Stories from the field
Srikanti Devi lives with her husband and four sons in the village of Sota Muhasar Tola. Like most of the other villagers, she belongs to a community known as Muhahars or ‘Rat Eaters’, a derogatory term that designates them as one of the most deprived and marginalised communities in Bihar.
Her locality is situated right at the edge of the village along a muddy track, lacking in even basic facilities for health and sanitation. Like most of the villagers, her family does not own land so they have no alternative but to work as daily wage labourers for subsistence wages, or cultivate small plots of land leased at exaggerated prices from the local landowners. But in recent months, a new initiative is offering these women the chance of a different kind of future.
Local project workers known as Sabji Mitras are providing the villagers with seeds, tools and training to grow their own vegetables on small pieces of land close to their homes. These ‘kitchen gardens’ initially enable women to grow small crops of vegetables to supplement their families’ diets. But the project also supports them to come together and organise themselves into Farmer Interest Groups, so that they can start to generate extra income through commercial cultivation. By forming into collective enterprises the villagers are able to get access to loans and other government schemes and also to challenge the vested interests of local landowners who would otherwise try to block their development by refusing to sell them seeds and tools.
For women like Srikanti Devi, who has been a daily wage labourer all her life and has never even thought about producing her own crops or having her own business, starting a project like this represents a courageous step into the unknown; the first step in a long journey towards a life of dignity and freedom.“I feel I can do this” she says, “If I can cultivate vegetables on half an acre, I will be better off financially and my husband will no longer have to go away to find daily wage work. Instead we can work together to produce our own crops.” In that moment, her eyes light up with a fresh sense of hope and optimism.
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