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Life | Helping Ourselves!

This programme explores changes in two Indian states that have succeeded in giving previously powerless people some control over their lives. In Karnataka, the IT revolution has allowed farmers to access the previously inaccessible land deeds so vital to obtaining the credit with which they can sow next year’s harvest. In Andhra Pradesh, women’s self-help groups have enabled rural women to change aspects of their lives they were unhappy with, and given them a voice in local government.

For over 30 years, after independence in 1947, successive governments failed to make any impact on apparently endemic poverty rates in India. But over the last 25 years India has cut absolute poverty by half. Still 440 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

This Life programme looks at two projects that are helping Indian communities move out of poverty – in line with the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015.

Bangalore is the information technology capital of India. The huge growth of the service industry here has attracted an influx of clients from around the world – multinational companies taking advantage of low wages, low running costs and state of the art technology.

KarnatakaBut outside the city in the rest of the state of Karnataka, it’s a different story. Sixty per cent of the population in India still make their living from agriculture. Land ownership is key to increasing farm incomes and empowering local people. But for 200 years the responsibility for maintaining land ownership records has been under the control of a powerful minority of village accountants – who exercised an effective monopoly on all land transactions. The Karnataka government supported Rajeev Chawla, a civil servant, who recognised the need for land record reform. He set up a project to put all the local records onto a central computer – potentially freeing every farmer in the state from the clutches of corrupt officials. Now a farmer can go to his local land registry office – or ‘Bhoomi’ as they’ve now become known. He hands his number in at one of the new computerised land registry booths. He pays 15 rupees and in return gets a receipt, and his land record – it’ll mean he can take out a loan for his business.

ancient Gond tribeThe ancient Gond tribe have lived in the forests of central India for centuries. In the past, they’ve had little formal education and have often been exploited. Many rural communities in Andhra Pradesh survive on less than a dollar a day – the official UN poverty line. Mankubai was born 40 years ago in Jamgoan village. She’s rarely been outside, and until recently, had little cause to. Married at fifteen, she works a daily non-stop grind of washing, cooking, and picking. And then all over again, next day, with no days off. Two years ago things became very difficult for Mankubai and motivated her to take action. Her son’s teachers were finding him too hard to handle, and her husband drank. She’s now able to help other people with similar problems.

‘There was a woman whose husband used beat her everyday after getting drunk, every day,’ she explains.’ I advised her what to do’¦ I said ‘What we should do is hold him, and two or three women should beat him. And then tie him to a post.’ And we did it.’

Deepa Narayan, World Bank India, explains: ‘A poor woman at village level can’t make a difference and change the system. But when many poor women come together, and take action, then they gain strength and solidarity from each other, and gain courage. And as a result of that, they start taking action, they start – not with education, health, or water’¦ They start with the priority problem in their lives. And this is often a social problem. It may be wife beating, it could be untouchability, and once they solve this problem collectively then they address other problems.’

Chandra-babu Naidu, Chief MinisterKnown as Velugu, this scheme of self-help groups aims to address the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Chandra-babu Naidu, Chief Minister, explains: ‘Velugu is a continuous process now, not even one-time project. I wanted to eradicate poverty, for that purpose we have created a society. This money we are spending – again if necessary government will use some more money – this money will circulate continuously till we achieve total eradication of poverty.’

There are two ways women can raise money without resorting to expensive and often unscrupulous moneylenders. Each member can save a rupee a day, and the state government matches the saving, rupee for rupee. There are also infrastructure grants from the World Bank, which are paid to the villagers via the scheme. Holding regular meetings and supporting each other within the group are crucial to Velugu’s success.

The Velugu scheme also offers advice on how to invest for the future – something nobody ever had time to think about before. The women here are being introduced to new ideas – like marketing, legal advice, getting married later, and going to school. All of these prompt them to question once widely-held beliefs, entrenched in everyday life, and to combat the impact of traditions like caste and child labour, as Mankubai’s daughter Parubai confirms: ‘Mum didn’t send me to school, now she’s regretting it and talks about education. I didn’t get any education. I just got married. Now we wouldn’t do that.’

There are now 22 self-help groups in Mankubai’s village of Jamgoan in Andhra Pradesh – providing poor families with access to information, affordable loans – and, critically, the confidence to help themselves move out of poverty.

Meera Shenoy of Velugu comments: ‘For the country as a whole, I think we need a lot more Mankubai’s. I think the aim of the project is to improve the quality of life of the poor people. And I think alleviation is a strong term – so I think if it succeeds in improving the quality of life, that is a strong step.’

RELATED LINKS

To learn more about Karnataka, go to Karnataka.com and the National Informatics Centre website. Visit the Bhoomi website and read an explanation of the importance of land records in India. The World Bank has carried out an evaluation of the online delivery of land titles in Karnataka. Read about the projects of the World Bank in India, and visit the World Bank’sPovertyNet pages.

For information on Andhra Pradesh, go to AP Online and AP Tourism.

Chandra-babu Naidu, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, has his own website, and there is a Naidu Fan Club. The Velugu movement in Andhra Pradesh (AP), run by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), has an informative website, with information and statistics on the state and a page on AP’s poverty reduction strategy.

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