Three women firewood gatherers of Satna in MP strike out on their own to do something more profitable
For years they gathered and sold firewood to earn a pittance, but then the three women from Barha Mawan village in Madhya Pradesh, changed tracks and are now in a much better place.
Sachin Tulsa tripathi 9 March 2022 7:19 AM GMT
Barha Mawan, Satna, Madhya Pradesh
For thousands of women who live in and around forests, the day begins early, usually much before day break. While they get busy cleaning, cooking, feeding cattle, washing… the most important task they then engage in is going into the forests to collect firewood. Their livelihood and their kitchens run on that.
There are about 200 families in Barha Mawan village in Satna district where the menfolk usually work as farm labourers and the women collect firewood from the forests. But, three women from this village in Madhya Pradesh decided to break away from that backbreaking job of collecting firewood that barely got them enough money, to do something different.
Rajlalli Mawasi, who got married in 2003 and came to this village, is one of them. "I was about nineteen years old and when I came here as a newlywed, I was immediately sent to the forests to forage for firewood," the 38-year-old inhabitant of Barha Mawan, told Gaon Connection.
"I had to do it to live. I woke up every day at five, maybe earlier, finished my chores at home and set out to the forests to gather wood. The following day I would go to sell it. For these two days of hard work I earned sixty rupees," she said.
From firewood collector to a vegetable seller
But even that paltry income dried up when there was a nationwide lockdown in late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We could not go to the forests and at the same time we were struggling with water shortage in the village. So, we spent time digging a well. Next to it I prepared a thirty feet by ten feet area of land and sowed vegetables," Rajlalli said.
Today, thanks to that, she said she earned about Rs 200 daily by selling vegetables.
It took her and her husband Ramashray Mawasi two weeks to dig the well, said Rajlalli. They took inspiration from Devmani Sen, a teacher of a neighbouring village Pindra who had also dug a well to deal with the water problem.
Rajlalli and Ramashray took the help of the Kapil Dhara Yojana of the Madhya Pradesh state government, that helped families living below the poverty line with various schemes, one of which also includes help with digging wells.
"Our well was deepened and widened under the yojana at a cost of four lakh rupees, and it is now thirty eight feet wide and thirty six feet deep," Rajlalli said.
From firewood collector to a shopkeeper
Chandrakali Mawasi also decided to do something different to earn an income. Like Rajlalli, she too collected firewood and sold them for a livelihood, but now she runs a shop where she sells biscuits and other snacks.
"You can see our village and how for miles around there is no other source of employment for us. After toiling all day and climbing up and down the hillsides to collect firewood, all I would have is a fifty rupee note tied to the corner of my sari pallu," she told Gaon Connection.
But a few years ago Chandrakali became associated with a self-help group called Shabari. Then she worked as a cook at an anganwadi centre where she earned about Rs 2,000 a month. "I saved some money from this and two years ago I opened up this shop," she said.
Chandrakali said she sells about Rs 400 worth of eatables a day from it. "I earn upto two hundred rupees a day from this," she added happily.
From firewood collector to a farmer
Sarmaniya, who turned 50 this year, has spent most part of her life working on farms or collecting wood in forests. While she married and came to Barha Mawan village, about eight years ago she returned to her parents village Kuldari, 20 kms away, when her father died.
"I am an only child and after my father passed away, he left behind four acres of land. I used to plough that land with buffaloes," Sarmaniya told Gaon Connection.
But soon, she took a loan and bought a tractor to plough her land and also work in the fields of the bigger farmers. She has to repay the loan she took, she said.
But things are looking up for Sarmaniya, she said. "I am earning about four lakh rupees a year," she added.MAdhy
"Before, it was a struggle to make ends meet and support a family of ten, with the money I earned from collecting firewood. There were days we went to bed hungry," Sarmaniya recalled. "But that was then, this is my new life," she concluded.