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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Maharashtra: The undergraduate ‘Doctor Madams’ of Mhaswad

In this drought-prone region, 7 women trained to artificially inseminate goats have not only earned economic freedom but also broken free of stigmas

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mhaswad (satara/maharashtra) |
Updated: March 5, 2017 2:02:59 pm
maharashtra, goat doctors, artificial insemination, goat insemination, maharashtra goat doctors, NGO work maharashtra, Satara goat doctors, livelihood Satara, women empowerment satara, mann deshi foundation Radhika Shinde at work. Nirmal Harindran

THE first time she peered into the privates of a goat in Injbaon village, surrounded by the goat’s incredulous owners, all Sangita Tupe, 30, could see was the shock on the faces around her. Over two years later, she no longer needs to tell villagers that she is a trained entrepreneur working on artificial insemination of goats. “Those who laughed at me, who said women shouldn’t do such jobs now call me to come urgently when their goat is in heat.”

Sangita is one of seven women entrepreneurs trained by the Mann Deshi Foundation, based in Mhaswad in Maharashtra’s Satara district, to artificially inseminate goats. Trained in association with non-profit Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Phaltan, Satara, the seven women are now locally called ‘goat doctors’, though none studied past Class X. Back in 2013, the women learnt of Mann Deshi’s new training programme either when they opened accounts at the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank or when the Mann Deshi bus, a mobile training institute offering courses in tailoring, sewing, mehndi etc, stopped in their village.

Radhika Shinde, 31, of Panwan village, 12 km from Mhaswad, was eight months pregnant when the “big luxury bus” showed up. “I began to attend tailoring classes secretly, when everybody was at work in the fields. Then one day my father-in-law found out,” she giggles. One of the seven sisters, Radhika was married off at the age of 14, in the summer holiday after she completed Class VII. Her parents-in-law were labour contractors for a sugar factory, and family members were all signed up to work as harvesters in the cane-cutting season. Her three children’s education stalled every time the family packed up and moved to the cane belt. She saw an opportunity in 2013 when, amid a severe drought, the goat-breeding class emerged as an option to bring some money home.

“Farm incomes are never enough now. My husband works as a driver. At first the family didn’t want me going around filling semen into goats, but now everyone is proud,” Radhika says.

The seven women receive an average of 30 ‘calls’ a month. They visit the goat, check if she is really in heat and carefully inject the semen-straws purchased from NARI for Rs 75 each. Every visit is charged at Rs 150, but if a goat doesn’t get pregnant at the first attempt, a second visit is discounted by 50 per cent. The women also earn a monthly salary of Rs 4,000 from Mann Deshi. The semen straws are stored in a special canister of liquid nitrogen, also supplied by NARI. At weekly meetings in Mhaswad, the women update detailed records of every goat inseminated, its breed, the breed of the semen, the item number on the semen straw, the post-gestation results, etc.

The seven have inseminated over 3,000 goats; 2,265 have delivered while 400 are currently pregnant. Government veterinarians conduct artificial insemination too, but these women have a higher strike rate, at nearly 85 per cent. “We only inject the semen if the conditions are right, and we instruct the owners properly on after-care, including ensuring the goat is kept away from any male goat,” says Nanda Jadhav, 30, of Goregaon village.

Vanita Shinde of the Mann Deshi Foundation says the programme began with a pilot project in two villages, Jambhulni and Pulkoti, where the organisation selected 25 healthy goats for artificial insemination, conducted free sonographies and kept them in a separate enclosure. The results were excellent: Most bore three kids, yielded more milk and the offspring, at three months, were over twice the average weight of goats born without artificial intervention. “In terms of productivity, both for milk and for mutton, artificial insemination brings larger profits to breeders,” she says. That the majority of home-based livestock businesses are women-run is a happy coincidence, for their work thus eventually brings more financial autonomy to the village women.

Apart from insemination, the women also offer poultry vaccination shots, at Rs 3 a shot. Nanda vaccinated 2,000 chicken last month, adding Rs 6000 to her income. The seven women all have stories of personal struggle, and triumph. Nanda, who has a 11-year-old son, was abandoned by her husband years ago. Sangita’s husband works as a construction site painter in Mumbai, while she lives in Injbaon with three children. Rajshri Jadhav, 29, was married in 2003 when she was barely 16 years old, her groom selected at a government-run cattle camp where hundreds of families were camping to avail fodder and water amid a drought.

Sangita and Radhika used to work as daily wage labourers under MGNREGA — hours of back-breaking toil. Radhika and Nanda worked as the us-tod kamgaar or sugarcane harvesters, a job that required being away from home for two months at a stretch. Sangita’s husband would sometimes borrow a two-wheeler to drop her off. Two years ago, they bought their own Activa. Rajshri’s husband sold his one-year-old bike for a Scooty, so that his sari-clad wife could ride. “He says maajhi bayko doctor aahe (my wife is a doctor), and he’s learnt to milk a cow and get some work done at home instead of sleeping all day,” she laughs.

Villagers in neighbouring areas recognise the women in their lab-coats and badges, carrying their canisters. “Those who mocked us now say come in, chaha ghya (have tea); they call us doctor madam,” says Sangita. Her own three daughters now in school, Sangita says women who have daughters are still pegged lower in the village’s complex social ladder. “They scorned me, so I was doubly determined,” she says. “Now those same women marvel at how I managed to put aside Rs 1.5 lakh to build my own house. “

Sunita Tarlekar of Mann Deshi says they are now expanding the programme, hoping to increase the number of trained women from seven to 20, and then 40. The women are also ready for the next level. Sangita says, “Why can’t we also learn to do sonographies and other procedures, for goats and also for larger animals? If we can get the right training, there’s nothing to stop us.”

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