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We the Self-Employed
SEWA'S electronic newsletter
  • SEWA's Continuing Fight Against Corruption

  • SEWA's Co-operatives

  • Victory to Bidi Workers in Ajmer

  • Some Voices from SEWA Madhya Pradesh

  • Full Work but Half Wages—SEWA in Jodhpur

Side Divider
No. 35 | June-August 2011
H2 Side SEWA's Continuing Fight Against Corruption

Corruption in India was highlighted last month through an unending, 24x7, media coverage of Shri Anna Hazare led agitation in Delhi. In SEWA, we were asked by media and civil society friends—"What is your stand on the Lok Pal Bill and on the agitation?". We explained how SEWA has struggled against corruption for more than 30 years of its existence and this includes corruption of all types at all levels. SEWA members said that:

"We, the 13 lakh members of SEWA from nine states of India, are firmly committed to struggle against corruption in all walks of life. We have faced and fought corruption at every step and in all aspects of our lives through organizing and united strength. Our struggle is with employers and contractors for fair earnings, it is for space to street vendors, it is for BPL cards, it is for getting police to register our complaints, it is for identity cards, it is against illegal drugs and liquor, it is to get our co-operatives, associations, companies registered…… everyday there is a struggle to live honest and self reliant lives.

Inspired by Gandhiji, we have struggled non-violently for a more just, honest and open society, one where each worker is valued and respected. We strive for honesty and integrity in our own lives and in our membership-based organizations—unions, cooperatives, savings groups and other collectives.

We recognize that corruption is not just "out there", something that someone else does, but also involves continuous introspection on how to remain honest and accountable in all aspects of our lives. We support each other in this ongoing journey. We are constantly inspired by our sisters in the SEWA movement who resist all manner of pressures and temptation, remaining true to the values of Gandhiji and our movement.

Further, we believe that the scale and levels of corruption we witness every day is fuelled by a model of development that has led to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few. Our's is a vision of an India, where no one is hungry, every hand has enough work to feed, clothe and educate our children, and to remain in good health. This vision necessarily involves a decentralization of power and resources. It also entails decentralization of accountability and governance.

We believe that such a decentralized, people-centered development, respectful of all communities and the environment, will also lead to a reduction in corruption. With processes and procedures close to us, run by us and used by us, we may be able to foster a clean, green and healthy environment for all our nation's citizens. We believe that the time has come for deepening the debate on clean, green and sustainable development.

Our country has many laws, some of which have come about after a long struggle. We feel that more attention must go into actual implementation of these laws and policies which remain on paper, if the working people of our country are not organized to demand and take what is rightfully their due. The current debate on the anti-corruption Bill has yet to take into account the views and experiences of the vast number of the working poor, most of whom are engaged in the informal economy. Our experience points to the need for widespread consultations, education, information dissemination and practical recommendations, based on grassroots-level action.

Our experience also points to the need to start with ourselves. Therefore, we hereby resolve (pratigya) to strengthen our efforts to follow the path of truth and oppose corruption in our own lives. We resolve that we will put our best efforts to ensure that our families also follow the path of truth and integrity. We resolve that our SEWA movement will always follow the path of truth and integrity. We resolve that as individuals and as SEWA we will always promote truth and fight corruption in society."

Elaben, The founder of SEWA says… "I feel there is no real need for a new law. Our country has so many laws to curb corruption, and if even 50% of those are implemented, there will be a real reduction in corruption. A new law means a new bureaucracy, a new budget and many more chances of corruption…. I no longer have much faith in laws. My experience of so many years has strengthened my belief in people's strength and power, in organizing, and especially in the energy and capacity of the youth to bring about social change……" (from an interview in CNN-IBN 23-August-2011)

Some evidence from SEWA members:

From Gujarat, Ramilaben made a list of where our members are asked for bribes :

  • Getting an income certificate
  • To a peon in order to meet a government officer
  • To Municipal cleaners for them to do their duty
  • To get a birth or death certificate
  • To get a dead body out of a morgue
  • For gas connection
  • Schools ask for donations
  • To get a Government job
  • To get any tender passed
  • To open an account in a bank
  • To the "writer" in the court when we go to pay our fines

In Murshidabad, West Bengal, our members felt that everyone has to pay bribe/speed money. Individually, they have been victims to such bribes for:
  • Obtaining form for identity card for bidi workers
  • Ration card
  • Benefits of Government schemes
  • Medical tests in hospitals
  • Any documentation required from Govt. Offices
  • Registering FIR

However, some of them felt that SEWA has been a 'gentle' crusader for anti corruption since a long time. Our own members have demanded money back from middlemen when SEWA started working for bidi ID cards. SEWA Sathis do the referrals in hospitals as they know the process and avoid paying money to middlemen. They weakened the middlemen while filling scholarship forms for their children in school. Panchayat is directly attending to the members without any agent. Even opening bank accounts for SHG has been done by making many rounds but they never paid any bribe. Members felt that SEWA has created an image of its own and people know that SEWA has their own strategy to get things working even though it takes time.

Our members in Bihar said they faced the following situations when they were asked to pay bribes:

  • "we don't get BPL card unless we pay bribe"
  • "Have to pay extra money to doctors too for treatment during emergencies"
  • "Had to pay bribe for registration of land"
  • "Installation of government taps cost only Rs 2000 but we had to pay Rs 6000"
  • "Installation of electricity connection is free but we had to pay Rs 1500 as bribe"
  • "Have been paying electricity bill frequently but still charged Rs 30,000."
  • "need to pay Rs 2000 to get death certificate of my husband. After getting the death certificate I will have to pay Rs 1500 to get widow pension made"
  • "had to pay bribe to convert my APL card to BPL"
  • "have to pay to police officer to allow us to vend in the market"
  • "the school teachers get fake signature from our children and keep the schemes money with themselves instead of distributing it to us"
  • "had to pay bribe to get house under Indira Awaas Yojana"

H2 Side SEWA's Co-operatives

Each of the SEWA co-operatives have their annual general meeting every year. They review the progress they have made and make plans for the next year. However, this year was special for some of them. 'Saundarya Mandali', the cleaner's co-operative, is 25 years old in 2011, and it honoured all those pioneers who helped in building the co-operative. Sharing the experiences of starting the cooperative, Preetiben, the manager, said, "The founder of the cooperative, Lalitaji had a dream that the women who collect waste off the roads should get dignified work and lead a life of dignity; at present there are 500 women who are members of Saundarya. Our sisters work at 44 places, including government and private offices. The sisters started with waste picking and today they are into hospitality management as well."

Bhartiben Parmar says," I am working with the cooperative since the last 18 years. Before that, although my work took me outside on to the road, my mind remind within the four walls of the household. Now I interact with all types of people, my world has opened up."

Founder Lalitaji said, "It is my desire to see the cooperative to continue its progress for 100 years. We started with 31 members which increased to 500 members. We clean institutions and households and are respected for our work. Our sisters have adopted new technologies and beautify big organizations. In order to compete it is necessary to retain quality along with quantity. However, there is also an element of exploitation, we are asked to take up work at low prices, we must never take up work where our sisters earn less." After celebrating the success of the cooperative everyone took an oath of working in organizations where labour-charges are not less than Rs 4000 per person.
The "Video SEWA" Co-operative is 10 years old in 2011. Namrata Bali, Chairperson, Video SEWA shared all the important aspects of cooperative's work during the year 2010-2011. The details of activities undertaken during the year are mentioned below:
  • Video SEWA engaged in 800 Replays and reached 25000 community people.
  • Special programme on 'Peace' was developed with the guidance from Elaben Bhatt, in which emphasis was placed on the women worker's knowledge on the subject Peace. The programme was screened at Japan where Elaben Bhatt was awarded Peace award.
  • A programme on child marriage, covering views of women and their daughters, was developed with the guidance from Elaben.
  • Nelson Mandela, Leader of South Africa, on his birthday, was gifted a special programme made on efforts of women worker's to spread the message of Gandhiji's 11 principles, Literacy and Peace.
  • Along with making documentary films, trainings on Photography and Video Replay are among the main activities.

The Cooperative reaches out to members of SEWA through trainings and replays which helps to organise them and become self-reliant through various trainings. This year the focus of Video SEWA will be on income generation activities and on increasing the membership.

SEWA Bank is the first and oldest co-operative, the 37th annual general meeting was held in the Ahmedabad Town Hall. Some new schemes this year were, the housing loan which is up to a limit of Rs 8 lakhs, and the 'Saral Loan' (Easy Loan) is initiated, which provides maximum Rs 10,000 loan to members who form themselves into a group. This scheme received great response from members. During the year, loan of Rs 12,03,20,000 was provided to 12,256 women.

SEWA Bank at a glance:

Particulars Previous Year Current Year
Shareholders 67,883 82,327
Share Capital Rs 4,53,10,700 Rs 5,29,70,650
Deposits Rs 1,05,04,94,000 Rs 1,19,47,68,390
Accounts 3,28,363 3,61,639
Working Capital Rs 1,45,67,53,500 Rs 1,64,93,67,420
Loans 1,26,510 1,48,146
Loan Amount Rs 46,64,91,000 Rs 51,69,06,439
Profits Rs 79,27,892 Rs 83,47,661

Vishakhaben said 'I am saving with Pension scheme and instead of giving her a dowry, I want to link my daughter with the scheme too.'

Deeptiben said, 'Three generations of my family are associated with SEWA Bank. My grandmother took loan from SEWA Bank to start a carpentry business. My mother took a home loan and she also took many loans which she used to get us four brothers and sisters married. I too have taken a home loan and am working as Bank Sathi in my area.'

Sangini, the child-care co-operative held its 26th annual general meeting. The current membership of the Child Care Cooperative is 657. Currently, 28 Child Care Centres are functional, which have 960 children. One of the major achievements for the Cooperative this year is that all the children who pass through the co-operative get enrolled in school. Many do very well. The children are provided nutritious food regularly which led to increase in their weight. During the year 340 parents participated in the parents-teachers meetings.

The co-operative is well-run and gets an "A" grade from the co-operative department. The co-operative contribute in the overall development of children through their various activities.

Child Care workers (Bal Sevikas) participated in various trainings like new methods of primary education training, mental health training, Education through Games training, and Time Management training. They also undertake health related work, under which 20,800 Ayurvedic medicines were sold. The sale of Insurance and Ayurvedic medicines contribute to the increase in employment of Child Care workers. With their help, 48 mothers availed benefit under Chiranjeevi Yojana of Government. 1080 parents were reached under Parents Counseling Programme, and the times of the parent teacher meeting were changed to enable fathers to participate more.

"Lok Swashtya" SEWA health Care's 21st annual general meeting drew about 1000 members. Lok Swasthya provides various services like treatment to common diseases, iron, vaccination, nutritious food, etc at the door step. The Cooperative has trained women from remote villages and urban slums who are working as Government's Asha Workers today. Some of the major activities of the Cooperative during the year are mentioned below:

  • 4 Medicine centres are functional at in Ahmedabad city which has total sales of Rs 2,44,01,670. And Ayurvedic medicines and Arogya SEWA's sales was Rs 16,87,894.
  • 1666 people were examined of which 287 having diagnosed with TB were provided treatments.
  • Information on various diseases and their respective treatments were provided through various communication mediums.
  • Health care education was provided to 2,02,335 members from Surat, Gandhinagar, Vapi, Valsad, Rajasthan (Jodhpur), Ahmedabad City and Ahmedabad District.
  • 110 Dayanben (Midwives) were provided Refresher training.
  • Health care services were provided in association with various Health Programmes run by Government. Training on the role of Arogya Swachhta Samiti (Health and Cleanliness Committee) was provided in 172 villages of Ahmedabad District.
  • 12,177 women, men and children were covered under insurance security. The insurance premium and Mediclaim amount were disbursed.
  • Under Referral services, 2869 people were referred for various diseases. 194 eye camps were organized in association with Sola Civil Hospital, which benefited 14,423 people.
  • Since 13 years, 'A' grade for audit is achieved by the Cooperative, which has continued this year as well.
  • This year the Cooperative saw profit of Rs 6,59,783.

The SEWA medicine centres are not just shops where low-price medicines are provided but free consultation is also provided along with medicines. Along with Health care, women also benefit from Insurance services provided by SEWA.

H2 Side Victory to Bidi Workers in Ajmer

SEWA's first conference of Bidi Workers in Ajmer City was organized in which 1500 Bidi Workers participated. SEWA began organizing in Ajmer city since last 2 years with Bidi Workers. Ajmer city have around 10000 Bidi Workers and SEWA has organized around 2500 Bidi Workers.

When SEWA began organizing in Ajmer city, per 1000 Bidis, workers used to get Rs 45, which after a struggle has increased to Rs 75 to Rs 80. This is for the first time in SEWA's history that in such a short time span there has been so much increase in the wage rate!

Jyotsnaben Berva shared, 'my daughter and daughter-in-law are making Bidis since last 5 years yet they have not received identity cards. We have so much of land but have not benefited from Bidi Welfare Scheme under which we can build houses. When the Government is making houses for Bidi Workers in other cities then why not in our city? This should be implemented in our city as well.'

Shardaben said, 'there are many schemes under Bidi Welfare Board but we can avail the benefits only if we are aware about them. SEWA organising will contribute towards this.'

Anitaben Vaghela, Corporator said, 'we are fortunate that SEWA has started organising in Ajmer city.'

A Memorandum addressed to Benjamin Prakash, Bidi Welfare Commissioner was presented to Raja Ram, Assistant Welfare Commissioner present during the conference. The memorandum had 3 major demands: 1) To organize camps for providing identity cards to Bidi Workers 2) Maximum Bidi worker's children can avail education benefits 3) Eye camps to be organized in the areas populated by Bidi workers.

H2 Side Some Voices from SEWA Madhya Pradesh

A campaign on Tobacco leaves was ongoing at Kadodiya village, Ujjain District. When the SEWA team reached the village, they were informed that a member Bhagwantiben fell while plucking tobacco leaves and had severely injured her leg. The SEWA team immediately visited her. It was quickly ascertained that if Bhagwantiben will not be treated then it will be difficult for her to earn to live.With the help of SEWA team, Bhagwantiben was taken to Civil Hospital, Ujjain. The doctors after introduction of SEWA were very cooperative and also informed that the medical expenses, which Bhagwantiben could not afford can be covered under Government quota with a note from the Collector. The Collector was introduced about SEWA and showed the papers, which he signed immediately. After the signature was shown to doctor, Bhagwantiben was operated. Bhagwantiben returned her village after 20 days of treatment.

Kanti Dube, now works full time with SEWA MP. She says: "The kind of work I do in SEWA gives me such immense pleasure, such mental satisfaction that one feels like going on and on, get involved in more and more work and gain more experience, get involved in the work of the informal sector, of the exploited and downtrodden women workers, help them get their deserved place in the society, lift their social and economic status. In SEWA no matter how much you work your hunger for work remain unfulfilled. "

Rekha Surve says, "I am engaged in stitching and tailoring work. Previously I used to stay only at home and do stitching work from home only. But not getting enough out of stitching I used to make Papads also. 12 years back I joined SEWA and paid Rs.3 membership fee. Then when I got information about savings from other members I saved Rs 30 stealing my husband's money. Whenever I used to attend SEWA's meeting, my family members would discourage me but I told them that I like sitting in these meetings and will surely go. Then I was elected the leader from my neighbourhood. I approached the municipality with the problems from my neighbourhood.

I got training in working on sewing machine from SEWA and took loan from SEWA in buying a machine. When my earning increased I took a bigger loan and took a plot. Then my family was convinced of my doing good work. After getting associated with SEWA I got the courage to undertake any work. Today my husband too discusses with me before taking any decision. I also assist other people in their work, and give them various information. After becoming associated with SEWA one big change of my life has been the fact that I take all the decisions of the house and about my life on my own. I never thought that such a change would come over me."

H2 Side Full Work but Half Wages—SEWA in Jodhpur

In Jodhpur the work of SEWA Bharat had started in June 20th, 2008. The aim was to build an organisation of the working women in order to address their problems. Presently the work of SEWA is underway in 15 slums of Jodhpur. Most of the members are associated with works like making handicraft items, Bandhej (tie and dye), cooking and cleaning, sewing and selling miscellaneous items. Their number is nearly 2000.

In Jodhpur, while majority of the women are engaged in making 'Kakan dora' and 'Bandhej' which involves very hard work, they do not get wages which match the amount of hard work they put in. They also get exploited by the middlemen. These women are still socio-economically much downtrodden. SEWA is trying to do a survey of these women and link them directly with the traders so that they get better wages for their work. 12 dozens of kakan dora means 144 pieces. But after making so many pieces what one gets is just Rs 10. This when one needs 21-24 beads and conch shells to make one kakan dor and that too takes 10 minutes to make. In 4-5 days only 12 dozens can be made. Similarly 1 Bandhej saree has almost 200-250 knots. Sometimes it takes two days to complete one saree. But even after toiling so much they are not given their proper value. It is the same problem with the women who are engaged in cooking and cleaning and in doing scavenging work.

To save the women from the clutches of the moneylenders and to encourage them towards savings, SEWA Jodhpur started the work of Micro Finance. The women realized that it is always better to save for unforeseen requirements that may come up anytime. With this realization 250 women came and associated themselves with the self help groups. In total 24 self help groups were formed but 2 got dissolved. But since banks are far and the women are unable to leave their work to visit banks and also to ensure that for these reasons the self help group do not get dissolved, efforts are on to try and make accounts for these women in the nearby banks with the help of SEWA's intervention.

This year the total saving has been Rs 2,86,749. Rs 1,19,000 was given out in loans to total 28 women for reasons of health, festivals, marriage, building houses etc. There is need to promote the strength of the leaders of these groups. We have started training these women so that they can carry on the work of these saving groups.

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