In the month of August 2018, Kerala faced the worst disaster in a century. Now, long and tedious process of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction process is going on. There are many heroic stories coming to surface about how people are contributing to rebuild Kerala. One of them is of contribution of Kudumbashree.
Kudumbashree’s efforts for disaster relief
- Kumari had contracted leptospirosis while doing relief work in Kerala after the floods, away from her own home which had not been affected. She was a health volunteer and prominent member of the Kudumbashree Mission.
- Volunteers Zarina and Sudha said: “We saw mounds of foul-smelling black mud piled outside the houses blocking the entrances and, in some cases, partially covering the houses. There were dead animals too….. We knew we could fall ill or be stung by poisonous insects or snakes, but we were not afraid. Tribal women and members of Kudumbashree from nearby areas also joined us.”
- Like Kumari, Zarina and Sudha, around 4,00,000 women of Kudumbashree self-mobilised across the State to do relief work.
- The Kudumbashree State Mission estimates that Kudumbashree groups cleaned up 11,300 public places and two lakh houses.
- They provided counselling and information assistance as well as shelter to families. They also donated Rs. 7.4 crore to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund.
- This scale of voluntary relief work by women is quite unprecedented by any standard.
United in relief work
- The attention is necessary not just to accord women relief helpers like Kumari recognition and appreciation, but also to understand how such an enormous, effective and well-planned intervention could be made across the State by women through their own initiatives.
- Women from working class families, women from the lower middle class and middle class, Muslim women and Dalit women were present.
- They were a microcosm of the 2.43 lakh groups functioning across the State.
- Within a day or two of the deluge, the Kudumbashree members started contacting each other to discuss what they should do.
- They divided themselves into squads of five to six members and started relief work.
- They were helped by the district coordination team of five women, who were on deputation to the Kudumbashree Mission from the government.
- Within a short span of time, there were 7,000 women volunteers engaged in various tasks.
- When the situation in their district improved, some of them set out to neighbouring districts to help.
- Many of these women have family responsibilities, but they convinced their families of the urgency of the work at hand and set off with all the equipment required for cleaning which they themselves had collected through sponsorships.
A unique model
- Started in 1998, it was envisioned as a part of the People’s Plan Campaign and local self-governance, with women at the centre of it.
- In its conceptualisation, it was markedly different from the self-help group (SHG) movements in many parts of India.
- While the commonality with other States was in the thrift and credit activities at the grassrootslevel through the formations of saving groups, the structures differed.
- Kudumbashree has a three-tier structure.The first is the basic unit — the neighbourhood groups (NGs). There could be several such units within a ward and they are networked through the area development societies (ADS). All ADSs are federated through the community development societies (CDS).
- There are core committees of elected coordinators at all three levels.
- Each Kudumbashree member has a vote. Direct elections for the NG coordinators are held every three years. These people, in turn, elect the coordinators of the ADS who elect the members of the CDS.
- A majority of the members of the coordinator groups have to belong to women below the poverty line or from comparatively poorer sections.There is reservation forDalit and Adivasi women.
- At the district and State levels, employees/officers of the government are appointed on deputation to help the Kudumbashree groups. Thus, there is a socially representative leadership.
- This secular composition acts as a facilitator for the secularisation of public spaces.
- The micro-enterprises undertaken by the women NGs in Kerala also strengthen community bonds. These include organic vegetable growing, poultry and dairy, catering and tailoring.
- The concepts and practices have expanded over the years. Today the community farms run by Kudumbashree groups are acknowledged as a critical avenue for the rejuvenation of agricultural production in Kerala.
- Kudumbashree training courses are quite comprehensiveand include women’s rights, knowledge of constitutional and legal provisions, training in banking practices, and training in skills to set up micro-enterprises.
- The Kudumbashree groups are therefore often seen as a threat by those who would like women to adhere to socially conformist roles.
- In a modern democratic India, women are still suffering to prove their existence and abilities.
- This case study is a proof that women are equal half in pair of human. They can significantly contribute to the society as well as economy.
- This model of Kudumbashree can be implemented across India, if it is done with the same secular and gender-sensitive spirit.