Sunday, July 20, 2008

Belatal's Weavers

The daily rain that has filled the majestic lakes constructed by the Chandels in Mahoba does not fill Rekha Rani’s stomach or that of her family of six. They still eat a meal of dry chapattis and sometimes vegetables once a day. “We have not seen dal in three years”, says an embarrassed Rekha who has been unemployed like eight hundred other such families of weavers since the past five years in village Belatal in the interiors of Mahoba.

“The weavers of Belatal have no land, they have never had any occupation other than weaving khadi for the Gandhi Ashram that was shut down in 2001”, explains Abhishek Singh who’s NGO Arunoday Sansthan has helped the weaver-women form self help groups. “The Gandhi Asharam was reopened in 2005 after a long struggle and our petitioning to the boards in Lucknow and Mumbai, but it was shut down within nine months because the authorities claimed there was no market for the products”, says Abhishek.

This is ironic because tourist spot Khajuraho is only fifty kilometers from Mahoba. “We have heard they sell inferior quality cloth for as much as one hundred and sixty rupees a meter in Khajuraho shops”, says Manni Lal. The small gathering of women gasp in horror.

Every house in the village has a charkha or handloom to weave khaadi. Most charkhas are kept under little mud shelves made for pooja. The Belatal weavers are proud of their prowess in weaving and despite the gap between their last productions, they have maintained their looms and charkhas. “Such was the quality of their khadi that at an exhibition in Delhi, a local minister from Mahoba asked the organizers to show him the best khadi and on being shown Belatal khadi, he asked where it was from thinking it was from Rajasthan. He was shocked to learn that Belatal was a village in his own constituency Mahoba”, laughs Abhishek.

Unlike the other men of his village, Manni Lal chose not to migrate and has been fighting for the Ashram to be reopened since 2001. “Approximately five thousand families in eleven villages have been affected by the shutting down of this Asharam, only forty five families remain in Belatal”, claims Manni Lal who believes that if a project or a new opportunity for weaving is introduced in the area the migrants and their families will return.

Such migration has decreased in nearby Banda because of the national rural employment guarantee scheme, on being asked whether anyone in their village has benefited from the scheme Rekha Rani and Beti Bai bring out over one hundred and sixty job cards and place them before the gathering. Quietly, they flip open the pages of the cards, no sign of work. “It took us six months to get these cards, when we did get them the Pradhan gave us no work. He says there is none”, says an angry Beti Bai who has walked with other women to the block development officer’s house to demand work. Rekha Rani is the district head of the ‘Chingaari’ group of women and has been fighting for job cards since over six months for the group’s rights.

“Technically and in accordance with NREGA, the women should be getting sixty rupees a day if no employment is found for them within fifteen days of them demanding it but none of them have received this money”, adds Abhishek who has been helping the women write joint job applications for benefiting from the scheme. None of the women have been called to participate in the Bundelkhand special plantation drive either. “Four thousand saplings are being given to every gram panchayat to plant in the area, NREGA beneficiaries are supposed to be planting these trees yet the Pradhan says there is no employment for these women”, says another disheartened activist.

It begins to rain and the gathering disperses. Inside Rekha Rani’s house with its five foot high roof and damp interior, sits a loom which she keeps clean in the hope that one day, it might earn her just enough to feed her family two meals a day and maybe sometimes, a little dal. She hopes it might even bring her husband back from Surat. Manni Lal believes it will, so does Beti Bai.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

NREGA Campaign 2008

Intensive campaign to increase reach and effectiveness of

National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) launched

5th July 2008

(In the interim period between the end of the first phase of the PACS Programme and the start of the second phase (PACS Plus), the Management Consultants of the programme, in consultation with DFID-India, have launched an intensive campaign to increase the reach and effectiveness of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). The campaign, to be rolled out in a phased manner across the six PACS Programme states, will run for a period of seven months, from June to December 2008.

In Uttar Pradesh, the campaign seeks to touch 20 districts by empowering 140 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in central, eastern and Bundelkhand regions. Village awareness campaigns and village meetings will be conducted to gather testimonials of good and bad practices in the implementation of the scheme.

Over 350 testimonials of villagers who availed the scheme are expected to be collected from the state. “Written case studies with supporting photographs and video documentation of these individuals will be gathered and presented in district advocacy workshops before media and concerned officials for redressal,” said Poonam Mehta of Development Alternatives while explaining the features of the campaign.

A cluster level planning workshop for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) of Central Uttar Pradesh was conducted at ICCMRT Indranagar, to acquaint participating CSO heads with the details of this campaign. CSO heads were trained in conceptualizing village awareness campaigns, preparing reports and mobilizing the community through a series of group activities.

BK Bhagwat Assistant Commissioner in charge of NREGA cell UP government was present for the workshop. Answering questions about the scheme, he also advised organization heads that, “It is important to read both schedules of the scheme and stay updated with circulars which are published online at the state rural development portal”. Giving participants the links of the website portals and helpline numbers, he assured the organizations full support from the government.

The campaign processes will culminate in state-level workshops for policymakers and the media, with the participation of top officials from relevant departments such as rural development, panchayati raj, and women and child development.

Sandeep Majhi, PROACT, further added that, NREGS Campaign 2008 would focus on following issues-

  • Discriminatory practices against women, such as unequal employment opportunities, unequal wages, lack of Creche facilities, and inequitable workload.

  • Exclusion of dalits, tribals, women, disabled and other marginalised groups and

  • Improper and corrupt practices, such as fraud in wage payments, use of contractors, failure to create a shelf of works, etc.

It is expected that over 1740 villages in UP will be touched through the campaign.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Day outside the Lucknow GPO

The tik-tiking of keys is unmistakable. They sit close to a foot apart with yellowing little boards stating their area of expertise as either “Hindi” or “English”. On the pavement outside the General Post Office, sharing space with two barbers and one prosperous chai- wallah sit close to ten typists braving the local police, nagar nigam and sometimes, the weather.

Sitting cross-legged since 7:30 this morning is Kishan Kumar. His black Remington typewriter is as old as his profession, no less than thirty-three years. “This is a Remington 76, I bought it after I learnt how to type in the short course that was run by the Bhole Lal College in Wasiatganj”, he says while removing the cover to show well greased keys. “These letters tend to fade and so do the ones on my keys, but if you treat the typewriter gently it always cooperates!” he beams.

The cycle and ‘jhola’ standing by the wall right behind him are his constant companions. He travels from Gomtinagar to ‘his tree’ on the pavement with the forty kg typewriter daily. He points to a young man sitting with a shiny green typewriter adjacent to him, “That’s a Godrej typewriter. It weighs only a couple of kgs because it’s plastic!” But he isn’t keen on parting with his old Remington 76 for a lighter one. “We both have been in jail three times”, he laughs, remembering how the police and nagar nigam jailed him and his typewriter for encroachment. “But we don’t come in the way of the pedestrians and we help people write their letters and applications before they post them, we are not criminals!” he adds with sadness.

Pointing at the broad road Kishan says, “Earlier, there used to be a row of imli trees here and there was hardly any traffic. They cut the trees and expanded this road and now we have a pavement with these new trees.” He then cleans his spectacles and wipes the dust off his typewriter “I remember the old imli tree often…and there wasn’t so much dust too”, he says looking at the young tree behind him.

Carefully parking his rickshaw so it doesn’t affect Kishan’s business, Mohammad Islam says salaam to his typist friend. “Whatever he’s saying is true! There were many trees here earlier” and he crouches down before the Remington. He visits Kishan twice a day for a glass of tea before he richsaws around Lucknow, “I have been in Lucknow since I was 10. I am Lucknow’s and Lucknow is mine”, he laughs.

The old typist spends his day typing ‘complaints’ and other ‘letters’ for villagers. “Even though the computer has come to India, this is the villager’s computer!” he pats his Remington and continues, “ There are so many types of complaints these days, earlier it was only about the land now the villagers are also filing for divorce! But the format for writing a complaint has not changed much.”

Most of Kishan’s customers are illiterate and he often acts as a counselor to those who break into tears while relating their problems for him to type into formal grievances. Mohammad Islam is in awe of his friend, he has never needed Kishan’s expertise but knows he can always count on him. “I could have sat at the court too, but I like it here. I have been here for so many years and the court already has so many typists. Here I can get some peace of mind as well!” says Kishan whose sons don’t know typing but have their own little shops.

“Everyday on the footpath is an adventure for us, this morning the Governor was passing and we had to hide,” he muses, to which Islam laughs. Another day on the pavement outside the Lucknow GPO.