Voices from India: Basanti in Bebari

It’s a balmy Tuesday morning in Orissa as we make our way to the village of Bebari, nearly a three-hour drive from the state capital of Bhubaneswar. For the last few miles, the road is nothing but thick red clay, and several times we pause to give way to cows, the cowherds clucking their tongues to clear up the jam.

A year has gone by since I’ve been to Orissa, and I’m delighted to find myself here once again with Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith, our in-country coordinator, Priya, and Manu and Madhu, directors of our partner NGO in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP).

Today is our first day heading back into the field to visit our projects.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Come and learn from bees reads a poster on one of the first buildings we see in Bebari. But today we have come to not only learn from bees, but from the women who keep them. After receiving a two-year extension from DFID, Jeevika and JRP have continued the Madhu Network Project, which supports 300 traditional women beekeepers in 10 villages across Orissa.

The first woman I sit down with is named Basanti. With Manu kindly offering to translate, I learn that she is 40 years old and has four children – a son and three daughters, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years old. While her children are all studying, Basanti herself has no education.

“There was no school at the time,” she explains. “There was only jungle when I was a child. My parents taught me some letters. That is all.

Originally from the Ganjam district, Basanti has lived in Bebari for 25 years, and was married at the age of 15. “Earlier, there was nothing. We were just housewives. Now we have started beekeeping.”

Basanti even tells us she had the first beehive box in the village. And since two Self-Help Groups (SHGs) were formed in Bebari six months ago, she has become president of hers.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

There are typically three kilograms of honey in a harvest, with each kilogram earning 200 rupees in local markets. Basanti uses the extra income to buy household items, for the treatment of her son when he was suffering from fever, and “also for the study of my children.”

“Earlier no one was giving us a single rupee for our activities. Now we have our group and our savings. We are very happy to be working together in a team for economic activities. It is increasing day by day, so we will not stop.

“Now you all have come. We need to assess our other needs and other programmes. That is our future plan. We are very happy many people are coming to our village now.”

In addition to meeting household needs and expenses, each member of the SHG also currently saves 20 rupees a month in their collective savings account. Hearing this is a necessary reminder of the hundreds of millions of rural people living at the ‘base of the pyramid’ that is today’s modern India.

While those at the top now earn and spend at European rates, women like Basanti still find tiny amounts of money to be a worthwhile return on time and effort. Indeed, I think back to what she had said earlier in our conversation:

We are increasing day by day.

I already look forward to the updates – and to seeing Basanti again – when we’re back in Orissa this time next month.

Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to support Basanti and other women beekeepers like her in the communities of village India:

Donate to Jeevika Trust

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

“That collective female power”: Understanding the Delhi rape case

You’ll have read about the case of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a college student returning home in a bus with a male friend, who was raped and brutalised by a gang of young men, subsequently dying of her wounds. This was a symptom of degraded urban humanity, going far beyond animal instinct and assertion of power, into insatiable rage, and the objectification and destruction of a female stranger.

The case was not isolated, so why it led to an extraordinary explosion of publicity, extensive press treatment and mass public protests by women and men alike, in India and abroad, puzzles observers. But it did, and it has led to calls for world leaders, when they consider the ‘post Millennium Development Goals agenda’ in 2015, to enshrine ‘zero tolerance on violence against women’ in the future.

Protests over Delhi rape case

But reversal of sexual attitudes in deeply set male power structures – the courts, the police, the military, higher-caste village men, and even politicians, all of whom are associated with systematic rape and molestation – will take more than even this storm to accomplish.

What is known as ‘eve-teasing’ is no longer a joke when 78% of women in a Hindustan Times survey late last year reported sexual harassment during 2012, of whom 69% reported groping and forcible assault; increasingly explicit rape scenes have become common features in Indian cinema; in 2012 only a single rape case out of 635 brought in Delhi led to a conviction, and the culture of reproaching women victims and excusing male parties is common even at high political levels.

In this case the young men concerned had reportedly all been brought up in villages, and their life in urban slums had fostered social resentment and anger against people like the victim; whether, had they stayed in their villages, the anger would have been less is speculative.

But the dislocation of village people finding their feet in city slums starkly illustrates what happens when rural livelihoods fail; when young people, especially males, are tempted to migrate to the cities and then become disillusioned with the limitations and stresses they face, and the realisation that they have no part in the ‘shining’ modern India – dream or reality.

The typical anonymity of urban rape does not apply in typical villages where ‘everyone knows’ what is happening in the community, but where patriarchal male attitudes and power enable domestic violence to go unchallenged. The redoubtable goddess Kali, with her many arms, her red tongue and her garland of little skulls is the mascot of rural women all over India.

More real, however, is the confidence and empowerment which women derive from building a Self-Help Group of 10 or 15 women to receive training, share profitable work and generate income and respect as providers for their families.

Self-Help Group in India

That collective female power can match the power of the men – and both we at Jeevika and you as our supporters can take credit for enabling it to happen.

Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to build this collective female power in the communities of village India:

Jeevika Trust

First photo used courtesy of the Indian Fusion.

Making the World Different with Vodafone World of Difference

How tired do you get if you have to go to school then fetch litres of water and carry it miles home? Is it difficult to go shopping but not be able to read the ingredients within or price of anything? Do you get embarrassed if you only have one outfit to wear day in, day out, for special occasions and for work, and how do you wash it? What’s it like to hear your baby cry with hunger but have nothing to feed her?

How does it feel to have a job you know is making people’s lives better?

Jeevika Trust with World of DifferenceVodafone’s World of Difference programme is giving me the chance to contribute to solutions to some of these provocative questions.

Over four months I will be working with Jeevika Trust to nourish the crucial initiatives in livelihood development that have helped over 100,000 people in Indian villages. This is Jeevika’s second year partnering with Vodafone and we couldn’t be happier about it.

During my placement, I will be working towards three goals:

  • I will be establishing a knowledge base of socio-economic and appropriate technology data to feed our growth on the ground.
  • We’ll also be collaborating with top universities and sharing our findings with you and with our worldwide partners as part of our on-going mission to further the philosophy of Practising Schumacher through Buddhist Economics.
  • Lastly, I will be bolstering our reputation as ‘Hampton Wick’s own International Charity’ with a website upgrade and community outreach at local schools, businesses and events.

If you want a dose of the feel good factor too, you should volunteer with us! If you have experience in IT, PR, business, academia or simply have a hankering to help change the world, I’m only an email away on becky@jeevika.org.uk.

Or you can always keep in the loop with my journey here on the blog and consider donating:

Jeevika Trust Just Giving

Many thanks to Vodafone and their World of Difference programme for making this placement possible! We look forward to making a world of difference with you.

Vodafone image courtesy of Afternoon Voice.