How this duo is transforming lives of women in rural India
An ambitious civil society initiative is trying to plug the state’s failure in some of the most backward parts of the country
On deputation from Pradan, a Delhibased NGO where they worked, to a Tata Trusts initiative called Transform Rural India, Anish Kumar and Anirban Ghose were touring Jharkhand when they met a middle-aged woman in Tilladih in Gumla district. Thanks to the introduction of water harvesting and intensive agriculture, the 70-odd households in the village had seen their average incomes shoot up from ~40,000 to almost ~300,000-4,00,000 a year. When Kumar, who was accompanied by Tata Trusts managing trustee R. Venkataramanan, asked the woman what else she wanted, she gave them an astonishing reply: She said that she wanted her children to be like them.
The woman explained that though she had more money now, she could not ensure a better quality of life for her children because her village did not have the necessary health and education infrastructure. The village school was almost dysfunctional. A serious illness could not be treated locally and often resulted in death.
“Your children do not die of diarrhoea, but ours do.Your children speak, converse and think in a certain way because they have access to good education. We want our children to be like you,” she said.
The second encounter occurred closer home — in Delhi’s Hauz Khas. Kumar and his colleague Ghose met a sweeper employed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and got chatting with him. The man, who was from Karouli, Rajasthan, said that he led a wretched life sweeping the city roads even though in his village he had land, three buffaloes, and could afford to eat rotis with ghee. But he had made the trade-off for the sake of his children. Though his village offered him a better lifestyle, it had negligible medical facilities and no school to speak of. At least in Delhi, he had a better chance of keeping his children alive and giving them an education.
That’s when the penny dropped for Ghose and Kumar. They realised where NGOs like Pradan, which work to empower the marginalised, came up short. While they could certainly make an impact on improving livelihoods, food sufficiency, create income opportunities for women and so on, they could not ensure that the children of TRI was launched in 2016 as an independent civil initiative
It aims to collaborate with the government to work towards raising income levels, improving the quality of education, health and sanitation in its project areas It identifies an NGO, which has vast experience in the education sector to work with a government school to increase accountability and tone up delivery
Mapping of villages by the govt in 2011-12 found that 100,000 villages were “stranded”
TRI will focus on this backward area, goal is to raise household incomes
these communities would get proper medical care or would speak, think and behave like city-bred kids.
“Our studies showed that a girl born in rural India is 80-90 years behind a girl born in an Indian city. Communities’ aspirations regarding education and health were simply not being addressed,” says Kumar.
And this is where the Transform Rural India (TRI) mission comes in. Launched in 2016 as an independent civil initiative, TRI aims to collaborate with the government to work not only towards raising income levels, but also improving the quality of education, health and sanitation in its project areas. For instance, it would identify an NGO which has vast experience in the education sector to work with a government school to increase accountability and tone up delivery.
A mapping of villages done by the government in 2011-12 found that 100,000 villages, mostly in central India, Jharkhand and Bihar, were “stranded”.
TRI will focus on this backward area, and the goal is to raise the income of 80 per cent of the households from the present $1,200 per year to $3,000 per year. TRI also plans to ensure that all households have proper drinking water and sanitation facilities and that school dropout rates are reduced so that 80 per cent of the girls study till the age of 14. There will also be an effort to create vocational skills and opportunities for the students.
To begin with, TRI will concentrate on Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. But eventually, it hopes to extend its work to 40,000 villages in the country’s most backward regions. Employing a cluster-based approach, the mission has so far reached 25 blocks and 1,600-odd villages while the target outreach is 3,200 villages.
The work is expected to cost ~6 million per block for five years. Both the MP and Jharkhand governments have been responsive to the project and ~1billion has already been leveraged from them.
The aim is to eventually impact the lives of 100 million people.
Kumar and Ghose, whose deputation ended in 2016, have now immersed themselves full-time into TRI’s work. And though it’s early days, Kumar says that progress has been discernible. The question is, what the state has not been able to do in over 70 years after independence, can a civil society initiative with corporate backing achieve in a fraction of that time or even at all?
TRI’s journey promises to be a telling one.
Kumar and Ghose, have immersed themselves full-time into TRI’s work. They aim is to eventually impact the lives of 100 million people