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These Dalit Women Know What’s Rightfully Theirs
Shuriah Niazi

Here’s how an anganwadi centre has been officially described: ‘It’s a village centre that provides basic health care, nutrition education and supplementation, and also conducts pre-school activities’. In other words, it is the epicentre of mother and child care at the grassroots. What if, instead of one, there were two such centres in a village? Seems like a good thing, doesn’t it. But the Dalit women of Chaubara Jagir village in Sonkatch block of Dewas district, Madhya Pradesh, would beg to differ. In their remote hamlet there’s one anganwadi for the upper castes and another for them, although it’s nothing more than a broken shanty where their children are not just exposed to the elements but are also not even given the promised food and nutrition supplements. Frustrated with their situation, earlier this year, 25 Dalit women, led by Reena Raikwar, took matters into their own hands and approached the sub-divisional magistrate for help. Today, they are supervising the construction of a new centre. Raikawar and others attribute the success of their endeavour to a local NGO that has opened up resource centres across Dewas where tribals and other marginalised communities can access essential information regarding their rights and entitlements.

‘We have realised that we have a right to basic services. Earlier, we felt powerless, but not anymore. We know government procedures now and have learnt how to draft applications.’

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 WFS Ref: INDN923D 1250 words

Converging Welfare Schemes To Give Women A Chance
Annapurna Jha

With her husband giving her an ultimatum to throw one of her newly born twin daughters into the canal, Neeta Kherwal, 26, of Pali district in Rajasthan, was reeling in shock. At that crucial juncture, it was the Poorna Shakti Kendra, a women’s resource centre in the district, which came to her rescue. Ranjana Kulshereshtha, the district coordinator of the Kendra, and the district collector summoned her husband, Om Prakash, to counsel him. With the authorities threatening to take action against him and the village’s Naari Ki Choupal (women’s panchayat) informing him about the government schemes for the girl child, the milk seller had to abandon his devious scheme. Since 2011, in Pali, the convergence of government schemes related to health, education, pension and employment under the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, and executed through the Naari Ki Choupal, has improved the lives of lakhs of women in the region. Convergence is crucial for efficient governance, poverty alleviation, gender justice and social inclusion.

‘Though a number of well conceived schemes and services are launched by different government departments, their reach is often limited. The absence of a unified channel of implementation, poor awareness and the lack of infrastructure are the key hurdles.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN925 1250 words

Rejecting Early Marriage, Anu Wants To Go Back To school
Saadia Azim

Last monsoon, Anu Nayak’s elder sister dropped out of school and this year it was the turn of this ninth grader from Midnapore town of Paschim Medinipur district in Bengal. During the monsoon, her father, a municipal sweeper, struggles to do his job and as a result money and food becomes scarce. Naturally, schooling is the first ‘frill’ that gets done away with after which comes talk of early marriage. Resigned to her fate, Nayak was mentally preparing herself for the bleak future that awaited her till she heard of something that has given her reason to hope. Across Bengal, millions of girls are going back to school and those at the verge of being pulled out are continuing their education thanks to a state scheme that is providing cash incentive to deter early marriages. Bengal ranks fifth among the Indian states with a high prevalence of child marriage and the high drop out rates feed into this unfortunate reality. Today, however, the promise of monetary assistance has gotten families to ensure that their daughters finish school.

“Although girls covered under the scholarship scheme get small annual support of Rs 500, for families whose annual income is not more than Rs 50,000, even this is a big support. Moreover, girls feel empowered as they get a bank account in their name.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN915 1200 words

Meet Nasreen, Seamstress, Filmmaker, Activist
Mehru Jaffer

Nasreen, 32, does not have a second name. A few years ago she had no income either. All that this purdah-clad mother of four had was a little experience in stitching. Even though her family was in dire straits after her husband was unable to find a job, like countless other Muslim women from conservative homes, Nasreen was forbidden to step out. But when it became a matter of life and death, she got the courage to defy norms. She grabbed the first opportunity that came her way - sewing bags for a local non government organisation. That has turned out to be the best decision she ever made, as that one job opened many doors for her. After she enrolled herself in a leadership training programme offered by the NGO, Nasreen has been able to effortlessly work at the computer, she has created some sensitive short films and even indulges in photography when there’s time. Since 2010, every year several young Muslim women from lower middle class families in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, are breaking stereotypes all thanks to this innovative training initiative.

“My husband spends the entire day relaxing at home but I don't mind that any more as I can educate and feed my children on my own.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN916 1050 words

Killing Girls, Buying Brides
Kirthi Jayakumar

The women from the village don’t quite open up. They have a lot to say but something holds them back. With time and a lot of probing, the stories come forth. Amudha (name changed) says, ‘A girl is a burden. We are already poor, we cannot afford daughters. When she gets married we will be left with nothing. A son, on the other hand, will always bring in money, even when he gets married.’ Okay. But how does she propose to get her son married if, like her, others too see a girl as a burden and don’t allow her to be born. ‘Girls can be brought from anywhere. Here, that’s how they come anyway.’ Though India has made sex determination illegal one look at the latest Census 2011 figures will show the true picture. A skewed sex ratio of 940 per 1000 males and a child sex ratio (0-6 years) of 919 clearly indicate that girls are absolutely unwanted. For women, what ups the threat quotient exponentially is its unpleasant link with trafficking. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than Haryana. According to a 2013 UN report on anti-trafficking, this northern state with the worst sex ratio in the country (877) has been buying brides to keep families going.

“Decades of sex determination tests and female foeticide that has acquired genocide proportions are finally catching up with states in India.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN919 1100 words
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