We the Self-Employed
SEWA'S electronic newsletter
No. 22
October 2009
  “SEWA is a worship of togetherness” –“Ela bhatt”*
  Protest by Construction Workers of SEWA Delhi
  SEWA Bhagalpur’s crusade to support the self employed women vendors
  Case study on effect of recession on the families of diamond workers
  Working women take a break
  SEWA at the ILO’s Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Strategies for Social Security Coverage for Workers
  SEWA at International Visitor Leadership Program in the United States of America
  “SEWA is a worship of togetherness” –“Ela bhatt”*

I was brought up in those years when our country was fighting for its independence.  Thereafter our country became an independent republic country. We as youngsters were committed to reforms in the country. Let us create a society where every citizen can enjoy the freedom.  There was no doubt of fear in our minds because the environment was such that it made us ready to fight the challenges. The path to reform was shown to the country by Gandhiji. His life itself was a guiding light. He has lived everything from cleaning the toilets to purifying the village lake, to evolving the life to the highest spiritual standards.For me and for SEWA the Gandhian thoughts have been a constant motivation. They provide courage and solve all the confusions of the mind.

  Then we were taught to see the economics from the point of view of a common man. We learnt that economics is truth and to create confusion is not progress. Secondly economics means non-violence. Violence and freedom are completely contrary values. Thirdly economics means labour, respecting labour and labour is pure. Labour is the order of the nature (and isn’t conflict over labour the main reason behind the financial crisis today?)  Fourthly economics means human values. Anything at the cost of humanity is not pardonable. We learnt that we have to build our country on these fundamental principles of economics. Slowly we also understood that if human life is a centre of all thought processes than our international perspective should also be accordingly cohesive and comprehensive.
  * from Elaben's speech while receiving the Gandhi Peace Prize. Read more...


Protest by Construction Workers of SEWA Delhi


SEWA Delhi has been making consistent efforts to organize the construction workers into a strong union. This was to facilitate their registration with the Delhi Building and Other Construction Worker’s Welfare Board (DBOCWWB), constituted in the year 2002. Registration with the board entitles the workers to a registration card, which serves as their identity proof and provides for social security benefits. SEWA Delhi presently works in Sundernagri, Rajiv Nagar, Anand Vihar, Gokulpuri, Raghubir Nagar, Punjabi Bagh and Timarpur areas of the city.


The registration process however, is not very simple and often involves various challenges for SEWA as well as the workers. It was to protest against this unfair practice of the Deputy Labour Commissioner; SEWA Delhi teamed along with our construction worker members and went on a hunger strike on 8th of October 2009.

  SEWA Delhi had submitted the application forms for registration of over 200 workers at the office of the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s of East and North-East district in the month of March 2009. However, there was a persistent delay in their registration with the board as the board officials kept on informing us that the passbooks are out of print.
  The passbooks arrived only in the month of September and since then SEWA staff members had been requesting the officials to hand over the passbooks to them. The Deputy Labour Commissioners of East and North-East district however, refused to hand over the passbooks to SEWA staff members on the ground that they would give the passbooks only to the workers themselves. This by all means is not acceptable to the workers as coming to the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s Office means a long wait to receive their passbooks and loosing out on their daily wage. The loss of a day’s wage severely affects the income of these workers who are not able to find work on all days of the month and have no security of employment. 

The workers completely disapproved of the Deputy Labour Commissioners’ decision and argued that the passbooks must be handed over to SEWA staff members since the workers themselves cannot afford to forgo their daily wage to come to the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s Office. The protest and the hunger strike were massively covered by the media. When a T.V News channel questioned the Deputy Labour Commissioner, the Deputy Labour Commissioner had no choice but to agree to the demands of the workers.


After a daylong protest at the office of the Deputy Labour Commissioner, it was the workers who emerged victorious in their struggle. SEWA staff members were finally handed over 246 passbooks of its members. To celebrate the victory all SEWA staff members together had a meal followed by gulab jamuns(Indian Sweets).


SEWA Bhagalpur’s crusade to support the self employed women vendors


On January 23rd, 2009 Veena Yadav, the mayor of Bhagalpur, provided a piece of government land to SEWA for the time being. This land was provided predominantly for women engaged in manufacture of handicrafts and homemade items. The Market is known as ‘SEWA Bihar Bazaar E Aam – Mahila Haat’.


Once the land was allotted, at the insistence of the vendor women, SEWA Bhagalpur helped put a shelter from the sun as earlier the women had to sit in the open space. However in the absence of any fence, the temporary shelter was lost to the wandering animals of the vicinity and the vagaries of nature. Women vendors continued to work out of the same piece of open land in lack of better options braving the elements of nature.


SEWA Bhagalpur swung into action again seeing the plight of the women and wrote for assistance from SEWA Ahmedabad and in the mean while the financial assistance arrived, SEWA Bhagalpur started the work. They wanted to put up cement pillars and barbed wire fences around the area and increase the level of land to make it more comfortable to sit and sell the wares that the women brought to the market.


However, this work did not go down too well with the ward councilor of the area and he brought the construction work to the attention of the mayor. She visited the site and started questioning the motives of SEWA in wanting poor women’s money in such construction. On being informed that SEWA was undertaking the construction at its own cost and nothing was being charged to the vendors, she still deemed it illegal and stopped the work.


Women showed their unwillingness to use the land allotted as it was far away from the main market which restricted them from earning more. Plus they had to travel for hours to reach the market to sell their wares. 


SEWA Bhagalpur is campaigning amongst these women to return to the land. However, one crucial demand remains unaddressed, which is access to small loans of Rs. 500 to 1,000 to boost their incomes. As they Say “har kaam mein poonji to lagti hai na”?  (Every Business needs investment) Inspite of all odds these women are striving hard to keep their work going and SEWA Bhagalpur is trying to provide support at every step.


Case study on effect of recession on the families of diamond workers


Global recession has affected businesses worldwide; millions of poor people in India have been directly/indirectly affected as a result. To access the impact of the recession on the families, ILO and SEWA undertook a study. This study included discussions with families from Surendranagar district and Bodeli town in the state of Gujarat, India. 


The study evaluated the effects of pre and post recession on the families of diamond workers. The following were the observations:

The rural to urban migration evident in recent years has now taken a reverse track.
Child drop out ratio from schools due to the lack of funds to support their kid’s education is visible as one of the fallout triggered by recession.
An increase in the crime rate due to lack of employment opportunities and means of income in Bodeli district.
A fall in the living standards from urban to rural, due to reverse migration has affected the working condition vis-a-vie: Working environment, no job guarantee and lower wages.
Fall back on the savings for survival. For e.g.: mortgaging family land.
Cost cutting on basic necessities. For e.g.: food, clothes and shelter.
Psychological setbacks.
Manpower (including women and children whoever from the family could work) were called upon to contribute towards the family’s earnings.

Experiences shared by few women:

Ushaben (Bodeli town): I got my two daughters admitted at a hostel in Kheda with a hope and dream to provide them better education. However due to our deteriorating financial condition we were not able to pay for their fees. As a result we had to call them back to the village.
One lady (Bodeli town): We managed to educate our daughter till 12th grade. She worked hard and scored well but we couldn’t get her admitted for PTC due to our financial crisis. Our dream to see our child study further has been crushed.
Village people (Bodeli town): There was a young guy from our village who worked in the diamond factory. He knew how to drive. On being retrenched he returned to the village and hired a tractor. However as the crop failed he couldn’t get as much income as he had expected. Financial problems casted their shadow on his family life as well and he had frequent bitter quarrels with his wife which further added to his frustrations. He was psychologically disturbed and eventually ended his life by committing suicide. 

The roots of recession are every deep and the result will be adverse. Yet these villagers are hopeful and optimistic about the situation improving for the better in near future. Some of the suggestions that came through these discussions by the villagers for the government are as follows:

New cottage industries should be set up in the villages and the government should ensure that permanent work is made available to the people.
Government should set up more schools in the villages providing quality education at a lower cost.
Inflation should be controlled and in comparison to the inflation long term employment plans should be developed.
Care should be taken by the government to provide enough opportunities to avoid people from migrating from villages to towns.
Steps should be taken to provide employment to village people on the basis of their capabilities.

SEWA bank's savings scheme, especially designed to encourage savings among the self-employed women, came through as a major support system in the times of crises. A lot of families, who had developed the habit to save, could dip into their savings to meet their financial challenges. Also, SEWA bank's various loan products, tailor-made for self-employed women was another source of reliable financial support. These enabled women to access some capital and using which they started small scale businesses to face the recession and its challenges.


Working women take a break


SEWA and Surendranagar Mahila and Bal Vikas Mandal organized a special three day tour cum picnic for 195 women to Saurashtra, located on the Arabian sea coast of Gujarat. The participating women were mostly Salt Pan Workers, field labourers and those working in the Rudi market. The picnic was intended to let the women have a break from the daily struggles of their lives and rejuvenate their spirits. This three day tour was organized from 23rd to 25th August, 2009.

  SEWA at the ILO’s Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Strategies for Social Security Coverage for Workers


The ILO in Geneva organized a tripartite meeting on 2nd September 2009 to discuss strategies for extending social security coverage to all workers. Representatives of workers, employers and government from different countries participated in the conference.


Mittal Shah, Secretary, represented SEWA at this tripartite meeting. In the course of this three-day meeting, consensus was reached on the following:

Universalization of social security is a must. It is a right of all workers. It must reach all workers.
Minimum social security should be available to all. It should include at least the following: Work/employment security, health care, childcare and pension. Countries should build on these basic levels of social security and offer further schemes and benefits.
In order to ensure that basic health care reaches all workers, countries should work with health care providers and facilities.
ILO will provide technical assistance, support for research and policy action in the health sector, in coordination with other UN agencies.
Integrated social security services, meeting agreed-upon quality standards, should be made available.
All countries are capable of providing basic social security to all workers.

Employers, workers and government representatives agreed to adhere to these basic principles and key features of social security. SEWA has also been emphasizing such an integrated and holistic approach to social security for the past four decades. We view work security and social security as two sides of the same coin. The importance and necessity of this approach is now finding resonance world-wide.

  SEWA at International Visitor Leadership Program in the United States of America

  Beenaben Trivedi, SEWA National Council Coordinator, represented SEWA at the international Visitor Leadership Program organized by the State department of the USA.
  The issue under discussion was trafficking, particularly affecting children. As part of the programme, the meetings took place at various government departments, private companies, educational institutions, judicial offices and the police. These meetings and interactions happened in the cities of Washington DC, Seattle, Indianapolis and New York.
  The visit provided insights into understanding the structure of the American economy, its labour laws, education infrastructure and the administrative systems. The programme also included visit to American villages.


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