Story of the Month

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This page is a collection of narratives, interviews and photographs that records not only our projects and initiatives but also celebrates the people of Kumaon. Each month, we commemorate the contribution, work and the efforts of an individual or a community, without whom our work could not be possible.

Deepa Bisht (Reetha area) : From teaching to running her own shop, and how joining an SHG changed her life.

The very first person you’re likely to meet when you go to the Reetha village square, is Deepa Di. She will be in her shop, always ready to greet you with a large grin and a cup of tea. Anyone and everyone going through Reetha always stops at the shop, result of which it has also become everyone’s source of information. On a relatively quiet afternoon, I sat down in her shop and asked her to tell me her story.

“I got involved with Chirag through the Prod Shiksha Program. I taught women aged between 30-50 to learn how to read and write. When I started out, they didn’t know anything so I started from scratch; with alphabets. I taught them for an hour every day. It was very difficult for them to grasp reading and writing, but after three years they started reading big words such as ‘Hindustan’. They learnt how to write their names and their children’s names. At the end of four years, when the program was shut down, they could read complete newspapers. I had small kids when I was a part of the program, but I had a passion for teaching. I often thought that I wanted to learn. The money was meagre; only 150 rupees a month, but I did it only because of the learning. I would finish all my work at home; it was tough leaving the kids behind, but it was only for an hour or two. I had to cut grass, feed the cows and all do the household work, but I would make time for myself.

After the Prod Shiksha Program, a library program called the Room to Read program was started by Chirag. I was part of the program for a few years, after which I joined the Bal Shikshak Program. I worked in schools for 5 years, giving training and teaching children. I taught the children all day and sometimes I would even go to other schools to give trainings. The number of children in our school, the Nathuakhan school, gradually decreased. Only 14-15 kids were left. The program was then discontinued in our area due to the small number of children. I then joined Gene Campaign. I worked there on agriculture for 4 years. It was a mix of office and field work. Then I thought, ‘What do I do with a job?’  So now I’m here, running my own shop.

After my first project, the Prod Shiksha Program was shut down, I joined the Sheetal SHG in Nathuakhan which was started in 2001. When I joined, there were 18-19 women. Today, there are 13; some of them dropped out because of having too much work or because of having to handle their homes. It has been 15 years since the SHG was formed and today, I am the Adhyaksh of the SHG. There are a lot of benefits of joining an SHG. Number one, we get into the habit of saving, however small the amount may be. Initially it was 10, after which it was gradually increased, and today we’re saving 100. Secondly, women have so much work to do, attending the meeting gives them an opportunity to sit down and rest for a bit. Third, I didn’t know anything about banks and bank work. I received a lot of training while part of the SHG, from Chirag. I learnt how to do bank work, deposit and withdrawal. I learnt all of this after joining the SHG. Today, our SHG has a 90,000 rupee saving of its own. Every member now has a saving of 8000 rupees. So ultimately, it’s all benefits. I can always borrow money from the SHG, for it is our own. I have taken loans for agriculture: to buy seeds for peas and apricots, for my children’s education and even to build a house. We keep giving and borrowing money. We also gain a lot of information from SHGs. We go outside, see things and attend trainings, naturally our knowledge increases. Otherwise if we sat at home all day, we would just have been limited to house hold work and even then if someone would’ve told us something, we wouldn’t have listened to them. People become narrow minded and believe that their job is to continue doing household work so they don’t pay heed to outside information.

This is also why it was difficult to form the SHG. Since the women were daughter-in-laws, it meant explaining the concept of a SHG to the entire family instead of just one woman; as each one needed permission to join. Especially when the question of money comes up, the matter becomes even more problematic. Nowadays the women are far more independent. They earn their money through income generation activities. At the time, there was nothing of the sort. Women were entirely dependent on their families. Even asking for 10 rupees meant having to beg for it. It was the same for every woman, including me. Now, we deposit 100 rupees every month and no one says a thing. 100 rupees isn’t a burden for the people any more. We earn the money one way or another. Be it the Federation, or selling seeds and herbs. Basically, 100 rupees is easily earned. Even if someone says something to us now, we can say that it is our own saving (grins).

Women are becoming increasingly independent. Family members still worry about us women; if a woman goes home late, they worry. Earlier we never got out of the house; now society has really progressed. All women now go to the bank. When we formed the SHG, none of us would go to the bank. I myself hadn’t seen anything at that time. We then slowly got to learn how to deposit and withdraw, and now most of the women go on their own. There were a few women that worked with Chirag, and looking at them, people began to believe in Chirag. When I formed the SHG, there were only two other women with me and looking at them is how the others joined. Initially, I went to the bank, then two other women went, then 4 others and that’s how we learnt. Nowadays the facilities have improved, society has progressed, and earlier the condition was pretty bad, now the families have also begun to understand.  Nowadays we are the ones who have changed. The way we were brought up is not the same way we will bring up our children. It’s the time of Education now, and everyone is becoming smarter, so why should we be anyone to stop? There will still be a few women who will think that we must treat our daughter-in-laws the same way we were treated; but no, that is wrong. It’s good if things are changing, we should let our children learn new things but ensure they stay on the right path. When I started working, I had to look after the children, the cows and work in the fields; I would finish off everything and then leave. My husband did indeed support me a lot. There were Prod Shiksha meetings and programs, and even though the people at home weren’t happy, he supported me throughout. If I had no support, it wouldn’t have been possible. During the Bal Shikshak program, I would be gone all day, so we would distribute the household work. So ultimately, my family began to agree as well, because then you can show them that work is happening. Show them that you’re earning, they come around (laughs). Earlier we used to say ‘Ghar gharwali ka’ but now it’s ‘Ghar gharwale ka’.

Chirag’s programs are helping people a lot, but they should take them forward and not shut them down. They should focus more on education and on teaching computers. If Chirag does start a computer training centre it will be good; because currently we have to send our children to Haldwani, where the atmosphere isn’t good. We worry about the girls from our village, plus we will have to find a place for them to stay in. It is difficult. If they start such a program, it will benefit many villages and help children will learn as well. Chirag can’t do everything though; people will have to move forward on their own. Even a little bit of help is enough.”

Annanya Mahajan, Volunteer

September 2015