Questioning Women Empowerment  - Lessons from Jalswarajya Project

This paper is an outcome of the documentation process to support my scholarly study titled ‘Review of Jalswarajya Project through gender and development perspective”. A field visit was carried out at Jaulke (D) village located at Dindori Taluka of Nashik District in the month of March 2007. The village is said to have implemented Jalswarajya Project in the year 2002. Technically Jaulke is a Batch I Phase I village of the project. The project was implemented for a period of 18 months and now in principle said to be in operational and maintenance phase.

The water supply scheme build at the village was outsourced to the local contractor. Villagers were to contribute 10 per cent of the capital cost for the infrastructure. The poor and the marginalised were said to contribute in kind (five per cent), in the form of labour and the elites contributed cash (five per cent). During the investigation process, at the Gram Panchayat, the village bank pass-book indicated a substantial amount of balance was unutilised from the budget provided for water supply infrastructure building under the Jalswarajya Project. The Gram Panchayat accountant highlights 1/3rd of amount are yet to be received from the DFT.

During this process of cross-verification of accounts, the accountant of the village reveal that the unutilised budget from the capital cost would be used for other purposes. On the contrary, under the project to maintain transparency, the contractors are to provide three quotations (for small project) and tender (larger project), which includes the 10 per cent people’s contribution. The field realities highlight the rural poor are employed by the contractors which excludes the five per cent contribution in the form of labour. In fact, there has been no people’s contribution in the form of labour; every cost of labour is borne by the contractor.

The Deputy Sarpanch of the village report Jaulke (D) of being 100 per cent free from open defecation. When asked about the elderly population being comfortable of defecating in 4 x 4 room size, totally stuffed with the smell of their own excreta. The Sarpanch reveals that the elderly population of the village still prefer to defecate openly. It is only brought to their notice when intimation is given by the monitoring committee from the district office. The normal procedure of giving intimation is a week in advance in written consent, during this period the elderly is compelled to use the 4 x 4 room size toilets to defecate. Once the monitoring team examines the practise of sanitation at the village, the elderly again switch back to their normal practise.[1]

The deputy Sarpanch of the village reports of Jalswarajya being implemented in the year 2002.  It took a year for the DFT members of Nasik district to understand the project. In 2003 when these officials understood the project, it took another year for the villagers to understand. In the year 2004 to 2006 the project was said to be implemented. Through field visits and cross verification with the villagers the project outcome was supposed to be implemented on 20th of March 2007. This was the day the water supply scheme was being functional. Keeping these factors into account, the new strategy adopted by the government of Maharashtra (GoM) towards recruitment policy highlight that all recruits with the government excluding the MPSC (Maharashtra Public Service Commission) and UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) recruits are appointed for 11 months contract which later is said to get extended depending upon the personal evaluation of the staff. Across Maharashtra, staffs appointed at the district especially DFT are known as private employees of the government.[2] 

The present deputy Sarpanch was the Sarpanch of the village for past 15 years, with the new government regulation (GR), with one-third of the Panchayat body consisting of women, he had to give up the authority to a woman belonging to Schedule Tribe (ST) category. He insist to justify though his position of being the village head had de-valued, but still he remained an active member for the development of the village as compared with the other villages.[3]

Jalswarajya means self-help groups (SHGs) for the women.

Initially the women in the tribal hamlet of the village, turned hostile to respond to the investigator. The village had four savings groups or SHGs, out of which two SHGs (e.g., Group A and Group B) consist of BPL families. One of the member from SHG (Group B), reported of saving Rupees 50 per month, with a regular saving of more than a year, the group today has been dismantled. It was brought to the notice by the member that, the BPL SHGs was mainly dominated by the village Sarpanch. Major benefits from the government welfare scheme including the Jalswarajya – Women Empowerment Fund was favouring Group A. The reason stated by members from Group B was that the president of the Group A belonged as the village head. The Group A carried out an income generation scheme under the project, especially the sanitary mart at the village level. This sanitary mart was in function only when there was demand from other villages. In a year, the sanitary mart was operational for about four to six months. Reflecting on the Jalswarajya PIP (Project Implementation Plan) document and Addendum III, it states:

that the BPL families or the needy would initiate village development activities with a focus on water and sanitation like, developing RSM (rural sanitary mart), construction of soak pits, Roof Top Rain water Harvesting structure, Hand Pump/Platform repairing, Water quality testing Water Tax collection, Record and Account keeping etc.

On contrary, it was noticed that there was a strong power nexus that holds efforts to provide financial support even amongst the deprived.

It is interesting to note, at Jaulke village, most government officers visit to motivate villagers to establish SHGs. The officers do not consider the power structures that inhibit the cohesiveness even between the members of a group, and within groups. The key results that concern the facilitators are based on target approach – quantifying the number of SHGs at the village. For example Group B which has been in the verse of dismantling is not supported by necessary training programs. This example of Jaulke village clearly states, under the Women Empowerment Fund which is categorised of 60 per cent of the budget to be used for training program and 40 per cent as seed money to the SHGs are of one time activity[4]. There is no follow-up being maintained to strengthen the SHGs over the five year long period as stated under the project. Henceforth, the key issue directed by the project for empowerment of women lies whether or not the strategy for empowerment is significant to bring change. This experience at Jaulke also highlights the notions about people’s participation. If participation was all about coming together to use the seed money for income generation, where does the project principle lie while preparing the Village Action Plan (VAP) under each component of the project. So women’s participation in the project was overwhelmed by the men who decide for their women for what they need, or was it the power structure that existed amongst the marginalised women for being the village head favouring her SHG then the other similar category of SHG from the BPL listings.

In contrary to the APL (Above Poverty Line) SHGs, they are said to be the most successful groups in the village. The members of the groups are part of the corporate family that exist at Nashik City[5] and the MIDC region located within the jurisdiction of the village. These SHGs have initiated income generation activities: a) Cashew nut making and b) Rationing of Aaganwadi at the village.

The Cashew nut making activity which is said to be initiated by the SHG is a contradiction to the phenomena of collective action. This activity is owned by two women from the SHG. They brought in personnel funds without the loan being sanctioned by the SHG, but the activity is said to provide employment to other members of the group. It is a hypothetical situation whether such activity would initiate the process of women empowerment without tackling the issues of gender discrimination at the village level.

Irrespective of efforts made under the Jalswarajya project to strengthen and establish SHGs at the village, there are certain situations which often contradict after the establishment of the saving groups. The existing savings groups when approached the nationalised banks for approval of loan, they receive Rs 25,000 as initial loan amount. The amount approved to SHGs for initiating an income generation activity is not sufficient to compete with products available at the market, as a result most of these saving groups prefer to produce low-cost product, without market appraisal. As a result we observe most of the SHGs in rural areas are mainly involved with papad, pickle, paper bag, pottery making etc.

As we are aware about experiences from SHGs in rural India, keeping in consideration of the budget (the saving pattern and the available bank sanctioned loan amount), most group tend to product similar products, which in turn have an adverse impact at the group. It is only after the recovery of the first loan amount sanctioned, an addition of Rs 25,000 is provided to the group. The conditions existing under the banking policies do not create a favourable ground to support the national movement of women empowerment. These are few gaps which could be addressed under the projects which aim for empowerment of women through collectivisation.

Jaulke has a total of 894 women population in the village and the members in the four SHGs comprising a total of 48 women (12 each in one group). Keeping this factor into account, one can clearly demarcate the utilisation of the Women Empowerment Fund. Under the project activities, this meeting is supposed to be held for planning and implementation of the women empowerment fund, unfortunately, the members attending the meeting are the SHG members, and the common agenda are overridden by SHGs and their future activities. During the interviewing process, most members from the tribal community were scared to reveal the village political dynamics that existed.[6] Henceforth, the study still needs to analyse the existing patterns of political dynamics that are prevailing at the rural level in projects such as water and sanitation where gender components are concerned.

[1]  When asked to the Deputy Sarpanch of why not putting a compulsion for the elderly for the use of modern toilets, he responds of being offensive to lay conditions for the elderly as their new practices. The socio-culture practices at villages (Modern India) often questions  the hierarchal power system existing even between men, so we can still forget about the hierarchal system that is prevailing between a woman and a man.

[2] This experience was gained while working with the DFT Ratnagiri district and Yashwant Rao Chavan Institute of Development Administration (YASADHA) both being a government and semi government agencies respectively.

[3] These are common experiences across Maharashtra where men as deputy Sarpanch are the active players for development of the village. Though ample study highlights, women as Sarpanch are passive partners of development, under the Jalswarajya project, there is still a more comprehensive finding to be generated about the relationship between the deputy Sarpanch and the Sarpanch of the village.

[4] However, this budget under the WEP has been revised to 40-60 proportion; where in 40% of the total fund is provided for training and 60% for income generation.

[5]  Jaulke village is about 10 kms away from Nashik City.

[6] One of the women from the tribal community revealed the political dynamics in very abstract form and considered the rest to be analyzed by the investigator. When asked about the rest, she persisted to be short, so that others could not hear her. She highlights a saying in Marathi, “Vintenna Pan Kane Asthat”, which means even the walls have ears. 


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