19May2015

The Power of Collectivism

Shruti Kapoor

Lack of affordable housing is one of the most critical issues facing rural communities. The government has initiated a social welfare scheme titled Indira Gandhi Grameen Basti Yojana (rural villages’ scheme) to this effect, but it is not uncommon to hear about the gaps in implementation and delays in property matters such as registration, sanction, and possession. One of such affected groups included 65 BPL households in Mohammad Nagar village in Nagina block of district Mewat. The people were still struggling to acquire the registry for their plots five years after the allocation of 100 yards plots to them.

The group organized themselves in the form of a collective and successfully put an end to their long-pending struggle. They did not do anything extraordinary but used their newfound knowledge to exercise their rights and receive their entitlements.

Women light the way

The women’s collective called Mahila Shakti Sangathan at the block level, facilitated by Sehgal Foundation in August 2014, served as a platform for village women to share their concerns. Monthly trainings with the women’s group gave them further courage to raise the issue and resolve it collectively. Women convened a community meeting and joined hands with the village level group called Pragati Samooh. Members of Sangathan and Pragati Samooh mobilized the women representatives from all 65 BPL households grappling with the problem, and encouraged them to take collective action to solve this dilemma. The women approached the Sarpanch (village council head) to accompany them to the sub tehsil office (sub division office), but he stated that his responsibility was limited to allocation of plots and registration numbers and he wouldn’t visit the sub tehsil office.

Unaffected by this lack of support, 50-60 women members of Mahila Shakti Sangathan marched to the Nagina sub tehsil office. Initially the government officials did not pay much heed, saying that their file has been misplaced. The women were undeterred; they stood outside the office with the Sangathan banner for hours seeking immediate action. This action invited attention and, as a result, the newly appointed sub tehsildar (sub divisional revenue officer) was compelled to listen. He called upon the village sarpanch and searched all the registries done in the past to find the documents of Mohammad Nagar village. The office bearers finally managed to track down the correct registry papers.

The women also submitted application to the tehsildar and the block development officer on the same day to have measurements of their plots completed. The department asked for 15 days to complete the measurements. Once the registries were handed over, the villagers were quick to plan their next course of action. The same evening, they organized a meeting in the village where it was decided to collect Rs 100 from each household that had received the registry. This fund was to be used to bear the cost of measurement and other costs incurred during the process. Measurements were successfully done and the BPL households now wait for their houses to become a reality.

After this success, the women feel very confident and ready to take up other problems in their villages, such as toilet construction and clearing waste water from the roads. Women have realized how awareness and collective action can trigger important changes in their lives. This cadre of empowered women is on the pathway to becoming champions of development.