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  CONTENTS
 
 
  • Ela Bhatt awarded the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize

  • Empowered Women bring Solar Power to Munger

  • Urja-Better Housing for Urban Poor

 
 
No. 48 | March 2013
 
   
H2 Side Ela Bhatt awarded the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize
   
 

(From Elaben's speech)
I humbly accept the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development on behalf of the self-employed women of SEWA. This year SEWA is 40 years old, I turn 80. We are a sisterhood of 1.7 million. Our journey is long and perhaps endless.

This Peace Prize gives us an opportunity to reexamine our ideas of what constitutes peace. Certainly, absence of war is not Peace. Peace is what keeps war away but it is more than that; Peace disarms and renders war useless. Peace is a condition enjoyed by a fair and fertile society. Peace is about restoring balance in society; only then is it lasting peace. In my view, restoration and reconstruction of a society are essential and key components of the peace process worldwide.

If we look carefully at our world, we find that where there is unfair distribution of resources, there is unrest. When people cannot enjoy the fruits of their labours fairly, when they are forced off their land and homestead and forest, we have the basis of an unjust society. Where there is violence and conflict, we invariably find poverty. And where there is poverty, we find anger and acute struggles for justice and equity. And, we see Governments resorting to repression for ensuring 'law and order'.

I have often stated that Poverty is violence. This violence is by consensus of society and is a moral collapse of our society. Poverty strips a person of his or her humanity, and takes away freedom. Poverty is day-to-day violence, no less destructive than war. Poverty is lack of peace and freedom. Garibi Hatao is a peace song.

In India, we are proud of our multicultural society. Bahudha is at the heart of what makes us who we are: social diversity, political diversity, religious diversity, biological diversity. But in our rush to modernize, let us not forget one of our greatest assets, our economic diversity. In our markets, we have the street vendor, the cart seller, the kiosk owner, the shop owner, and the supermarket owner, all plying their trades at the same time. Let them cater to different strata of society, co-existing and competing in a natural, organic way. Let our planning include ample room for the millions of small entrepreneurs and self-employed who cater to the widest strata of society to flourish and grow. They are the agents of an economic development that reaches the grassroots; they weave the living web of social and economic relationships that will bind our nations together.

Gandhiji talked about Swaraj; he talked about economic decentralization. I would urge us to ensure that six basic, primary needs are met from resources within 100 miles around us. I call it the 100 mile principle. If food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary healthcare and primary banking are locally produced and consumed, we will have the growth of a new holistic economy that the world will sit up and take notice.

And it is possible in and around India - in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan - women have done it. Catching up with the western economic models will turn us into incompetent followers, not leaders. But if we address the realities of our own countries, we can create a development that makes us leaders of our destiny.

We need to get away from a world where people grow what they do not eat, and eat what they do not grow; where they have lost control over their basic production and daily consumption; where they have become part of a system whose outcomes are determined by people far away in a manner not in their interest nor control. In India, we have a running start, because our local economies are still alive. Let us give them the respect they deserve by investing in people who survive despite our neglect.

And where do we start? I have faith in women. Women have shown that disarmament in the end is not only a treaty by two nations to render arms useless, but a rebuilding of communities. In my experience, women are the key to rebuilding a community. Why? Focus on women, and you will find an ally who wants a stable community. She wants roots for her family. You get a worker, a provider, a caretaker, an educator, a networker, a forger of bonds. I consider thousands of poor working women's participation and representation an integral part of the peace and development process. Women bring constructive, creative and sustainable solutions to the table.

Also, in my experience, productive work is the thread that weaves a society together. When you have work, you have an incentive to maintain a stable society. You can not only see the future, but you can plan for the future. You can build assets, and invest in the next generation. Life is no longer just about survival. Work builds peace, because work gives people roots as well as allows them to flower; it builds communities and it gives meaning and dignity to one's life. Work restores man's relationships with himself, with fellow human beings, with the earth and the environment and with the Great Spirit that created us all.

Being one of The Elder, I listen to Nelson Mandela, dear Madiba, telling us frequently that "money won't create success, but the freedom to make it, will."

In the Gaza, the men and women said to me, "Without work we can neither forgive nor forget, because what have we to look forward to?" In Sudanese camp, I heard refugees crying for work, not charity. After the earthquake in Kutch, when I visited the area, everywhere I went, the women, who had lost everything, said to me, "Ben, have you brought work?"

By work, I do not mean sweatshops and cheap labour in factories that leave a person a slave to yet another kind of exploitation. Treating land and forests and people and even work as a commodity cannot build a fuller human being, nor holistic society. Such work strips them of the multifunctional, multicultural character of work that fosters a dynamic and organic growth in society. A woman who tends a small plot of land, grows vegetables, weaves cloth, and provides for the family and the market, while caring for the financial, social, educational and emotional needs of her family is multifunctional worker and the builder of a stable society. One who labours long hours at a factory where he has no control of his work or his skills, contributes one product to society whose work is 'measured' and therefore given greater credence by us, while her work is unaccounted and ignored. It is the GDP at the household level that matters. The use of word 'domestic' in GDP should not be overlooked. I do hope that one day Peace and Development will shine on the face of our land and the people, and the world will enjoy the wisdom of my India.

   
H2 Side Empowered Women bring Solar Power to Munger
   
 

Munger district is one of the poorest in Bihar, and the writ of the Maoist runs in most of the rural areas. The 13 lakh rural people living here have no access to electricity, and even Munger town is prone to long hours of power cuts on a daily basis. Today SEWA has over 30,000 members in Munger, mainly agricultural labourers, forest workers and small farmers, who have formed many self help groups and were saving small amounts from their meager income. Again and again they would say, "We only have a small kerosene lamp so we cannot do anything when it gets dark. Our life is confined to sunlight hours" The transformation of their lives started when The Ministry of Rural Development asked SEWA to experiment with a new way of using MNERGA ("Rural Employment Guarantee") funds.

SEWA proposed that solar lights be provided to women through the self help groups, partly as loan and partly as subsidy. Women would be able to use these lights to increase their incomes as well as improve their quality of life. So 20 solar lights were installed in Jalsakra village followed by 37 such lights being installed in Banbarsa village. The lights costing Rs. 8000 each were provided and maintained by SELCO, SEWA's solar partner.

The experiment was a great success. Women said their lives had changed. Most importantly, their children could study after dark. They could make more income by making leaf plates at night, they could cook better meals and they could charge their mobile phones. The repayment of loans was very good and more and more families asked to be part of the scheme.

By December 2012, the project expanded to six new villages with 125 more solar lights being made available under a new government scheme facilitated through the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the local rural bank, the Bihar Kshetriya Gramin Bank under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, scheme of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

The Bihar Kshetriya Gramin Bank extended a special loan of Rs. 6,240 to the SEWA women for the procurement of the solar lights. The DDM, NABARD Mr. Sheetanshu Shekhar said "The work of solar lights is revolutionary." Shekhar added such solar lights were urgently needed in Bihar, which was afflicted by severe electricity shortages and power outages. "It is such a boon for Bihar," he said. "Its use should be widespread even in urban areas."

The regular repayment of the monthly installment is the most significant aspect of the intervention. As of now there is 100 % recovery of the loans. Mr. S. Shekhawat, Chairman of Bihar Gramin Bank said that in several of the projects in rural areas, for which the Grameen Banks provided a loan, beneficiaries often failed to pay back the loans. His experience with SEWA, however, Shekhawat added, had been different. He said that loans were returned because of the good selection made by SEWA of women to be part of their self help groups. "SEWA has its own reputation. The selection of candidates is wonderful," he said. "In the bank circle we say that 90 percent of the work is in selecting the candidate for the loan."

In February 2013, the number of lights increased to 177 in seven villages. The solar lights installed in 2012 in the six new villages have two LED lights – 1.2 watts each. These lights do not hurt the eyes. SEWA also provides for an electrician to fix the lights if they get damaged.

The solar lights have been installed in villages without electricity connection. In some villages there is an electricity line but the power supply is woefully inadequate, in some cases restricted to half-an-hour a day. "When we first got the light, we kept it on for the whole night," said one beneficiary of the solar light. "The children kept staring at it."

The majority of village women are not educated, but they are keen for their children go to school. Most of the women said that the biggest benefit of getting the light has been the boost it has given to their children's education. Previously, they said it was difficult for children to study with a kerosene oil lamp because it strained their eyes. Now, children can study anytime they want. Girls, who are also expected to do household work during the day, now study in the night or early in the morning.

Akhilesh Kumar, a class 12 student, said that he had become more interested in studies after his mother got a light installed in their house in June 2012."The kerosene lamp was dim and flickered and hurt my eyes but the solar light makes it easy to study," he said. "Now, I can study for two or three hours without a problem."

Another benefit of getting the solar light has been the saving on the money spent on kerosene oil. Earlier, women would buy 2.5 liters from a ration shop for Rs. 18. But since they used so much kerosene oil, they would have to buy additional oil at the market price of Rs. 35 to Rs. 40 a liter. Now, however, they are saving money because they don't have to buy extra kerosene oil at the market price. And since the use of kerosene oil has declined, they are able to make extra money by buying subsidized kerosene oil and then selling it at the market price. Additionally, they no longer have to pay for replacing the kerosene lantern, made from glass, susceptible to breaking two or three times in a month.

The village women also say that they have been saving on charging their mobile phones. Previously, they had to go to the market for charging their phones, which costs about Rs. 5. They would do this two times a week and then use the phone nominally to save battery.

These mobile phones are central to village life because many of these women have husbands who work as labourers in other parts of the country. The mobile phone is the only way to stay connected to their loved ones. The village women also say that they are fond of listening to music on their mobile phones.

Now, these women are able to charge their mobile phones at home. They also save on the expense of traveling to the market, which costs about Rs. 8 for each trip. "We are charging even our neighbors phone for free," said Radhaben who has a solar light installed at her home.

Women in Jal Sakra and Banbarsa village have a tradition of making plates out of leaves. Earlier, it was only possible to do this work in the daylight. But they also have to work in the fields, cook and do all the household duties in the day. Sometimes, they receive bulk orders when there is a wedding in town. Now women, who have lights installed, can generate extra income by making plates in the night.

The solar light has also been installed in village shops. This allows the women and their husbands to keep their shops open longer and earn some extra money.

With kerosene lamps, women had to strain their eyes while cooking in their huts, which are usually dark. Now they say that the solar light has made cooking less strenuous on their eyes and they don't get headaches.

Some lights have also been installed in cowsheds so that they can make fodder, and attend to their animals after dark as well.

   
H2 Side Urja-Better Housing for Urban Poor
   
 

Project Urja is a SEWA Bank, MHT and SELCO initiative which aims at uplifting the lives of women by supplying permanent and affordable sources of energy. Under the Innovation Project a new design of roof sheet has been prepared. These sheets provide sunlight for longer hours in the houses. The 'new roofs' have not only increased their productivity but also reduced the electricity bills.

There was a noticeable rise in the illness among elders and children due to poor ventilation facilities in their houses. The installation of the new roofs has increased the air and sun penetration hence improving their health.

By using these new roofs in many areas of Ahmedabad women have experienced savings of up to Rs 80 to Rs 150 monthly on their electricity bills. The bills from the doctors have gone down since the health of the people in the vicinity has improved. Money saved by the women can now be utilized for the National Pension Scheme to secure their old age.

   
   
   
   
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