SEWA'S electronic newsletter
No. 17
August to December 2008
  • Mumbai Tragedy: A plea for a non-violent path
SEWA news
  • SEWA Elections and new Executive Committee
  • Parliament passes Social Security Act for the Unorganised Sector SEWA’s Resolution
  • Recognition for SEWA Kerala
  • Unnat Bazaar’s 5th annual meeting
  • Prime Minister’s National Council on Skills — SEWA's Views
  • SEWA MP and the President of India
  • Bidi workers win ID cards in Murshidabad
  • Papad workers come together in Bikaner
  • VimoSEWA on the way to a Cooperative
  • The beginnings of a SEWA movement – Uttrakhand
  • New work for a new generation
  • Celebrations
Mumbai Tragedy: A plea for a non-violent path
It was Mumbai, India’s city of cities, and the Taj India’s best known hotel where a deadly drama was played out in full view of the world. ‘Why us?’ said the glittering people of Mumbai. But surely when wealth and power, trade and industry, beauty and media all come together in a single place, that place is sure to attract attention and attack.

Today we are proud of our power to attract dollars. We are proud of our high tech hospitals, of our world class universities whose graduates earn lakhs of rupees and of course of our nuclear power. But we are the same nation whose villages are being starved, where the poor in cities live in ever increasing unsanitary slums, where families do not even have a toilet to use.

We feel terrible about what happened in Mumbai, it seems unbearable to us. It is something beyond terrorism, something even beyond an attack on India. Mumbai is now being seen by some groups as the same category as London, New York, Madrid or Bali. In the euphoria of globalization our industries, structures, education, lifestyles and even our cities are becoming like the Americans or the Europeans. Those in Islam, who hate the Western way of life, are today seeing India and the West through the same lens. Do we really want to become a copy of the western ways?

We call ourselves a nation, but our identities are so divided. We see ourselves as hindus, or muslims or christians; or as high castes, dalits and obcs; as gujjars and meenas; as marathis and biharis. Further, we think of “I” before society—give me the ticket, give me the contract, let me put others down and get rich myself. In order to face attacks successfully our identity as an Indian needs to be foremost; before caste, religion or my own accumulation of wealth and power.

We all want to have a better life, a good job, have a good education, be respected in society. But a society which accumulates wealth by violence, by looting or cheating others, by structures which favour the few and put down the majority, will always face violence as a result. We need a nation whose economy grows in a non-violent (ahimsa) way. Where people co-operate rather than compete, where they pool their resources rather than try and grab from one another. We know that those better endowed will succeed, but ahimsa requires that we make sure that, the weak, those with less-- less education, fewer assets, less opportunities--- are part of growth.

We tend to blame our Government for problems which occur in society, but the political leadership is often a reflection of the economic system. Surely our markets, our labour markets, money (finance) markets, product markets can use the vast resources of knowledge and information at our disposal to have a different type of economic growth and development. A non-violent growth is one which is in harmony with nature, strives for equality, decentralizes wealth and assets and emphasizes the local economy. In such an economy everyone has productive and dignified work and the basic needs of all families are fulfilled. Our pride in India should come from such a society, not from nuclear weapons and superior means of violence.

That said, our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who perished in the senseless violence in Mumbai, some of whom were our friends. And our congratulations to the brave policemen, firemen and commandos who rescued us from further tragedy.

By Ela R Bhatt

SEWA holds its elections and gets a new Executive Committee
Every three years SEWA elects its Trade Council and its Executive committee. This is process that takes about three months as the trade council consists of one representative for 200 members. 2856 representatives were elected from 124 trades in a democratic process with elections held in each trade and each district. These 2856 representatives came together on 18th December 2008 to elect the SEWA Executive Committee consisting of 25 members.
SEWA’s Executive Committee 2008-2011 List
2009 -2011 SEWA’s Executive Committee
Sr. Name Place Work
1 Ramilaben Rohit, President Anand Farm Worker
2 Gauriben Brahmin, Vice President Patan Embroidery worker
3 Shantaben Parmar, Vice President Ahmedabad Vegetable Vendor
4 Monaben  Dave, Vice President Ahmedabad Full time at SEWA
5 Jyotiben  Mecwan, General Secretary Anand Tobacco worker, Now Full time at SEWA
6 Mittalben Shah, Secretary Ahmedabad Pharmacist
Now full time at SEWA
7 Mumtazben Baloch, Secretary Radhanpur Embroidery worker
Now full time at SEWA
Members of Executive Committee
Sr. Name Place Work
8 Parvatiben Makvana Ahmedabad City Construction
9 Rajiben Parmar Ahmedabad City Paper  picker
10 Sarojben Nandal Ahmedabad City Bidi  Worker
11 Shabnamben Shaikh Ahmedabad City Readymade Garment
12 Zebunnishaben Shaikh Ahmedabad City Agarbatti
13 Ushaben Patni Ahmedabad City Vegetable Vendor
14 Pinaben Rathva Vadodara District Farm Worker
15 Chandrikaben Kuhar Surendranagar District Farm Worker
16 Sumiben Khant Sabarkantha District Farm Worker
17 Ranbaiben Rauma Banaskantha District Farm Worker
18 Valiben Parmar Mehsana District Farm Worker
19 Fulkuvarba Jadeja Kutch district Embroidery Worker
20 Urmilaben Parmar Gandhinagar District Farm Worker
21 Elaben Mahida Anand District Farm Worker
22 Sharifaben Vora Anand District Farm Worker
23 Kapilaben Bhailalbhai Anand Distrcit Farm Worker
24 Elaben Patel Ahmedabad District Cattle rearing
25 Raniben Patel Ahmedabad District Farm Worker
Parliament passes ‘Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 and SEWA’s Resolution (passed by SEWA General Body on 18th December 2008)
SEWA’s 11 lakh members from all over India, welcome the “Unorganised Workers Social Security Act” just passed by Parliament and congratulate the Government of India and the Honourable Members of Parliament. This is the only Act of its kind in the world bringing social security to 40 crores unorganised workers, in India. An Act for social security for unorganised workers has been SEWA’s demand since last 20 years. We first raised this with the Commission on Self Employed Women 1988, and then with then Second Labour Commission 2002 and have continually done so with successive Governments since. SEWA’s previous General Body Meetings have passed resolutions demanding this Act, we have taken out rallies in Delhi and in State Capitals pressing for this demand and we have taken delegations to leaders to explain the need.

Unorganised Workers are insecure and vulnerable and so often slide into poverty in spite of hard work. This Act will provide security to the 40 crore unorganised workers. It will give them a recognition through providing identity cards; insurance for a death in the family; financial help during illness and hospitalisation; help during maternity and a support in old age.

The crucial need now is for the benefits of this Act reach to all those who work throughout India-- in the farms of far-flung villages, in the forests and the mountains, in the seas and the lakes, within their homes and on the streets. It should reach to the 40 crore workers who are creating the wealth of India, making it one of the fastest growing nations, so that along with the growth of the country, their lives become more secure. In particular, it is important that the benefits of this Act reach to the poorest and most invisible workers, especially the women. This will happen only if the Act is implemented in an inclusive way, to reach all workers.
SEWA demands that:
  1. The implementation of this Act should be decentralized and involve all the institutions of this country which are working with or directly reaching the unorganised workers. It has to be decentralized to reach crores of scattered workers. The institutions involved not be part of the Government bureaucracies but would be handed over to any local agencies including panchayats, post offices, existing welfare boards, trade unions or employers organizations, NGOs, Micro finance agencies, co-operatives, and self help group federations. These agencies must be registered bodies with a good track record and proven financial management. They should be empowered to undertake the functions of the Worker Facilitation Centres and would register the workers, provide identity cards  and act as the delivery point for providing welfare measures.
  2. This Act will provide real security to the workers only if they actually get the benefits. This will require that funds be made available for implementation of this Act. SEWA therefore demands that the Government of India make available enough fund to cover all the 40 crores workers of the country and provide them complete social security.
  3. The schemes under the Act should not be only for BPL or any one category of worker but must be accessible to all.
  4. SEWA has had 35 years of experience as an organisation of poor women workers of the unorganised sector, and in helping to provide them social security . Looking to the depth of experience and the large reach, SEWA should be deeply involved in the implementation of this Act.

Recognition for SEWA Kerala
After a long struggle, SEWA Kerala has been recognized and registered  as a trade union by the Government of Kerala. Established in 1983, SEWA Kerala has worked to organize poor women in interior areas of the state and link them to new livelihoods opportunities.

Unnat Bazaar’s 5th Annual Meeting
Unnat Bazaar (SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre) held its 5th annual meeting, in which it reviewed its expanding work, as far as Afghanistan.  This year, Unnat Bazaar celebrated a 53% increase in sales, the launch of the Hansiba brand and a new retail outlet in Mumbai.  It will soon expand into South Asia.

Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development SEWA'S Views
As a member of the Prime Minister’s National Council for Skill Development Renanaben Jhabvala shared SEWA’s perspective with the Prime Minister and the Council. In India the “higher” level skills have been given a great deal of attention with the result that we have highly qualified professionals in every field. However, there are practically no formal training courses for workers who have not passed the 10th standard. They learn their skills on-the- job or are taught informally by relatives and neighbours. It is this huge mass of workers that the Government needs to reach through the new Skills initiative.

With the fast changing economy linking in with Globalization, the value of manual work has been declining with a negative effect on women, who tend to manual work and are being replaced as technology takes over. Any skills policies will have to target women workers in particular to upgrade their skill, so that they do not become casualties of globalization. For skill training with a focus on women, it is necessary to identify the sectors where women are employed (or employable) in large numbers which include the construction industry, home based work, financial services, health and personal services and most important growing feminization of agriculture. Skilling India would be much faster if skills programs are built on people’s already existing traditional skills and knowledge including traditional mid wives, traditional crafts and organic agriculture.

SEWA MP and the President of India
The President of India, Pratibha Patil recently visited Madhya Pradesh, during which she met Manoramaben Joshi, founder of SEWA MP. Manoramaben detailed the state of the informal sector to the President, and stressed the importance of the Social Security bill and the need for a national bill for home based workers.

Bidi Workers win ID cards - SEWA Murshidabad
SEWA has been working in Murshidabad, West Bengal since 2004 with a membership of over 1100 home based bidi workers. Members have especially faced difficulty in attaining the benefits they deserve, due to lack of identity cards.  With the support of experienced union organisers from Ahmedabad, Murshidabad’s bidi workers recently were granted identity cards from the government.

Papad workers come together - SEWA Bikaner
The papad workers of Bikaner came together for a large meeting in which 250 workers shared their problems and struggles.   In front of the labour commissioner, members put forth their situation: they earn only Rs. 10 for rolling 100 papad, and cannot access social security benefits.   SEWA Bikaner compiled members’ concerns and submitted a petition to the Labour Commissioner.

VimoSEWA on the way to a Cooperative
VimoSEWA has been providing insurance coverage to SEWA members since 1992.   This year, it is working towards registering a cooperative, in which women workers are shareholders and managers of their insurance services. After a series of meetings with SEWA members across the country, VimoSEWA has recruited 8,000 shareholders, and Rs. 1 crore, 10 lakhs in share capital.  Potentially the world’s first women’s insurance cooperative, VimoSEWA has submitted its registration application in December, after which a decision will be rendered in three months.

SEWA Uttrakhand – the beginnings of a movement
SEWA Uttrakhand, which began working in 2007, held its first large women’s meet, in which over 300 women workers came together in Almora.  Women shared their stories and learned about SEWA  -- and created the beginnings of a SEWA movement in the Himalayas.

New Work for a New Generation
In today’s changing economy, SEWA has worked to provide new opportunities for adolescent girls and our members’ daughters.   Through management courses, SEWA’s next generation now work in petrol pumps, as nurses in a local eye hospital, and in the hospitality industry.  The Rai SEWA school has been training a new batch of teachers and women prepared to work in hotel management, fashion design, and retail merchandising.  And 5 graduates of SEWA’s mini-MBA course have started their own business. 

- Sneh Milan - SEWA Academy celebrated education and literacy through a “milan” or event with over 300 women involved in SEWA’s education and training efforts. SEWA childcare workers, literacy teachers, and trainers across SEWA’s work came together to share their successes and promote literacy.

Diwali  - In an increasingly globalised world, SEWA celebrated Diwali this year through promoting local and internal markets.  SEWA members worked to make traditional candles, food, and sweets, and earned over 15 lakhs in business – all without a marketing manager.  This year’s Diwali was thus a celebration of local employment, and proof of the skills of SEWA members as entrepreneurs and managers.

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