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An IAS Making Rural Women Self-Reliant

Empowering rural women is the motto of IAS officer R Vimala. In the process, she has also freed a large number of them from the clutches of unscrupulous money lenders.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Even though our nation has developed to a great extent, there are still women in parts of the country who are either repressed or are not able to work to their full potential. For them, IAS R. Vimala came like a Godmother and took them on the path of self-dependency and employment. In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, she explained how her self-help groups, aided in empowering the women of her state.

SELF HELP GROUPS FOR RURAL WOMEN

Maharashtra comprises a lot of people who are not able to come out of the clutches of poverty. Their isolation from society holds them back. Women living in these circumstances are repressed and are not allowed to come out of their homes to participate in anything. Ms. Vimala believes that community institutions can lead everyone to prosperity and greater freedom. Under the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission program, also called ‘Umed’ meaning hope in Marathi, she formed self-help groups of women where they were not only taught how to earn money but also how to save it.

Ms. Vimala along with the women of self help groups

As Ms. Vimala told Indian Masterminds, “They may be earning a lot of money but they don’t have the habit of saving. They go to moneylenders to borrow even a meager amount of Rs.500 and ultimately get caught in the cycle of repaying through their nose. We divided the women into groups and held regular meetings with them. They saved the money in the group, so in times of need, they don’t need to go to a moneylender and can take the money from the group directly.”

Numerous women are earning their livelihoods through the project

These groups acted like mini banks, allowing the women to take money out of it as loan and repay later. The larger idea was to enhance money circulation between them. They even kept a book of accounts so they know how to manage them. “Once they had worked for three months, they accumulated Rs.15,000 as revolving funds, which they could use for small businesses. They lend it on interest and work like small banks. After six months, they got Rs. 60,000 which they could use for better activities” she said.

Today, these women have been financially linked through bank loans of over Rs. 7500 crores and have become extremely successful entrepreneurs. Since they are honest and punctual in repaying their loans, they have less than 8 percent NPA.

Mini banks through which the rural women can borrow and repay money

FOR THE WOMEN FARMERS

Under the `Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojna’ scheme, she began with 5 lakh women agriculturists and today the number has reached to 12 lakh. These women follow sustainable agriculture. Having their own farms, goats, and poultry proved beneficial. “Through backyard poultry, they can get their own eggs and take care of health and nutrition. We have more than 3 lakh women doing goatery (goat farming). They have done a business of almost 400 crores from this! Agriculture along led a 1000 crore turnover. We trained them for all these activities and ensured that they understand these aspects” says Ms. Vimala.

About 12 lakh women have become agriculturists now

The women farmers market these locally, as also for self-consumption, beside organizing exhibitions in different places in the form of weekly ‘haats’. “More than thousand weekly ‘haats’ are there, and some of the ladies have also registered on online portals and sell their stuff there. Handicraft stuff made by them is also included in the exhibition,” said Ms Vimala

Ms. Vimala at the weekly exhibition haats

PROMOTING MENSTRUAL HYGIENE

It was very important to make these women realize the importance of personal hygiene and sanitation. Ms. Vimala began with explaining nutrition to them. “There is no point of earning a livelihood if you don’t take care of your health. We started inculcating habits of nutrition among them,” she explained.

The menstrual hygiene campaign is launched under the name ‘Asmita’

She also taught them about menstrual hygiene as most of them used cloth instead of sanitary napkins and suffered later on. “We started with the ‘Asmita’ project and distributed sanitary napkin at a very subsidized cost. The women under ‘Ummeed’ themselves sold pads at Rs. 24 for adults, while for schoolgirls, the price as Rs. five. We made them understand the importance of menstrual hygiene” she told Indian masterminds.

Currently, Ms Vimala is working as the Director of Jal Jeevan Mission under which they provide clean drinking water through the taps of rural women’s homes.

A BUDDING POET

Ms.Vimala met another IAS officer, 3 years back during a training who encouraged her to write poetry and that’s how she went forward to pursue her passion. “It gives me a creative outlet to be happy about and apart from them, I also write blogs.” Her poems give hope in life to people who need it.

Ms. Vimala meeting with Mr. Narendra Modi


She has also published a book of her poems, though it is available only to her inner circle.


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