With the help of the district administration and the government, women in Dantewada have associated with self-help groups to earn a livelihood and improve their standard of living.
Home to almost 5.5 lakh people, the district of Dantewada has seen the worst of times. Maoist rebels took control of the area a decade ago. Besides the Naxal violence, alcohol-fuelled domestic violence and rampant unemployment affected women in the area adversely.
But years later, these very women have come a long way. Empowerment has led to micro-entrepreneurship flourishing across every corner of Dantewada today.
Over the years, several IAS officers have come and served as district collectors, leaving behind a mark in the area. Thanks to them, it has become a habit for women to involve themselves with certain self-help groups (SHGs), mutually collaborative associations that facilitate employment and livelihood for women. These groups strictly follow the tradition of “All for one, one for all”.
Each one of these self-help groups (SHGs) comprises a group of women who discuss and decide what they are going to do to employ and sustain themselves. The self-help groups are collaborative, insightful, and serve as platforms for anyone in the district looking for employment opportunities.
The options include organic farming, growing “Kadaknath” chicken (a rare black coloured breed that originated in Dantewada), running e-rickshaws (supported by the government), making household items, making brooms, and working in schools and hospitals.
The income the women make is equally distributed among all members of the self-help groups. Collective decisions are taken when it comes to margins and shares in selling what they make.
They can choose to take up multiple activities as per convenience and the money made.
With the support of the state government and the district administration, Shakti, a community centre and a platform for employment, has been set up. Different self-help groups come together and collaborate to make a self-sustaining living for themselves. They sew clothes, uniforms, make ready-to-eat food/ pickles and sell them in the local markets, as per quotations they decide by themselves.
The system at Shakti is extremely women-friendly. If a woman wants help, the centre offers mentoring and coaching, helping women with knowledge and resources.
Shakti also has a rehabilitation and counselling centre, with women doctors and counsellors, to protect women from domestic violence.
E-rickshaws for women, by women
What turned out to be a revolutionary idea was dedicating electricity-run rickshaws to select women in the district, under the name Danteshwari Seva. These only-for-women environment-friendly auto rickshaws run on electricity. As many as 85 women are now using these e-rickshaws; 400 more are to be employed by March 2018.
Speaking with YourStory, Gaurav Kumar, CEO, Dantewada Zilla Panchayat, said,
"Each rickshaw costs Rs 1,60,000 and 80 per cent of the total cost is covered by the government; the remainder of the amount is pooled in by the self-help group the driver is a part of. The objective is to give strength and support these women. They can choose to take up as many activities as they want yet the income is always shared by group members."
The drivers are given smartphones with an SOS button that will alert the authorities. The vehicles run on lead batteries as of now, but the district authorities plan to employ lithium-ion batteries very soon, which will need a 2-hour battery charge. With lithium-ion coming in, the vehicles can run up to 120 kilometres per charge-cycle.
If a man is found driving these vehicles, the government gets to take the vehicle back.
The change can be seen across Dantewada
Champa, a woman hailing from Patil Para, Kasori Gaon, is an e-rickshaw driver in Dantewada.
Apart from making around Rs 400 every day with her rickshaw, Champa grows her own Kadaknath chicken, own mushrooms, sweet potato and makes brooms. Champa is now a micro entrepreneur who enjoys a comfortable lifestyle with support from SHGs.