Empowering the Tribal Women of Mandla

IAS officer Harshika Singh’s efforts to make women literate and help them understand basic bank mechanism is successfully empowering many of them in the tribal belt of Mandla, Madhya Pradesh.

It is not very easy to hand-hold a toddler and help him begin his journey on the path of education. Similarly, it is quite difficult to do the same with an elderly person who has spent his or her entire life in the dark world of illiteracy- with virtually no ability to read or write.

To help women grow and enable them to write, IAS officer Harshika Singh, the District Collector of Mandla, is taking out campaigns and projects that are empowering the ladies of the district and making them self-dependent.

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, Ms. Singh talked about her efforts and the results they have produced.

IAS Harshika Singh; District Collector, Mandla, Madhya Pradesh


A 2012-batch officer from Jharkhand cadre, Ms. Singh launched the ‘Niraksharta se azaadi’ (Freedom from Illiteracy) campaign on 15 th August 2020 in her district. Mandla is a tribal district and the main issue that the people residing here face is banking literacy.

There are various funds flowing into their accounts through government schemes, but at times the people are not aware of the amount existing in their accounts, which allows dubious people to cheat them and withdraw money from their accounts.

Educated women of the district teaching the uneducated ones

“We took up this issue in Mandla, and have now reached a stage where these 7000 tribal women, who used to be illiterate, are now able to at least write letters, numbers, and their own name,” Ms. Singh told Indian Masterminds.

Moreover, the district now has around 400-450 women, who were disseminated into modules of banking courses, which the collector arranged with the help of the banking fraternity. By training the women of the district’s self-help groups, she went on to create master trainers who have now reached a stage where they can conduct bank transactions on their own. They can go to banks, pen their accounts, withdraw money, sign on cheques, etc.

Happy women after writing their name for the first time

“We have brought them to that level so they are aware of how much money is in their account, from where the funds are credited, why they are credited, where they are credited, etc,” said Ms. Singh.


Ms. Singh had sensitized around 7000 women from the 400 `gram panchayats’ of Mandla and around 1800 women had volunteered to teach these women. The number is slowly increasing now, and 2000 women have joined to teach the tribal women.

Since Mandla is a tribal district, people there are not aware of how finances should be managed. “There are people here who still believe in the barter system, and not in the concept of banking. They find it extremely technical and try to keep away from it. I had to make these people bank-friendly to ensure their finances are safe,” she told Indian Masterminds.

More people are joining in the campaign


On the occasion of Basant Panchami, this year, Ms. Singh assembled all the women who are learning these basics and provided the ones who had passed level 1 of learning with a ‘pass certificate’.

“We are planning that by the next month, we will bring all the 7000 women to that level, which is the goal and we are working on it,” said Ms. Singh.

Ms. Devi is amongst the women who teaches other women

Moreover, she has planned similar points for women getting banking literacy, wherein she will provide similar pass certificates to ladies who will cross level 1 of bank literacy learning, on March 31 st, 2021.

“We are also trying to institutionalize the entire thing, so we are preparing for course modules and trying to prepare master trainers out of these educated women. We are also planning to make them an essential part of discussions to be held in `gram sabhas’ in the near future.”

Ms. Saraswati learnt to write her name for the first time

Ms. Singh is also coming up with a concept, wherein every month she would provide opportunities to the local women to talk about issues that matter most to them.

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