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  • Annual general meeting of SEWA: Women and the Land

  • Hindi ‘Anusuya’ completes 25 years

  • SEWA participates in 43rd Indian labour conference(ILC)

  • We finally got own place!

  • SEWA Polytechnic being launched in Delhi

  • New innovation in cotton

  • Domestic workers make themselves visible!

  • SEWA member battles child marriage

  • SEWA gets UNFPA ‘laadli’ award!

  • Workshop on Public Distribution System(PDS)

Side Divider
No. 33 | January, 2011
H2 Side Annual general meeting of SEWA!

SEWA had its annual general meeting in Ahmedabad on January 21st and 22nd, which was attended by over 3000 elected representatives of SEWA members from all major trades of SEWA members.

General secretary, Jyoti Macwan, presented the annual report for 2010 and everybody cheered the growth of SEWA membership from 12, 56,000(1.2 million) to 13, 25,3782(1.33 million), moving steadily towards the goal of 25, 00,000(25 million).

The following is the number of members in each of the state:
State Members Number of members
Gujarat 7,35,617
Kerala 2000
Madhya Pradesh 4,01,080
Delhi 37,183
Rajasthan 24,501
Uttar Pradesh 82,500
Bihar 35,640
Murshidabad (West Bengal) 3500
Uttrakhand 3357


Elaben explained why SEWA should be re-examining our relationship with Land. : In recent years there have been rapid changes in the economy, in culture and in norms. In SEWA too there has been at least three generational changes since we began and we need to understand how our younger members think and what they aspire to. Most of our sisters in rural areas are associated with the land. But the relationship between the land and people has changed in a profound way.

The first change is of the status of the farmer and landowner in society. In earlier times the landowner, the land-holder, the farmer, was highly respected. The trader, the businessman was not so highly regarded. It was land, not money, which held esteem. A person with land was never hungry. Today money and business, is far more valued than land, and the youth no longer want to be associated with land. Young men have moved into other occupations and increasingly we see a “feminization of agriculture”.

This change of the status of land has also lead to a change in perception of land. For most families the land they owned was their family heritage, to be held on to at all costs. To sell one’s land was a tragedy and a shame. Today, land is just another commodity, changing hands many times a decade.

The second major change has been the change in relationship between the land and nature. Earlier agriculture was better yielding when it was closer to nature. today good agriculture requires closeness to man-made infrastructure. Earlier it was the natural fertility of the soil, the rainfall it received, the vegetation which surrounded it, which were important. Today farmers worry about the distance to the road, to the markets, to the town centres, to the electricity lines, to the irrigation canals.

The third major change has been privatization of common land in rural areas. Earlier, there were common ponds, gochar (fodder) land, village forests. Today, the rights to these are all privately held.

The fourth major change has been in the urban areas, where people have lost all rights to land. In earlier times, the common lands-the pavements, the open grounds, were used by all to generate livelihoods, to provide recreation, for trade. Today these lands have become part of the “urban infrastructure” with bridges and flyovers and “protected green areas displacing street vendors, rag-pickers, small businesses and children playing.

Earlier, open land surrounding the towns which could no longer be used for agriculture, were used to settle newcomers to the city. Today, the rights of these settlers are no longer recognized and they are called “encroachers”.

All these changes have affected women most profoundly, as women’s occupations depend more on the urban and rural commons, on nature and on agriculture. The recent changes have made women’s work more precarious and at the same time have taken women closer to the land. Our work in SEWA shows us the in which we can organize and come together to protect our lands and our rights to land.


SEWA sisters had to say the following things about their relationship with land :

Jyotsnaben, tobacco worker: “ In my village the farmers mortgage their land and lose their income. There are middle men in the villages. They mortgage their land for an amount of Rs.10, 000 to Rs.35000. In the past 10 years the owners of the land have become labourers on their own land. But then the sisters organised themselves and took loan from SEWA bank, and took back the land. We resumed our farming. Now we make a good living and are always assured of our food."

Suryaba, land labourer, village Rajgad,Gujarat says,"Dhangadra block has seen a rise in debt to banks. Due to unpredictable rainfall, farming is difficult in the desert prone areas. When I joined SEWA my family was about to sell our land. But then I took loan and saved the land. Today the land is on my name."

Namjulaben, paperpicker, Danilimda, Ahmadabad says, "I have land in my village. The mills have closed. My children were ready to sell the land. I was getting Rs..10000 for it. But I remained firm that I do not want to sell the land. I saved my land. Today its value is Rs .40, 00,000(4 million). Always use your own common sense. Do not listen to others."

Bilkiben, kite maker, says,"There are talks to make the city beautiful. I was made to evacuate the place where I was residing for 40 years. We have been thrown out to a far off place where we find it difficult to find our raw material. This has made the sisters leave the occupation and do domestic work. The city is going to be made beautiful. Should my city not be beautiful for me too?."

Rajiben:paperpicker: we agree that we do not have rights on land but do we not have rights even on the waste of the land? Because of privatization of solid waste management the work of paper pickers have got less. We not only lost our land but also lost the waste on the land.'

Raniben Ahir, patan, Gujarat, 22years with SEWA says, "I used to do embroidery. I did not have any land. From the income generated by it, I could buy some land. Half of it was on my name, so now I, a woman, am a land owner."

Savitaben Patni, vendor, SEWA union, "Vendor have direct relation with the land. Ahmedabad is expanding. Government spends a lot on development and the vendors have lost their places to sell. There is money for public roads but no space for selling wares. We only want space to keep our wares. Government has taken away our place. In that place a tower is being built."

Veenaben, community radio station leader, Manipur, Ahmedabad,"I am into stitching business. As a community station leader I work in the Sanand village of Ahmedabad district of Gujarat. At a village I went to give information about the community radio station. One of the people in the village said, "if your radio had come earlier then I would not have sold my land. Now almost all the land of the village has been sold out."

H2 Side Hindi 'Anusuya' celebrates 25 years

Anasuya is the Voice of the working poor woman, the SEWA members. It started in Gujarati in 1981 and by Jyotsnaben Milan in Hindi. On 15th December, Hindi Anasuya celebrated its 25th jubilee.

Steering the proceedings, Shri Jyotsna Milan talked about the journey of 'anusuya'. She said,“ ‘Anusuya’ for me was an opportunity to know about the informal sector workers. To me it is not a job but a mission of my heart.”

Shri Elaben Bhatt said ,"25 years of a newsletter for such a long period of time without missing a month, without any mistake, the credit which will go to the editor and Sewa Bharat.

Anusuya was one of our daring ventures. And at a time when the big newspapers have become departmental stores and “page-3” people have taken over the front page, Anasuya brings in the voice of the working poor, of the struggles at the garss roots, of their hopes and aspirations”

Shri Manorama Joshi, founder of SEWA MP said, “Anusuya provides inspiration to the informal sector women workers. They like it when they read about themselves in the newsletter. She shares this with other women as well”

Shri Ramchandra Bhargav of Gandhi Peace Foundation said “I remember that on my request Elaben had decided to start the Hindi edition of Anusuya from Bhopal. We need to keep in mind the freedom as desired by Gandhiji. Is Development worth that we have achieved at the cost of values?”

Chief Guest, N.K.Singh expressed his opinion," I am a mainstream journalist but now I feel that mainstream journalisn is like a sewer. The work done by the newsletters like Anasuya cannot be done by big time journalists. When they project women it is people like Indra Nooyi and Chandra Kochar, highly successful corporate women. But it is only Anasuya which tells us about the millions of informal women workers. "

H2 Side SEWA participates in 43rd Indian labour conference (ILC)

In the 43rd Indian labour conference (ILC) organized in ‘Vigyan Bhavan’, Delhi on the 23rd and 24th of November, 2010, SEWA was representated by Manaliben,Gujarat, Faridaben ,Lucknow and Naliniben, Kerela.

The agendas were: 1) Global financial downturn and its repercussion -unemployment, to provide security to the informal workers category through a compact package. 2) Problems of contract labour-social security wage and amendments of contract labour law. 3) To generate employment and skill development.

The conference was inaugurated by Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh and was Chaired by labour minister, Shri Malikarjun Khagreji.

When it was SEWA’s turn to talk about the issues, Manali Shah said “The biggest impact of the global slowdown has been on the informal sector but there has been no visibility of the fact. The impact of the slowdown in the area of textiles ,metals, accessories and jewelry and automobiles- transport sector has not been measured as of yet. There is the instance of home based workers (tailors) whose earnings have been reduced in this time of global recession. The construction workers who earlier used to get Rs.125-150 per day and used to be employed for 25 days in a month have been reduced to 7 to 10 days of employment and wage have been reduced to Rs.90-120 per day.

Because of their reduced income the workers have to pull out their children from schools and have to compulsorily make them work. In some households it has become difficult to provide for meals at both times in a day.

To avoid and prevent such circumstances, skill training becomes an absolute essential factor. This ensures them at least earning something from the usage of the skill learnt. Such skill development trainings take place in ITI(Industrial Training Institute). But the only suggestion from our side is that there has to certain amount of flexibility in the procedures and rule of ITI. The ITI centers should be open for 24 hours and should be in the area near to the workers’ residential colonies.”

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H2 Side SEWA Polytechnic being launched in Delhi

SEWA Delhi has just launched ‘SEWA Polytechnic’ for young daughters of its members. The aim of the polytechnic is to provide high quality advanced skills to these young girls so that they can stand firm in the competitive job market. In the absence of such opportunity they remain vulnerable.

The polytechnic would offer advanced courses in Fashion Designing, Textile Designing and Communication Design. This is an unique initiative in Delhi where SEWA Delhi has collaborated with a leading private fashion institute, Pearl Academy of Fashion for maintaining quality standards and certification.

The polytechnic was inaugurated by the US Ambassador to India Mr. Timothy Roemer.

H2 Side SEWA undertakes new innovation in cotton

Cotton crop is one of the major cash crops of India. It plays an important role in the economy of the country. India occupies the first rank in the production of cotton. Amongst all the states of India, Gujarat occupies a prime position in the production of cotton crops. Out of the total production in India, 33% of the production comes from Gujarat.

In present times the production of hybrid cotton has gone up in Gujarat. The clothes made out of organic cotton are in great demand. Catering to this demand and to gain the experience of producing colorful cotton. With the help of the agricultural university of Karnataka such seeds were planted in the crops, in the areas of Gujarat on an experimental basis by SEWA for which seeds were imported from Israel. Various nuances were experienced while planting the crop.

Voicing her thoughts, Surajben of Vadodara, Gujarat said,“I had heard about colorful cotton for the first time in my life, that too at SEWA. While growing this crop I was apprehensive whether the crop would bear fruits or it would go waste.”

The main objective behind this experiment was:

• From this type of cotton naturally colorful cotton can be obtained. This would prevent environmental pollution caused by those artificial colours and dyes.
• In producing such type of cotton less efforts and more output is received.
• It is possible for even people to get employment in rural areas.

The process would go like this -the crops would be grown by the farmers, shedding the skin by the women of the village, then woven by the weaver sisters and decorated through embroidery by local artisans and the clothing cooperative stitches the readymade garments.

H2 Side Domestic workers make themselves visible!

SEWA all over the country celebrated 7th January as 'Domestic Workers day'. In Bihar it was done by creation of posters by the workers themselves, thus in a way giving picture and words to their struggles and problems. In Ahmedabad a meeting was held to talk on the various issues concerning them. In MP it was done through rally and a seminar. In Kerala all workers wore a ribbon and took half a day off their work to meet.

In Delhi a press conference was held where the SEWA members spoke out their mind. Girijaben of Delhi shares," My employer did not pay me a salary of six months. I showed her the SEWA member card and said that if she didn’t pay me my salary, I would bring all my sisters to your house. She paid me the entire outstanding amount the same day."

In some of the areas of Indore, MP, and the women belonging to the informal sector did not have the identity cards. This problem come up when SEWA conducted meeting in the area. As a solution to the problem SEWA filled the forms for the identity cards and submitted it to the zone office. This resulted into the women getting their respective cards. The corporation issued 1500 cards out of which 700 were SEWA members. Thus SEWA M.P. through its efforts registered the women belonging to the informal sector and thus brought them within the purview of social security.

Naliniben from Kerala had representated SEWA in the international labour conference in Geneva in 2010. In the discussion in the convention for domestic workers, at that time government of India did not support convention. However due to the efforts of SEWA and other unions, the government of India has decided to ask for a convention by a recommendation at the ILC in Geneva 2011, which is a welcome development.

In the meanwhile, the task force set up by GOI, on which SEWA is also participating, has decided to look into the matter in greater depth and has circulated a draft national policy for discussion.

Significantly, the government of Maharashtra has already passed an Act and the Government of MP has also developed guidelines for the urban locations concerning welfare of domestic workers.

H2 Side SEWA member battles child marriage

There have been many instances of child marriage in the Tadkala area of Vadodara district in Gujarat. On one such instance when Madhuben got her daughter married at an early age. She became pregnant at an early age and suffered death during delivery. Madhuben did not lose heart and took this as a lesson. She started spreading awareness on marriage at proper age. She explained to the people, ‘If we being mothers do not think about the well being of our daughters who will? This time it was my daughter but it could be your daughter tomorrow.”

These words of Madhuben touched the hearts of the women. A decision was taken in the Gram Sabha that whosoever marries their daughter in the community before the age of 18 will have to pay a fine of Rs.5000.

Well done Madhuben!

H2 Side SEWA gets UNFPA ‘laadli’ award!

SEWA has been consistently toiling for the informal sector since the time of its inception. Acknowledging the fact, population first and UNFPA the fact SEWA has been awarded the 2010-11 Ladli award. This was given for SEWA’s efforts of giving voice to the views of informal sector women workers and their daughters through various communication mediums as well trying to main stream them.

The award is given by UNFPA towards effort taken to remove gender discrimination. This award was given on the 19th December, 2010 to the managing director, Indian Academy for Self Employed Women Association, Namrata Bali by the Honorable governor of Gujarat Shri Kamla Binival.

Speaking on the occasion, SEWA Academy Director, Namrata Bali says, “This is a special award for us as we have received this on home turf. The occasion is all the more special as we have completed 29 years of ‘Anusuya’(special edition for informal women workers).The lady who has been with ‘Anusuya’ through all these years is Shri Jayantikaben which makes it all the more special.

I accept this award on the behalf of all the members of SEWA. This award is for those sisters of ours who have put in all their efforts to organize women in the remotest areas. Our members are workers only who are rag pickers, weavers, construction worker, vegetable vendors who have made this possible.”

The following are the awards received by SEWA:

Dates Awards
4th November,2010 World special entrepreneur of the year 2010
11th November,2010 IIM golden jubilee certificate
15 november,2010 First world furnace award
19th November,2010 Doctorate degree from the institute of education
19th November,2010 Microfinance India life time insurance award

H2 Side We finally got own place!

Often we are so secured in our open spaces that we forget that there are people who have to jostle for each inch that they get. Such is the condition of the fisherwomen in order to pursue the trade.

Shri ‘Matsgandha SEWA cooperative limited’ (fisherwomen) works for such problems faced by the fisherwomen in their trade. One such problem of allocation of place to carry on their trade was presented in front of the local government. Because of the continuous insistence of SEWA, finally the corporation provided space to the fisherwomen in the Chamanpura area of Ahmedabad, Gujarat to sell fish. The local self government has opened godown in which lottery method is used to allocate space to the fisherwomen, where they can easily sell their wares. Because of the joint collaboration of the fisher cooperative and local government, the fisherwomen in the area also have facilities like lights, proper sitting place, gutter lines and other such facilities which have made their pursuance of trade much easier.

Expressing her delight on this collaboration, one such fisherwoman Gangaben Patni says, “We have been selling fish on the road for the last 40 years. We have to encounter various challenges like continuous threat of the municipal corporation of toppling down our things, weather constraints. After joining SEWA we have gained a position of respect in the society. The recent developments have brought relief to fish vendors like us.”
H2 Side Workshop on Public Distribution System(PDS)

The public distribution system is a topic of discussion in India presently. On one side there is illegal hoarding of food grains while on the other side 43% of the children of our country are malnourished.

To concentrate, discuss and speak on the issue SEWA Academy and global networAsia under the theme ‘Social Protection And Decent Work’ organized a workshop on food security and public distribution system on the 11th December, 2011.The workshop was presided over by Namrata Bali, director, SEWA Academy, Mirai Chatterjee, social security head. The participants’ majorly come from all over Gujarat as well as Rajasthan

In the session itself, the women started stating their problems. One such woman Umiyaben of Jodhpur said, “Below Poverty Line(BPL) cardholders at least get some foodgrains. Above Poverty Line (APL) cardholders do not get anything. Ration card dealers deny having any kind of stock. We all are labourers. Why don’t we all get things in same likeness. The whole system of APL and BPL should be abolished!”

Champaben from Gujarat says, “I am a widow. I had BPL card but without informing my card was turned into an APL card. I am the only earning member in my family. I have three children and an agricultural worker to fend myself.”
• The foodgrains received from the fair price shop is not enough to feed the family.
• The food articles are of extremely poor quality.
• There is manipulation done in the quantity given.
• The foodgrains are sold in black marketing by hording the stock.
• Sometimes the women of the house have to get as early as 4am to get kerosene. But even after that they have to return empty handed sometimes.
• No awareness about the hoe 6he foodgrains has been allocated to the APL AND BPL card holders.

As was the objective of the workshop, the discussions led to the problems as well as the solutions of the same problem by themselves.

They gave the following suggestions:

• The implementation system should be made more vigilant.
• Forming of a committee for public distribution committee.
• Regular survey of the system.
• Regular audit and checking of the fair price shops.
• Local cooperative should take care of the handling of the whole price.
• Women should be made to join the cooperative.
• There should be toll free number to sort out the problems of the customers.
• one requires food to eat and not money to fill their stomach.

Mirai Chatterjee, who is also a member of National Advisory Council, informed the government is thinking of bringing the following changes in the system:

• Local purchase and storage of the foodgrains by arrangements of godowns in the taluka and districts.
• Instead of businessmen running the fair price shops. The responsibilities would be given to the local cooperatives, women associations. If possible the administration should be in the hands of the women of the village.
• Every year the accounts of the fair price shop should be disclose at the gram sabha. (Village community meeting).
• Consumers’ help centers will be opened at the Taluka level through which people can have access to information easily. a special phone number will be given through which the consumers will be able to register their complaints.
• Along with ration card, the card holders will be given a smart card so that the consumers will have an access to the grains anywhere in the country in spite of migration.
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