Self Employed Women’s Association  
SEWA
Self Employed Women’s Association
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Dear Friends,
 
The Self-Employed Women’s Association, SEWA, is a trade union of women workers in the informal economy in India with 700,000 members of which nearly 500,000 are in Gujarat where SEWA’s headquarters are located. SEWA’s members are the poorest working women including homebased workers, street-vendors, small producers and labourers. Since its inception over 30 years ago, SEWA has sponsored around a 100 co-operatives and federations, including the SEWA Bank.
 
As you may be knowing SEWA has been facing some problems with the Government of Gujarat in recent times. Although SEWA is not affiliated with any political party and works with all democratically elected Governments, since last year it has become the target of the Government of Gujarat.
 
   
  In 2001 there was a devastating earthquake in Gujarat in which over 20,000 people died and hundreds of thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. SEWA had a large presence in the worst affected districts and SEWA members, their families and neighbours were badly affected. SEWA supported its members in the worst-affected districts, first through relief work and later with long-term rehabilitation with livelihood restoration as our base. SEWA worked with its sister organisations especially the local Associations of the women. Taking note of these efforts, the international agency IFAD approached SEWA to undertake a seven-year programme of large-scale rehabilitation of victims of the earthquake which was to be a unique partnership between IFAD, the Government of India, the Government of Gujarat and SEWA. For two years the project went well and SEWA was able to reach 14,000 families especially the poorest of the poor.
   
  However, after two years of its implementation, and in spite of regular audits and programme monitoring by the Gujarat government, the government deliberately withheld all reimbursement of expenses incurred by SEWA and its sister organizations for progammes already carried out. The total outstanding amount was a staggering Rs 2 Crores or Rs 20 million, an amount that was impossible for SEWA to reimburse or compensate in any way. With no funds, all the employment and other economic activities in the three project districts came to a halt, and caused immense hardship to the local people. 12000 SEWA members, many of them the poorest, who had worked on the project, could not be paid and literally had no food in the house. We tried all ways to get the Government to pay, but after many months of no payment and no employment, many families had to sell their vessels, cattle and other hard-earned assets and many of them have been forced to migrate in search of livelihood.
   
 
At the same time, there were many attempts to try and break the SEWA solidarity in the three districts of the project area. Government officials would go to the villages and speak against SEWA especially to the menfolk. Officials would call meetings and try to get people to speak publicly against SEWA. A team of officials went to the villages to make a video which would highlight negative things about the project. SEWA organizers and leaders were publicly insulted in meetings. SEWA women leaders were summoned and told to leave SEWA and start rival organisations.
 
SEWA attempted in all ways to dialogue with Government, contacting higher officials, rushing to meetings which were called at the last minute, trying to meet the Chief Secretary and the Chief Minister. But instead of easing the situation the Government slapped a special audit which was used to justify the stoppage of funds. Even though there was no justification for this , and no provision in the project agreement for a such a special audit, SEWA was transparent and opened all its accounts.
   
  These accounts had already been audited by Government appointed auditors and approved by Government itself. Furthermore the IFAD mission had also looked at the progress of the project and had already suggested certain changes in systems and practices, which SEWA had begun implementing.When the special auditor was unable to find any misuse or misappropriation of funds, he began to question the expense policies and the basic premises of the project. The special audit became only a means to send misinformation and to leak to the press.The Government of Gujarat deliberately attempted to malign SEWA. It leaked the queries of the special auditor to the newspapers in the form of “financial irregularities” when no such irregularities had been found. We were maligned in newspapers in Gujarat and all over the country. SEWA has built up its reputation and credibility over 30 years of dedication and clean and transparent work. Our Executive Committee met on October 5th 2005, and decided to withdraw from all projects of the Government of Gujarat.
   
 
We held a press conference in Delhi and announced this decision. On November 11th, 2005, with the support of Gandhian organizations in the state, SEWA organized a silent rally to protest the cessation of employment opportunities for workers in our state and the shrinking space for civil society. 5000 women marched through the busy streets of Ahmedabad and to the Sabarmati Ashram for a rally and prayer meeting.Since then the Government has continued the harassment in various forms. We have been receiving letters from various Government departments for return of projects in which the funds have been spent, audited accounts submitted and the project closed, in some cases ten years ago. Recently, Government has illegally put it’s name in as co-owner of a piece of land owned by SEWA in Patan district and where a Handicraft Centre is being run by SEWA. Similarly, organisations which are sponsored by SEWA, or are close to SEWA, are being harassed, for example, the Associations of artisans in Kutch (Kutch Craft) has been told to vacate it’s workshed which was given to it by the local Government 15 years ago. Projects on which SEWA is working with Government of India, such as Shanta project for the widows and orphans of the 2002 riots, are being blocked by the Government of Gujarat. In order to destroy our reputation the Government has posted on its own website a report which is totally one-sided and defames SEWA.
   
 
The newspaper accusations of “financial irregularities” have proved to be false. The Government itself has never written anything to us accusing us of financial irregularities. In fact it finally released Rs. 23 million to SEWA for reimbursement of costs. An independent, highly reputed auditor was appointed by us and this auditor has given his report saying that all our accounts are clean and above board. This report is available with us for distribution. It has not reimbursed expenses of 3.3 million which we are still claiming and following up. However, till today the Government of Gujarat has not acknowledged our letters or made any statement disclaiming the newspaper reports of financial irregularity, or tried to clear our name in any way.
 
In spite of all this we have tried to continue a communication with the Government. We have been writing and asking for meetings with the Chief Secretary to sort out all the pending issues. The founder of SEWA, Elaben Bhatt, has been asking the Chief Minister of Gujarat for time to meet him. However, we have not got any response.
   
 
We have often asked ourselves why the state government has decided to attack us at this time and in this manner. Clearly, there are no simple answers. What we have learned is that when a mass-based organisation – and that too of poor, working women of all communities and castes – grows and expands its base, it disturbs the traditional power balance all along the line.
 
Also, the fact that SEWA organizes women of all faiths and castes is not acceptable in some quarters. And it is these poor women who take the lead for social change in their villages. Further they do so in a clean, and transparent manner.
 
The attacks on SEWA, is part of the present government’s attack on civil society, in general. Harassment of other civil society organisations in Gujarat by the state government, conducting vigilance enquiries withholding their funds and damaging their reputation, points to the fact that SEWA alone has not been singled out by this state government.
   
 
SEWA is however rooted in the Gujarati soil and the solidarity within SEWA is strong.
SEWA’s members are wholeheartedly with SEWA and we are able to turn to each other for support. When the Government stopped funds, SEWA members contributed 25,000 kilogrammes worth of foodgrains for their sisters. They also contributed a day’s worth of income to their sisters in the affected districts. In addition, Rs. 2 million worth of membership dues were contributed towards the project.
 
Our friends are also with us and we have received hundreds of letters of support from our friends in India and abroad. We are confident that we will emerge stronger from this crisis.
 
The stoppage of funds has resulted in the out Migration of families in search of work
   
 
Migration Data of the village of Surendranagar and Patan under Jeevika
   
 

Sr. No

District

Name of the Village

Migrated Family

1

Surendranagar

Enjar

30

2

Surendranagar

New Enjar

60

3

Surendranagar

Jogad

250

4

Surendranagar

Ajitgarh

15

5

Surendranagar

Saubra

60-70

6

Surendranagar

Fatehpur

75

7

Surendranagar

Bhalgam

50-60

8

Surendranagar

Sedla

70

9

Surendranagar

Nagvada

90

10

Surendranagar

Gedia

25

11

Surendranagar

Kharagoda

40-50

12

Surendranagar

Thara

40

13

Surendranagar

Nimaknagar

60

14

Surendranagar

Mithagoda

25

15

Surendranagar

Kathawara

250 (persons)

16

Surendranagar

Rojva

25

17

Surendranagar

Padiwada

200

18

Surendranagar

Khor

20

19

Surendranagar

Mulada

200

20

Patan

Bhadvad

10

21

Patan

Datrana

20% Households

22

Patan

Ranmalpura

30% Households

   
  With regards
Yours Sincerely
Jyoti Macwan
General Secretary
   
 
 
  Sewa Letter to Friends - E-NewsLetter Special Edition
  Jeevika Achievements
  Audit Report
 
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Report of the independent Auditor dt . 22/2/06 : - General Report and Specific observations
-
Report of the independent Auditor dt . 30/11/05 : - General Report and Specific observations
  Stumbling Block - Inddia Today
  The aim is to discredit SEWA
  Firing Line
  Letter From IFAD
   
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Self Employed Women's Association
SEWA Reception Centre, Opp. Victoria Garden, Bhadra, Ahmedabad - 380 001. India.
Phone : 91-79-25506444 / 25506477 / 25506441, Fax : 91 - 79 - 25506446, Email :mail@sewa.org
     
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