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  • SEWA will continue the struggle for 'Economic Freedom': Elaben

  • SEWA celebrates 40 years of building self reliance

  • SEWA opens Hansiba Museum: Museum of the community, for the community, by the community

  • SEWA Health care celebrated International Women's Day

  • Collectively we fight, collectively we win

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No. 41 | April 2012

Self Employed Women's Association was born on 12th April 1972, in the Textile Labor Association of Ahmedabad with a membership of 1070. Now, after passing through four decades of struggle and development, SEWA celebrates 40th anniversary with a total membership of 13, 50,305 poor informal sector women workers cutting across caste, class, religion and region. On the eve of the 40th anniversary celebrations, Elaben, the founder and beacon light of SEWA urged SEWA sisters to continue their struggle for economic freedom till they attain it. The text of her inspiring speech full of spirit and optimism is given below.

H2 Side SEWA will continue the struggle for 'Economic Freedom': Elaben

It has been 40 long years since SEWA started its journey. The silver jubilee celebration after 25 years, should have been followed by the Golden Jubilee celebrations after 50 years, but I am running out of patience to wait for another 10 years to celebrate. It could also happen that I might have grown so old that climbing the dias to celebrate the 50 years would be difficult for me. Hence I thought we should celebrate the 40 years of journey. At least the speed should match with the spirits of the modern age.

I congratulate the new leaders of SEWA for their leadership and for the arrangements they have made for the 40 years celebration. I am also glad to note that in tune with the true Indian Culture to respect the elders, the present leadership has not forgotten the previous leaders of SEWA. You all have worked hard for this occasion, and it seems that everything has been put before me in a plate to celebrate.

The city's Mayor has come to grace the occasion and hence it will be very correct to say that the entire city has participated in the SEWA celebrations. I invite all the distinguished guests and my sisters at SEWA, to celebrate the 40 years of SEWA's journey and I wish we celebrate it for a full year.

If I were to introduce SEWA, I will say: "SEWA" is a part of our freedom struggle. Apart from getting Independence from foreign rule, Gandhiji also stressed the need for economic independence. The real freedom is still to come. We were freed from the foreign rule, but this freedom still exists under the shadow of economic dependence. The economic independence is still to be achieved and we need to strive tirelessly to achieve economic independence.

"SEWA" is a labor movement.

The foundation for the Labor Union was laid down by Respected Smt. Ansuyaben, who staged a protest and led mill workers to strike for increase in wages. Mahatma Gandhi also supported this movement and this gave shape to Labor Association. In fact it can be said that Gandhiji was inspired by Ansuyaben.

When SEWA was formed the labor movement in the country was in full swing. However this movement was restricted to the organized labor. The benefit was hence derived by the ones who had to deal with the Entrepreneurs, Managers and Administrators where there was relationship of an owner and worker in an organized sector. However the workers from the unorganized sectors could not get registration to any of these unions. The workforce from the unorganized sector comprised 90% of the workforce. It seemed as if these people did not exist. The challenge for SEWA was to initiate a labor movement for the benefit of the work force from the unorganized sector and to emerge for their cause at the national and international level.

In this journey of 4 decades after SEWA registered as a union, it has struggled through various phases before it succeeded in bringing the work force in the unorganized sector into the main stream of the organized sector. SEWA faced many challenges, but we encountered them and this helped SEWA emerge as a strong and successful trade union. There were friends who lend a helping hand and on the other side there were others to oppose and make a fun of our activities. We thank them all equally and SEWAs determination in continuing in its mission to work for the benefit of the unorganized sector, has won accolades of which one of them is the position of the Vice President in the prestigious ICTU.

The opponents tried to stall the growth of the unorganized sector, but SEWA has opened many such closed doors of opportunities for its members. Banks were averse to dealing with the people who earned their living through agriculture, masonry, animal husbandry, forestry etc. SEWA started our own bank "Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank" for the benefits of such members who toiled for 10 to 12 hours a day but were denied banking facilities. The SEWA bank was hence a reply to such harsh attitudes of the banks, which thereafter started opening their windows to the people from the informal sector.

SEWA members' contribution to the Co-operative movement can be judged from the fact that they have started 102 co-operative societies of which barring 2 all have been self sufficient. I salute their determination and contribution in making this movement a success.

When I joined the Trade Union as a lawyer, it somehow occurred to me that the mission stated by Smt. Ansuyaben, whom I regard as my elder sister should be continued without disruption for the benefit of the work force. I submit very humbly that I have tried to continue with the mission started by my elder sister and I see SEWA proceeding in the direction as Ansuyaben wanted to steer the movement. I believe that her life, philosophies, thoughts, and her work have left an impression on me not only as a person but as my leader.

It gives me utmost pleasure in seeing the progressive and able leadership of today's SEWA. It gives me even more pleasure when a women laborer gets elected as a leader / representative. This democratic set-up has helped SEWA in growing into a strong trade union of 13, 50, 305 members under an able and supportive leadership.

I conclude that SEWA's existence is based on the strength of collective struggle based on Gandhian philosophy. This is in fact SEWAs underlying philosophy. The more we can retain our principles the better. SEWA feel indebted to the principle of "Agree to disagree", shared by Smt. Ansuyaben and Mahatma Gandhi.

We never celebrate success; neither do we detest failure, because we've never tasted success in the true sense. But what we have learnt from failures propelled our journey further.

H2 Side SEWA celebrates 40 years of building self reliance

The cooperative fabric of the SEWA culture was visible during the celebrations of the 40th Anniversary, where members of the different wings from the cities and far reach villages in the rural areas gathered under the SEWA banner on 10th April'12, to kick start the year long celebrations of the 40 years of SEWAs journey. In the glittering event, Mayor Asit Vora shared the dais with SEWA founder Ela Bhatt.

While remembering that SEWA has now percolated to the third generation of its members, Jyotiben, General Secretary of SEWA, congratulated the fellow SEWA members. She also expressed SEWAs gratitude to each and every member, the senior members and the founder member Smt. Elaben Bhatt for their outstanding support, sacrifice and guidance which had made the SEWA what it is today. Jyotiben said that the success of SEWA stems from the Gandhian philosophy which is embedded into the basics of SEWA culture and the same reflects in its members and SEWAs activities.

As a fitting tribute to Mahtma Gandhi, a book, "Bapu Amari Sathe", which means Gandhi Along with us, written by Smt. Reemaben Nanavati, Director, Rural and Economic Development of SEWA, was released at the event. The book was inspired by the women who followed Gandhiji and his principles. It shares the experiences of the women, the struggles they faced in life, the way they have overcome it and SEWAs contribution in making their lives self reliant and independent.

The Mayor of Ahmedabad in his speech remarked that the Mahatma is always with the ones who strive to be independent and self-reliant. In true sense the SEWA members, are living on the Gandhian principles, since they strive to become self-reliant and in the process they contribute to the family and the society in general. He added that the Municipal Corporation has been actively involved in supporting the self employed women and have been working with them to solve various issues and particularly the problems faced by these women who earn their living as hawkers. Smt. Manaliben, Senior Co-coordinator of SEWA remarked that the Municipal Corporation has entrusted the work of developing the Self Employed Women's Park, being planned at Gomtipur and Jamalpur. This is an accreditation of SEWAs involvement in the development of the women from the unorganized sector.

The celebrations concluded with a cultural program by members from three generations of the SEWA tradition. The traditional Garba dance involving these variant generations, brought out the variation in the dance sequences. It reflected the unity in diversity of SEWA over three generations, which had a common element of Gandhian principles.

Smt. Namrataben, director of SEWA Academy while concluding the program, remarked that it is not the end to the celebration of SEWA's 40 years journey but the beginning of a year of celebrations. She welcomed all to participate in these year long celebrations and help in making it a success.

Later, the foundation day of SEWA was celebrated on 12th April at Jaishankar Sunadari Hall where in 1,500 SEWA members and well wishers joined the celebrations with Elaben and leaders of SEWA. The theme of the celebration was SEWA'S integrated approach to self-reliance - through capitalization, social security, capacity building and voice building and voice representation. Celebrating this theme, the third generation of SEWA members including the SEWA Kishori students performed through music, dance and drama the journey of SEWA, as well as the spirit of being a woman. Members from various parts of the state performed their traditional dances. Scholars Dr Usha Thakkar and Dr Lata Desai were the special guests at the event.

H2 Side SEWA opens Hansiba Museum: Museum of the community, for the community, by the community

The first community museum in the state, Hansiba Museum, developed by SEWA was inaugurated in Radhanpur, Banaskantha on 9th April. The museum was launched to mark completion of 40 years of SEWA's work towards women's empowerment. The museum showcases over 1,700 articles, which are either contributions or donations received by SEWA over the past two decades from their women members. These include artifacts and embroidery arts on textiles among many other forms belonging to communities of Gujarat such as the ahir, rabari, chamar, baloch, jaat, darbar and many others. Apart from the textiles, the museum also showcases lifestyle products of these communities like utensils and furniture. Means of transportation made from bronze, brass, wood and mud are also part of the display.

The museum is named after Hansiba, 90-year-old woman from Datrana, Santalpur, Patan who had also inspired the 'Hasiba' brand by SEWA. Hansiba still is a bundle of energy with active hands, growing cotton, spinning, weaving, dyeing and embroidering even now-a perfect example of self-reliance and dedication.

H2 Side SEWA Health care celebrated International Women's Day

Under the aegis of "Shri Gujarat Mahila Lokswasthya Mandali Ltd.", a meeting was organized to celebrate the International Women's day, in the town hall of Tapti Zilla and was attended by around 1,000 SEWA members, from Vyara and Tarankund. Miraiben Chaterjee, Director SEWA Social Security, District Collector and many officials of district health care and social security division were participated in the meeting. In Tapti Zilla, SEWA has undertaken programs related to health education, health camps and spread awareness on the various government sponsored health programs viz., Chiranjavi, health care for the mother and newly born, RSBY, programs for the wellbeing and health of the villages, etc.

The District Collector Shri R J Patel said that he is impressed to see women coming together in large numbers, and asserted that Government sponsored schemes, aimed at village development can be a success only with the involvement of the local women from the villages. He suggested that the Government should partner with SEWA for various development programs like providing toilet facilities and de-addiction programs, to make it a grand success. He added that Social audit of such joint exercise will reveal that such joint efforts have proved to a success. He stressed on the importance of public awareness on such Government Schemes, and said every citizen should take interest to understand how these programs were being implemented.

The Director of SEWA Social Security Schemes, Ms. Mirai Chaterjee, congratulated the women from Tapti area, for taking the advantage of the training programs getting organized and being instrumental in making village and self development a grand success. She acknowledged the support and cooperation SEWA has received from various Govt. Departments and well wishers who have helped in making the SEWAs efforts a success. The meeting concluded with a cultural program, adivasi dance and music.

H2 Side Collectively we fight, collectively we win

This is an incident that took place in village Dungar, of Vyara Taluka in Tapti Zilla. This is a small village of around 1000 adivasis, who are dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. Few of the villagers also earn their living as agriculture laborers. Of late the villagers were also employed through "MGNREGA". Since April/May 2011, SEWA has been undertaking various activities, including creating awareness on health issues, awareness of the government sponsored health programs and coordination with the villages for the implementation of these health schemes and propagation of savings and insurance, in this village.

During the visit to Tapti Zilla, the Director to Social Security Schemes, at SEWA, Ms. Mirai Chatrjee, visited Dungar village, and held a meeting of the women there to understand their problems and also discuss with them on the progress of the various activities undertaken by SEWA. During the meeting few members and the other women from the village raised an issue that even though many women were enrolled for the "MGNREGA" and had worked under this scheme, they were neither issued job/cards nor were they paid the wages. The matter was taken up for immediate discussion and efforts were made to contact the Sarpanch of the village, but there was no response from the Sarpanch and there was no co-operation either. A serious view was taken of this development and the members were guided to prepare a list of all such persons who were employed through the "MGNREGA" and were not issued job cards and the amount due to each of them.

The SEWA coordinator in charge of the Health Programs in the village verified the details on the "MGNREGA" website, and found that payment of more than Rs.5.50 lacs was due for about 100 persons from this village who were employed under this scheme. A meeting of the members was again convened on 12th November '11 and was attended by around 60 to 70 members. SEWA guided the women gathered to prepare a list of affected persons and also the amount due to each of them. The Sarpanch of the village got a wind of the developments and reached the place of the meeting with a view to disrupt the proceedings. He was accompanied by his goons, who tried to manhandle the SEWA coordinator. However the women formed a barricade around the SEWA coordinator and ensure that no harm was caused by the Sarpanch and his goons.

The Sarpanch accused the gathering of instigating the villagers and threatened to take them to the Police Station. The SEWA members boldly argued that they were creating awareness and fighting for their rights which is not a crime and hence need not be afraid of legal consequences. The Sarpanch and his goons finally left, and this created a sense of awareness in the village. Thereafter around 150 women got together and made a representation at Taluka and Zilla offices and within 20 days, the women were issued job/icards and they were paid their dues.

This taste of success has fuelled the sense of belonging and association with SEWA and the women in this village have realized the strength of unity and collective bargaining.

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