Probably the only time that women and girls from villages in the country who are learning to be independent get their share of respect is when people attend big seminars and planning sessions to discuss ways of involving women more meaningfully in society. A teenaged girl from Afghanistan, Malala, raised her voice in support of education for girls, and it sparked off a worldwide debate on the ways and importance of education, independence and self reliance for girls. The Government seems to have made a big fool of women by introducing various schemes to make them independent. However, the Morarka Foundation has found a productive path not only for educated people but also for illiterate village women to become independent and self reliant.
It is said that half of the life span of a woman is spent in cooking. Because of this, women are not able to participate in other societal activities and overall, cannot play a substantial role in the building of society. It has been seen in most villages that women cook their food on wood fuel ‘chullahs’ instead of gas stoves. To free women from such problems, the Morarka Foundation has prepared model community kitchens in the villages of Rajasthan. Under the guidance of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Morarka Foundation, Mukesh Gupta, this scheme was started seven years ago in the villages of the Shekhawati region. The prime objectives were to bring the facilities available in cities within the reach of village women, save fuel and link families together along with providing small scale employment. Community kitchens have provided employment to poor women of the village as well. For example, the Morarka Foundation has provided the poorest women in the village with a gas stove and a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder. The Foundation inspired the women of the village to go the houses of these poor women and prepare food on an LPG stove. A group of 5 to 6 women go and prepare their food on the gas stove and in return pay the woman in whose house the gas stove is installed with a fixed amount. More women are being included in this scheme.
In this effort, the Annapurna common gas stove of Santra Devi became the 48th centre of the community kitchen. The CEO of the Morarka Foundation, Mukesh Gupta says that costliness has changed a lot of things. Both the compost material and the gas have become very costly. Whether it is the city or a village, gas is not cheap anywhere. But in comparison, the cost of gas is more in villages than in the cities. This is because gas in villages is often sold by private suppliers who charge by the kilo. Preparing food on gas stoves in cities is not only easier but is also cheaper than preparing food on wood ‘chullahs’. This because in the villages of Rajasthan, wood is scarce and has to be bought. If gas stoves are introduced in villages then the problems of women are reduced considerably. It was this idea that the Morarka Foundation developed, prepared a viable blueprint and then implemented it at the ground level.
Having food outside the household is an ‘outing’ for a few, a necessity for some. But it is difficult to ensure that this ‘outside’ food is healthy.Where the echo of adultery can be heard all around, in such circumstances having food outside the house is risky. But if the food prepared by women in the households can be obtained even outside the house, it would be ideal, especially when that food is organic. The Morarka organic cafe and dhaba are two places where the food is pure, delicious and economical. The people of Nawalgarh are benefitting from this. Last year, Santosh Devi, who started with the organic tiffin system, picked up a little more courage and took a step forward in becoming independent with the encouragement of the Morarka Foundation. She opened an organic dhaba in Nawalgarh, where she has roped in the women of the neighbourhood to help her prepare food. Santosh has now got an excellent source of earning. Her daughter Dimple and her friends are proud of the independence and self reliance of Santosh. To open the dhaba, Santosh got money from the Morarka Foundation in the form of a loan. The Foundation has also given discounts for the dhaba in the supply of organic raw material required to prepare the food. Before opening the dhaba, Santosh was worried whether women from different families would come and cook food, and when they did, people with limited understanding or certain ways of thinking might raise objections. But the women found a solution for this possible problem themselves. Paans, cigarettes, alcohol and intake of non- vegetarian food is strictly prohibited in this dhaba. Therefore the big groups which can be a source of trouble will stay away from this dhaba. Along with this the dhaba is situated in the heart of the town and in a clean environment, which makes it a safe place for women. Apart from this, the dhaba is 100 per cent organic. So only those people would come to that dhaba who wish to taste or partake of organic food. At present, organic food tends to be more in demand among literate people and office goers and others frequent this dhaba. Thanks to this organic food dhaba, Santosh Devi has become an example for other women.
Self Help Group
A meeting was in progress of the self help group run by the Morarka Foundation in Naharsinghani village. A woman named Parameshwari Devi came to attend this meeting. She had heard that women were given loans, but was unaware of the concept of self help groups. After the meeting was over, a representative of the Morarka Foundation told her about the self help group. There was lack of education in the family of Parameshwari Devi and their economic condition was not good either. The family too was big, and making ends meet with the income of her husband alone was creating lots of problems. Neither was Parameshwari Devi allowed to come out of her household and work to earn money. But at the meeting of the self help group run by the Morarka Foundation, a solution was found to resolve her problems. A self help group had already been made in this village in 2000. Parameshwari Devi was given a loan of 10,000 rupees from this self help group. She bought two goats from that money and upgraded her living standard. Then after some time, she repayed the loan. After this she took loans every year and made a linkage of the self help group with the bank. Out of the 5 lakh rupees that the bank was providing to the group as a loan, she took a loan of 50,000 rupees for herself and bought many more goats. She returned the bank loan by selling the milk of the goats. Now she has 10 goats and her economic condition has also improved. Parameshwari Devi is of the opinion that both the economic and the social situation are related to each other in life. There was a time when there was nothing in the house, and people did not even bother to come and ask how they were faring. Now, the savings of one individual of the family are 11,600 rupees. With the improvement in their economic condition has come an improvement in their societal status as well. In the last few years, women from different villages in the Shekhawati region have benefitted from the self help groups run by the Morarka Foundation. All have their own stories. Shanti Devi of Nawalgarh became a member of the women’s self help group and in 2009 she took a loan of 10,000 rupees and opened a grocery and vegetable shop for her son. She also started going to a money lenders house and did the daily household work and made food. Then she started to repay the interest amount of 100 rupees on the loan which she had taken for her son and herself. She also started sending her daughter to school. In 2010 she again took a loan of 20,000 rupees and extended the shop further and now 4000 to 5000 rupees come to her as monthly income.
Shanti Devi says that when her son did not have any income, then her family had decided to leave Nawalgarh, but the Morarka Foundation showed them a path at the right time. She expresses her gratitude towards the Morarka Foundation for improving their lives. In the same way, Safaan Kanwar of Dhuriwara Kalan was also facing a lot of trouble in managing the expenses of her family. She was encouraged to become a member of the group and was provided with a loan of 20,000 rupees. She bought a cow with that money and repaid the loan by selling milk. She took a loan again next year and bought two more cows. Then she opened a small scale dairy which transformed her life. After this she started sending her daughter to school, because she had understood by now that women are the roots of society and if they become independent and self reliant then society as a whole will smile. No matter that their paths are different, but they all have the same objective of becoming independent and self reliant.
A self help group of 10 to 20 women living below the poverty line (BPL) was formed in1993. This group of women was from far away villages of the Nawalgarh and Jhunjhunu region of Shekhawati. The group was provided with a project from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), and 100 self help groups were made in those villages. Their saving accounts were opened in banks. Women who were economically weak were also provided with loans from the bank. This improved their economic condition. Apart from this, groups of women were provided training by the Morarka Foundation in the making of Vermi compost, stitching, carpets, carry bags, footboards, swings and wafers so that they could become equipped to run a business. Till date, approximately 2255 women out of a total 120 self help groups have benefitted and have been provided with bank loans amounting to 78, 24, 000 rupees.
Such models for giving respect to the rights of the women and making them independent and self reliant are more successful and easier than other Government schemes. If such schemes are taken up in all the States then girls like Malala will not need to raise their voice for education of girls. In a seminar held on the needs of women’s education, representatives from 24 States which included the States of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan discussed the situation prevailing in their States. Participants in the seminar understood that if politics, law, education, media and vigilant social workers work together and pool their efforts, then women’s education will surely benefit in a meaningful manner.