Meet the Women of Azadpura Village | Azadpura Rural Housing Programme
Meet the Women of Azadpura Village
Azadpura is a small village, 11 kms out of the town of Jhansi, in Madhya Pradesh State. The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture, selling wood for fuel, and wage labour. Azadpura falls under the Special Area Development Authority (SADA), as it is very close (7 kms) to an architectural conservation site, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh. However, due to near bankruptcy of SADA, no programme had been implemented here since the colony was formed at the behest of the prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960.
The Sahariya community of Azadpura is a tribal population and is settled in a partially detached settlement, away from the rest of the village. DA has been involved with the Sahariya community through the Azadpura Rural Housing Programme. The programme was operated through TARAGram (DA's appropriate technology centre in Madhya Pradesh).
The aims of the programme included:
- working with villagers to meet their basic shelter needs
- generating local employment
- providing sustainable building material options to the region.
Members of the women's cooperative discussed their experiences with DA, while they weaved jute and manufactured paper products. Sitting in the shade of one of the new houses they shared jokes and stories and explained how the programme includes many components in addition to shelter.
"We used to earn each day and spend those earnings for our food each day."
Before getting involved with DA, most of the women worked as agricultural or general labourers for daily wages. On a day to day basis they could not be sure whether they would find work or not. Recalling the past the women say, "We used to earn each day and spend those earnings for our food each day. We used to borrow money also." Many of them also used to collect wood from the jungle to sell. They say, "When we used to collect wood from the jungle the Rangers used to stop us. We used to give money to them. They used to beat us also. We had a lot of difficulties."
The village has neither sarpanch or panchayat (village level governing bodies), so the women say, "we have not received any kind of help." Many of the women say it is their lack of education that prevented them from getting good jobs. They also note that in the past they lacked confidence and were afraid to speak out. They say, "We could not speak before but now things are much better."
"Then we used to think that when our own people could not do much for us then what will these females do."
Today the women seem very happy about their experiences with DA and point to many sites of change in their lives. However, they were not always so confident about the organization. Recalling when DA first came to the village, they say, "We used to think that when our own people could not do much for us then what will these females do. We did not believe them." But slowly trust was established.
At first the women saw in DA, an opportunity to construct better houses and to get short term employment. The old houses were low mud constructions with poor quality clay tiles on heavy wooden understructures. The women say, "The ceiling used to leak. It was broken. The wood was broken so during the rainy season it was very problematic." As for the new houses, one woman says, "The house is very spacious, there are no problems related to the house."
"... Our house is very strong!"
DA worked with the villagers to construct 49 houses. The women explain their part in the process, saying: "people had to get water, get the materials together, then call the mason, and also get wood." The villagers have since constructed another similar home on their own.
The construction process was a learning experience for all; no two houses are exactly similar. The building techniques used, included non-conventional materials such as: compressed earth blocks, and micro-concrete roofing tiles. All of these materials were produced in a decentralised manner creating local employment. The old houses were usually not torn down but rather, kept for storing wood or hay.
The women are obviously proud of their new homes. They show the deeds to the houses and point to the plaques on the outer walls bearing their names. The women say, "these houses are made by TARAGram. They say that it is very strong. If somebody argues that this is not strong, we will fight with the one who says this! We will say that 'no!' our house is very strong!"
"We work here with our full devotion. The whole day we laugh and talk a lot. We are really liking it!"
As we discuss their experiences with DA, some of the women are making plaits of jute while others bend and paste handmade paper into folders and other products. They are now working with TARAGram through the women's cooperative. They are obviously enjoying themselves as they sit in a group in the shade and work. Their children occasionally plop down beside before heading back off to play. They chat and laugh as their hands quickly shape the fibres into mats and other handicrafts.
The women all chime in together in the praise of the cooperative saying, "we love our work. Everyone (at DA) is good. We work here with our full devotion. The whole day we laugh and talk a lot. We are really liking it! We consult and ask each other for help. We work here together. Our time passes nicely as we laugh and chat together. Therefore we are very happy."
Barriers and Obstacles
"My husband does not cooperate with my work and does not take responsibilities."
One problem the women face at work is with the materials. They say, "many times we do not get jute." Other issues are not as simple to manage. While some say that their families, and in particular their husbands, support their work, others have found it difficult. One woman says, "We leave our houses and work here. This is the greatest problem."
Another woman adds, "I am alone at home. There is no money. My children are very unwell. My husband does not cooperate with my work and does not take responsibilities." Some of the women say that their employment has also created some tension in the village, noting "People are jealous in the village, they do not like our working."
"The biggest tension is borrowing an amount of money. It is worse when we are unable to return that sum."
Money issues are another common concern. Unexpected difficulties such as illness, can destroy what little security villagers manage to create for themselves. For example, one woman says, "My husband was very sick. For his treatment the expenses were very high. I had to sell my ornaments (jewelry) also. Now we will face those kinds of problems well. We haven't lost courage."
The villagers generally do not have access to fair credit. They take loans at extremely high interest rates from local money lenders or landowners. One woman says, "The biggest tension is borrowing an amount of money. It is worse when we are unable to return that sum." Another adds, "Our biggest problem is money. Money is the root cause of everything."
The women are determined though. They have plans to establish a credit scheme through their cooperative. The spirit of collaboration is already there. One woman says, "we solve issues by the help of the other villagers. In case of big problems we consult our elders."
"Not much change has come in women whose husbands drink and play cards."
Women's ability to progress is directly related to their family support. One woman says, "my husband agrees with my working and says that I work very hard." Another adds, "My family members want me to open the same thing (handicraft production centre) at my in-laws village and teach the women out there also."
For other women the double work burden is compounded by pressures from an unsupportive family. One woman notes, "Before marriage we used to get our way as our parents used to listen. But now in our in-laws place it is not so. Whatever they say one has to do." Another woman says simply, "not much change has come in women whose husbands drink and play cards."
"Now we eat food by working in TARAGram. We stay now more comfortably. There are not many problems now."
The women go through a litany of all the changes they have experienced in the past few years. Some of these changes are directly connected with their new homes and employment. For example, one woman says, "Due to the new house we got employment. We now have the urge to keep it clean too. Names are written outside the house by which we have the sense of belonging." Another woman adds, "In that old house we used to live by selling wood. Now we eat food by working in TARAGram. We stay now more comfortably. There are not many problems now."
The woman also highlight the increased security they feel their jobs give them. One woman notes, "Now if the husband is helpless we can manage the expenses by our own money. We can also take care of our children." Another woman adds, "In comparison to the other villages, our village is very good (due to the work). "
"A lot of changes have come after working. Initially we could not talk with people but now we do not have much inhibitions."
Other changes described by the women are linked with their increase in self confidence. This is partially a result of the education and literacy component of the scheme. As one woman says, "We have becomes practical/ intelligent here. We now know how to read and write!"
This confidence also stems from being involved in a successful project. As one woman says, "A lot of changes have come after working. Initially we could not talk with people but now we do not have much inhibitions." Another woman adds, "We have risen a lot by working here. Therefore we are not ashamed of working here. Before we could not talk to anyone but now it's not so."
Moving Towards Sustainable Livelihoods
"If this work continues then we will be very glad to teach our children to work here!"
For Azadpura to progress further, men need to become more involved in processes of change. Men also need to have improved access to employment, adult education, and other resources. As one woman says, "If our men get employment, only then can the changes be made possible."
Some women see their children as the future of progress in the village. They see change coming through the next generation. One woman says, "We want our children to get the best education and that way they will progress in life." Another woman adds, If they (our children) get educated then they can do something else. Otherwise they have to do the same thing as we were doing." One young woman notes, "my son is too young to study now. From the time he starts studying I shall leave everything and teach him."
The women add, "If this work continues then we will be very glad to teach our children to work here!"
Meet the Women of Azadpura Village | Azadpura Rural Housing Programme