Ramgarh (Jharkhand) । Sunita is a rich woman. She may not have ready cash or even a bank account, but she does have an ATM card. Only thing is her ATM card does not fit into any pocket. It has four feet and runs around. It is a goat.
For Sunita and women like her, living in Huppu village in Jharkhand's Ramgarh district, financial empowerment comes in the form of livestock. The village is about 70 km from the state capital, Ranchi, and every house here has its share of goats and hens. Some enterprising women have also got ducks and sheep.
Sunita has five goats and considers herself quite financially independent. Telling Gaon Connection about her entrepreneurial plans, she says, "Soon I will double my stock and have 10 goats.
"Goats are very popular here. Their upkeep is quite hassle-free. But the best thing is that anytime I need money, I can sell one goat and I am fine," she adds.
Her friend Kalawati is more enterprising. She has a dozen goats, ducks and free-range hens.
Each goat can fetch between Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500. But when they do not need so much money, they sell a kid for anything between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 depending on the size or a hen for Rs 100.
"Apart from livestock, we also have small vegetable patches. The combined income from both these sources is quite good," she adds.
Sunita and her friends are among the many women in rural Jharkhand who are supplementing their family income in this way. Jharkhand abounds in natural resources - minerals in the soil and cash crops on ground.
Women form the backbone of the rural economy of the state. Women can be seen everywhere - from the hearth to the field. They grow crops in small land holdings, forage for fuel from the forest and keep livestock. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the women of Jharkhand are their animals - the sheep and goats; the ducks and hen. They are comrades in arms in this financial battle the women fight - the men being largely unreliable and addicted to alcohol.
Animal husbandry and farming are traditional occupations here and today, with the various government schemes are spurring them on. The Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotional Society has helped several women self-help groups to make their members economically independent. They are teaching them methods of saving money and also showing them new avenues of making money.
These self-help groups are called Sakhi Mandals. Their membership is upwards of 16 lakh. Of these, 3,495 women are Pashu Sakhi. Their job is to go from village to village and take care of the goats. Due to their efforts, the death and illness rate of the goats has dropped. They are also educating the women to pick up the right breed - Black Bengal - of goat to keep. With their help, the women are also more aware of the best price at which they should sell their goats.
The JSLPS also helps the members of the Sakhi Mandal get loans from banks to buy livestock. They also organise training programmes to teach the women about modern farming techniques and help them in procuring high quality seeds.
"We used to grow only chillies and maize and some rice. But after training, we are also growing vegetables now. This is another source of income for us," says Sunita.
As awareness grows among women, the changes in their lifestyle are becoming apparent. Especially in terms of how they are keeping their goats. The stalls for the goats are made on stilts. The goat droppings fall to the ground, keeping their living area clean and disease free.
Gaon Connection visited Girija Toli (Baghiya) village in the hilly area of Raniya Block which is quite inaccessible. The women here also had success stories to share. Gudiya Devi (48), says "Getting to our village is quite difficult, being in the hills. But we are happy here. We grow what we eat. The purity of everything we consume is assured. The only thing we lack is a road. But we are able to earn adequately with our small cultivation and animals." All the women in the village keep goats and are financially independent.
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