Updated: June 23, 2021 7:05:55 am
BREWING RICE beer at home and selling it at the local market; facing the taunts of unruly customers; struggling to feed her family of six, and finally running into losses.
This was the life of Sushila Devi for seven years. Today, she is the owner of a small grocery shop near home in Upperkonki village of Ranchi district, earning enough to save some money on the side.
The 45-year-old says her search for a “respectable life” is finally over.
Devi is one of the 15,456 women identified by the Jharkhand government for its Phoolo-Jhano Ashirwad Abhiyan, which was launched last September to rehabilitate women selling unregulated liquor and counsel them to adopt an alternative business source, with the provision of interest-free loans up to Rs 10,000.
These women were picked after a statewide survey by Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), which functions under the Rural Development Department. Officials say the JSLPS has so far helped 13,456 women with loans through self-help groups and counselling to adopt alternative micro-enterprises — from agro-based activities to animal husbandry, sale of forest produce, sericulture and poultry.
“Counselling is the key, informing women about the ill-effects of being involved in the sale of liquor,” JSLPS CEO Nancy Sahay said.
Officials say the women were initially resistant to change. “In many places, they could not believe that the transition would be easy and that they would not be in debt. It took us a great deal of follow-ups to convince them,” an official, who is involved with the initiative, said.
One important step was to get those who had signed up to motivate others to follow. “These motivators are called Navjiwan Sakhis. There are 138 such women in the programme already, who get a minimum of Rs 100 per day for their services,” the official said.
One of them is Sabita Kumari from Kori village in Chatra district. “I joined as a Navjeevan Sakhi last October. I used to sell liquor earlier but now have started a business of rearing goats and pigs for meat. There were 21 women selling homemade liquor in the village. We convinced them to start other businesses with the Rs 10,000 loan. Many started eateries and grocery shops. Only three women still sell liquor,” she said. Kumari, however, says she is yet to receive any money from the government for her efforts as a Navjeevan Sakhi.
In Upperkonki village, meanwhile, Sushila Devi is “so relieved”. “My husband tills a small piece of land that we inherited, but that was never sufficient. For the past few months, there has been a small, but stable, income coming from the shop. There is a turnover of more than Rs 3,000 per month and it has started giving some profit. At least, I don’t have to sit in the market listening to all the nonsense after men get drunk.”
Devi said that she got the loan of Rs 10,000 to start her shop from a local self-help group. “I will return it in time,” she said.
About 110 km away, 26-year-old Kalawati Kumari has started a “pakora shop” in Satanpur panchayat of Bokaro, after selling homemade liquor for over three years. “Earlier, I used to sell liquor for around Rs 2,000 per month. It was a very difficult process… mixing Mahua flowers, jaggery. Sometimes, it used to get sour, and the entire stock would go to waste. Then, there was the issue of dealing with men getting drunk. It was just trouble all the time,” she said.
According to Kumari, the pakora business earns her about Rs 6,000 per month. “Initially, I was not convinced and it took me some time to get in. But now, I have realised that this is much better work.”
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