Bijli sakhi, pashu sakhi, aajeevika sakhi – Uttar Pradesh's cadre of rural women
Women in Uttar Pradesh are earning their livelihoods by collecting bills, running restaurants, making incense cones, and stitching sanitary pads. The self help group women are being trained under the Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission.
Shivani Gupta 1 April 2022 11:28 AM GMT
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Draped in a yellow saree with pallu over her head, Rajrani goes door-to-door to collect electricity bills from rural households. The 38-year-old, who has had polio since the age of seven, is ensuring that villagers do not have to stand in long queues for hours to pay electricity bills. This has earned Rajrani a new identity as she is proudly referred to as 'Vidyut Sakhi'.
"Now villagers do not have to stand in long queues for hours. On behalf of them, I pay their bills and earn a commission," Rajrani told Gaon Connection. "Earlier, I used to do only chulha chauka (household chores). With the money I now earn, we are able to provide our children with good education. Besides, I do not have to ask my husband for money," the Vidyut Sakhi smiled.
A resident of Narera gram panchayat in Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh, Rajrani manages to earn up to Rs 10,000 per month by earning a commission of Rs 12 per bill.
"I want to tell women who are handicapped like me that they should not get bothered even when people comment. Their lives can also be transformed like mine," said Rajrani.
Training rural women
The Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission (UPSRLM) under the Ministry of Rural Development in collaboration with a grassroots organisation Transform Rural India Foundation is empowering self help group women in villages to find a source of income through livelihood opportunities of their choice.
"As per their interest and capacity, we are training women in villages and connecting them with livelihood opportunities so that they can be financially and socially independent and their lives can be joyful," Sukhraj Bandhu, Deputy Commissioner, UPSRLM, told Gaon Connection.
"We want to empower women, and through them empower each and every poor household in villages. We do not want people to look towards SHG (self help group) women with pity. We want them to boost their skills and compete in the market," he added.
In Lucknow, at least 75,000 families are reaping benefits by connecting through 7,000 self help groups in a total of 494 gram panchayats in the district.
To assist self help group women through various interventions of the state government, Transform Rural India Foundation (TRIF) is supporting women cadres in technical, internal, and financial management support for the past two years.
"We have convergence with the power department. Our SHG women will collect bills. We are also training them to record metre readings so that their commission increases from twelve rupees to upto twenty rupees irrespective of the amount of the bills," said the UPSRLM official.
A vast cadre of rural women
Like Rajrani, 196 Vidyut Sakhi in gram panchayats of Lucknow have found livelihood in bill collection. The livelihood opportunities expand to making multigrain flour, dry ration for children and women in anganwadi centres, papad, aachar (pickles), candles, solar lamps, incense cones — more or less everything of daily use in a household.
"NRLM [National Rural Livelihood Mission] has built a vast cadre of women such as aajeevika sakhi, bijli sakhi (also known as Vidyut Sakhi), pashu sakhi. We help these cadres with capacity building, income enhancement, and new techniques," Lucknow-based Neelam Singh, regional coordinator, TRIF of eastern UP, told Gaon Connection.
"Apart from these, we also help them find better incomes from farm to non farm activities such as goat rearing, sanitary pads making, dhoopbatti making, solar charger making," she added.
The strengthening of women cadres has come a long way as "people who would think of such groups as timepass for women have a changed mindset now. I have seen a change in attitude of women as well. For example, women who would fear even going to banks are now helping village women with bank forms", said Singh.
The focus is on strengthening of 284 cluster level forums (CLFs) of women in 78 blocks of 39 districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Lucknow, Unnao, Kannauj, Lakhimpur Kheri, Barabanki.
Running a restaurant
On the way to Harauni from Lucknow by the road, one can find a crowd asking for hot samosa, puri sabzi, kadhi chawal. Sadhna is busy managing the customers, cash box, pressure cooker in one stove, frying pooris in other.
The small restaurant Sadhna set up taking loans from the self help group has been running for the past seven years. "When I got associated with SHG I took twenty thousand rupee loans to start this business. Earlier, I used to work in eeth gara (as a daily wager). I used to earn about two hundred rupee a day, now I earn upto three thousand rupee a day," the 27-year-old, a resident of Beti gram panchayat, told Gaon Connection.
"These women have set an example for other women in their villages. After seeing their success stories, many women join these clusters and SHGs. We hope to see a big change and define what truly is women empowerment," said Neelam Singh.
This story has been done as part of a collaboration with TRIF.