A helping hand in Haryana to get marginalised citizens their entitlements
Mubina Begum is anxious. Her daughter’s wedding is just a few days away and relatives will soon arrive at her house in Kalanjar village in Nuh district, Haryana. She needs to make payments to ensure all arrangements are in place. But Mubina still hasn’t received any money from the State Government department in charge of the Mukhyamantri Vivah Shagun Yojna, the scheme launched by the Haryana Chief Minister to provide financial assistance to marginalised families for marriages. Mubina decides to check with the Citizen Information and Support Centre (CISC) located 15 km from her village. After all it was the CISC that informed her about the scheme in the first place and helped her apply.
“I didn’t know there was a scheme to help poor widows like me,” says Mubina. “I was told that the CISC could help and so I called them after my daughter’s marriage was fixed. They gave me the relevant information and also assisted in filling the necessary form. I know they will ensure I get the money too. I am confident because they have helped others who applied under the same scheme.”
The CISC was started by the Sehgal Foundation, a Haryana-based not-for-profit working on empowering rural communities, to help people like Mubina to know and demand their rights. When the Foundation conducted an initial survey before beginning their work, it found that awareness of government programmes was particularly low in Nuh district, formerly known as Mewat. Here literacy levels were lower than the State level — 54 per cent as compared to the State level of 76.8 per cent. Women lagged even further behind. Their literacy level was almost 50 per cent lower than the State level — only 36.6 per cent compared to 67.6 per cent.
However, it also found that majority of the population owned a mobile phone. This led to the set up of the CISC as an information hub centred on a toll-free helpline. “We took advantage of the fact that most people used mobile phones,” said Dr Vikas Jha, director, governance, Sehgal Foundation. “This allowed us to harness technology to connect communities to government programmes meant for them.”
The Foundation partnered with Dhwani Rural Information System to develop an application, which allowed communities to voice their queries in their regional language, Mewati. This proved to be a good strategy. Beginning with 1,372 calls in the first five months of operations in 2014, the popularity of the Centre rose rapidly. The helpline, which operates from 7 am to 7 pm six days a week, receives about 75 calls a day. It received 16,500 calls alone in the last two years from 431 villages in the district.
Besides providing information on key government programmes and the procedures needed to access entitlements, the trained facilitators use the Integrated Voice Response System technology to disseminate awareness about how to file complaints with government offices.
When villagers from Jhirkha block heard about the Centre, they sought its help to register their grievance about 300 families being denied food grains for three and half years despite holding the ration card needed under Public Distribution System. “When the villagers called asking what they could do to resolve their problem, we informed them about the Right To Information (RTI) Act and helped them filing it,” said Veena Singal, an CISC facilitator. “Once it was filed, we helped them follow up their complaint. After they received a response from RTI office, they were able to switch to another ration depot and are now getting rations.”
Not just a voice
One of the reasons why the initiative is making an impact is that it doesn’t remain just a voice behind a phone. Facilitators manning the helpline use their knowledge and skills to resolve problems. Some months ago, the CISC received a call from a desperate father from Shehjadpur village wanting to know whether his daughter, who was facing domestic violence, could get justice since her marital home was in Rajasthan. “We took them to the Mahila thana and helped his daughter file an application. The girl’s in-laws and husband were summoned and reprimanded. Since then, his daughter has not faced problems,” said Lalit Arya, another CISC facilitator
They are also receiving gender training and know about laws. “Although it is not part of our job to accompany them to the police station, we do it because they are afraid to approach the police,” she said. “All our efforts become worthwhile when we are able to bring a smile on their faces.”
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi