As I hesitantly entered the gates of a small hut, the first thing that struck me was the smell of the boiling rice. Accompanied by a faint smell of Curry, the environment was a typical Indian poor household. I looked to my back to confirm whether all my team mates are with me. No one wants to get hit alone. Do they? In case, I meant. A very young pregnant lady walked towards us with cautious eyes. I brought in an artificial smile and introduced my team. Who we are. Why have we come here.
She looked at us. Blank.
It was written on her face that why the so-called modern dressed – educated – youngish boys/girls are visiting her. Yeah right? Anybody would be sceptical. I tried my best to speak to her in a language which she is comfortable with. Unknowingly, here and there – some English words got popped up. But it was fine. She could understand what it was. Two minutes in to the conversation, she understood that we were students trying to help the village in some way. I said we’d like to take a brief survey about her household and with that information – suggest a suitable occupation which she can do from her home and earn some money. Actually, what we were trying to do was to understand their economy – generate alternate means of income – suggest practical methods of saving. She hesitantly gave details about her family. The first surprise of the evening for me was that this <20 year old girl is a mother of 3. And one more in the pipeline.
“What does your husband do?”
“He works as a daily coolie”
“How much does he earn?”
“You’ve got to ask him”
“Does your boy go to school?”
“Yes. From this year”
“Have you been to school?”
“Do you save anything?”
A sense of uncomfortable feeling started peeking through me. Right then – I was talking to a real poor Indian housewife who is not even empowered enough to ask what her husband is doing. Notwithstanding the fact that she is the mother of four of his children.
I turned around to brief my team. Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that I’m the only thamizh speaking person in this group. I’ve got to brief them in regular intervals to fill in the gaps. Parag, somehow, understood what she was saying and said “I told you right? There won’t be any savings”
“Now, what?” I asked my team.
“Ask her whether she knows any vocation. Like Candles, matchsticks”
I asked her. Negative.
I asked her whether she would be interested in doing a new occupation.
“I need to ask my husband”
Pcch. I felt sorry for her.
I briefed my team and we decided to go to the next household. All the 9-10 households we visited had the same story. Well, almost. Some work in agricultural lands. But most of them work as daily coolie’s somewhere in the nearby towns or even Madras.
“How much do you get as daily coolie?” I asked a father of 3.
“If it’s Rs.50 job – we won’t get more than 2 works in a week. If it’s Rs.100 job – we won’t get more than 2 works in a month”
The job-givers sure know how to keep these people in check. I realized that the Re.1 Kilo rice is the biggest boon these people have got. That made sure they never starve at all. But it isn’t enough. If the children of this village have to grow – they need something more than just food.
The government school here ensures that they get education till their 10th standard. But what next? You need money to study at college. How do you get them if you don’t save from now on? We found that the real need of the village was not food – sanitation – health camps. They knew how to take care of themselves.
But the need lies in elevating them to the next level. How do you empower them so that they save enough money to send their children to college? Empowering women will be the key. Teach them an occupation – find them a market. That, according to us, is enough.
As we lurked back to the bus walking through the homes we visited in the evening, every woman – I mean, every woman of the street – invited us for dinner.
I felt sick.
Sivakumar T [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]