer season (March-July). Although, there are two handpumps catering to 50 Kol families, they have been defunct for the last eight months.

Baithakwa is a rainfed agricultural area where water scarcity has been a major issue. For alleviation of this problem, PGS organizes Jal Yatra or Water March (a campaign style program) in May/June every year with the objective of creating awareness and community centric solutions for conservation of rainwater. This is achieved by undertaking rejuvenation exercises in water structures like handpumps and ponds. The Jal Yatra is a month long campaign taking place in 54 villages across 3 Blocks of Prayagraj district. This year, the Jal Yatra was started from Baithakwa on May 14, 2019. In the midst of the march, the issue of drinking water crisis was raised by the community members of Baithakwa. They informed the PGS team that both handpumps were lying defunct for the last 8 months and the tireless attempts at Panchayat and Block level did not lead to any result. Multiple visits only led to a sense of helplessness. There was a growing feeling of frustration and helplessness among the community members as they couldn’t think of a solution. Theyaccepted it as their fate to fetch water everyday from a handpump located a kilometer away where they also faced resistance from the locals.

Scarcity brings to surface deeper prejudices as accessibility is directly proportional to how influential, powerful and higher in class hierarchy an individual is. Moreover, even if these tribal  laborers were able to have access to water the powerful extracted forced labour in return or chided/threatened them. Besides, water becomes undrinkable after pulling 4 to 5 buckets at a time. This further adds to the vulnerability of the community members.

Pushpa, aged 17, is the convener of the adolescent girl’s group. She has been selected as PGS’s Pragati Prahari (youth leader) from amongst the target community to facilitate access to various development programs. She has attended three leadership training programs and is one of the Conveners of community grain bank in her village.

The senior members of the community being in dependency mode were unable to take a decision proactively. After a long discussion during the Water March, Pushpa and team members came forward and suggested that if they could be trained in handpump repairing it would be a sustainable solution for avoiding the drinking water crisis. They could do the repairs themselves whenever the handpumps would disfunction. Besides they can visit other places also and earn money to supplement their family income.

This idea was new to the community as working out in the open, especially with machinery, is considered exclusively a man’s job. However, the villagefolk accepted and later welcomed the proposition as they were desperate for a solution. Several older women chimed in and offered help to the young girls for lifting heavy machinery when required, and one older man also offered to accompany the girls if any offers came from nearby villages. All these ideas came naturally and exclusively from the community and PGS facilitators were only reacting and affirming. It was now that PGS suggested organizing a training for the girls within a week of the discussion and a toolkit worth Rs. 4200 was bought which is now being utilized by the girls for handpump repairing. On May 24, 2019 with the help of technicians from a nearby village, the training was conducted and, interestingly, the event created enough attention that the leading English daily of the State published an article in its Lucknow edition on June 05, 2019. Back in the village, the community collectively decided that the payment for hand pump repair should be at par with the market rate.

The new social values generated within this small hamlet of Baithakwa are a step forward in community social responsibility. The supportive attitude of the community has empowered the girls to bridge the gap of gender based occupational customs. As an example of breaking gendered social norms, these young girls have gained respect in the community.

In addition to generating an income opportunity to these young girls, which amounts to Rs. 400 per repairing job, this training has boosted confidence in the young girls. The support of community members has not only encouraged them but also rendered acceptance and respect of the adolescent girl’s group in a community. A successful example of female participation, this has depicted breaking the stereotype that women, especially girls, cannot do technical manual work.

It is also noteworthy that this vocational training has created a ripple effect among adolescent girls groups and Self help Groups of women across the PGS intervention area. Other girl groups took note of the Baithakwa experiment and a few of them came up with their own initiatives. For example, in Seedhtikat (Block Shankargarh) the adolescent girl’s group met with the village Pradhan (an elected government post) and got a new handpump established two weeks later. Another adolescent girls group in Kaundi took a training for making organic pesticides in July, 2019. In August, 2019, Rita from an adolescent girls group in Meja Khas took the responsibility to run ‘Sahaj’ (an e-service centre) -linked-Legal Aid Centre which is also considered a man’s job in these parts. In another example, Saroj Devi, who leads a SHG group in Chhapar (Block Koraon) took the lead in digging a farm pond in July, 2019 through volunteering of community members and, subsequently, getting to them to start collective farming in the same village.

With facilitation from PGS, the Baithakwa girls changed the outlook towards problem solving. The adolescent girl’s groups who used to be inclined towards stiching, tailoring and beautician courses have now made unprecedented inroads into vocations set aside for men.

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