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Kudumbashree scripts SUCCESS story

The network of Kudumbasree projects across Kerala is beginning to bear fruit, not only in form of fiscal independence for women but also with a newfound self-confidence, says LEELA MENON

KERALA IS witnessing a silent revolution, spawning womanpower, possibly restoring to the State its lost matriarchal legacy, where the women enjoyed pre-eminence, safety, security and respect, including self-respect. This female empowerment is taking place through the Kudumbashree movement, which has engulfed the State. In Ernakulam district alone there are 19,2424 women in rural and urban areas contributing Rs. 22 crores through deposits to the State economy. "Each member contributes Rs 10 a week. "We have achieved this phenomenal feat by trusting women, awakening their inherent saving instinct and abilities to achieve. From the thrift amount we give them loans, which they return in just three weeks. We have given up to Rs. 26 crores as loans. Earlier, they had no money of their own to spend or invest. Now they have achieved monetary empowerment, self-reliance and freedom," said Kabir B. Haroon, District Mission Co-ordinator of Kudumbashree in Ernakulam.

When one re-scripts their earlier life scenario it is easy to recapture the anguish and trauma they would have experienced in situations, as when school opened. "They had to buy bags, books, umbrellas etc. for their children and often they never had the money for it and had to borrow from blade companies, paying exorbitant interest. Now they say, quite proudly, that they are borrowing from their own investments. Similarly, they take loans from their own deposits to celebrate Onam, or Christmas or Bakrid. Many of them say that they have lost their enslavement because they are not dependent on anyone, anymore," Mr. Haroon added. According to him, Kudumbashree alone has collected Rs.230 crores as deposits and lent Rs 320 crores as loans.

"Across Kerala, Kudumbashree covers 991 panchayats and 58 municipalities. Through this network women have the freedom to demand, and to receive money without red tape. In fact, banks volunteer to lend money to Ayalkoottams. Like the Dhanalakshmi Bank, which plans to lend Rs.300 crores to Kudumbashree Ayalkoottams alone," says Mr. Haroon, testifying the credibility and investor confidence the women have inspired under the Kudumbashree network.

Each Community Development Society (CDS) under the Kundumbasree project is an independent entity, registered under the Charitable Society Act, sans governmental interference. Everyone gets to share responsibility as office bearers, but none more than twice. There are health and education volunteers, infrastructure volunteers, income-generation volunteers, a secretary, and a president, who heads but does not rule. Since the role of Mayor or Panchayat president is limited, the women face no interference or influence from men, unlike in the Panchayat where political influences and husbands often rule by proxy. The women are free to present crucial issues like water, power or housing before the Grama Sabha under the Ayalkootam network.

The flagship of the Ernakulam Kudumbashree is the Kuttampuzha tribal belt where the women are so empowered that they have been able to control the price line in the Kothamangalam belt and even ban arrack, both its brewing and consumption. The women engage jeeps to buy provisions and vegetables in bulk and sell them to members at the cheapest possible price, thus controlling the prices in the area. "This is the impact of women in Kuttampuzha," remarks Mr. Haroon, adding, " Earlier, rice had to be distributed to adivasis to prevent starvation deaths. Now it is the Kudumbasree, which ensures that adivasis get their quota of rice." "For the first time in our lives we are getting quality rice," remarked an adivasi woman. In this adivasi belt the thrift deposit amount is Rs. 44 lakhs and the loans amount to Rs. 80 lakhs.

These poor women become conscious not only of fiscal saving but also about saving the They have effectively managed plastic ban by introducing cloth bags and have started using areca-nut frond (Paala) as plates at functions not only to boost plastic ban but also to protect the areca trees. Women have also taken over the sale of tender coconuts and have started manufacturing `Kerashree' coconut oil.

The snowball ice cream is another new and popular venture of these women. Made out of tender coconut, which is not slit open to extract the tender flesh, but is stirred inside and drunk, using a straw has gained popularity among foreign tourists.

This project is under the aegis of Centre for Spices and Research, Government of India.

Women under the Kudumbasree have also entered the IT field through data entry and in assembling units. Kudumbashree computer centre has developed hardware for printing ration card, etc, according to Mr. Haroon. Kudumbashree units also impart IT education in 158 schools in Kerala, with a Rs.10 crores grant from the Union Govt. Six girls in each unit acquire the skill to teach students of classes eight and nine, under this scheme. Kudumbashree women are acquiring computer literacy and also supply computer hardware to such schools.

The Kudumbashree is having an impact across Kerala. In Fort Kochi, the beach is cleaned and maintained by the women, who collect Rs.1200 for it from the Tourism Department.

They also maintain the heritage zone .

Women have also stepped in to produce ethnic fast food with help from the Syndicate Bank. They manufacture bakery items and reach them directly to houses, as well as provisions, like rice, soaps tea etc. often earning up to Rs.16,000 a month. There are at least 450 women in this field, who have sold around Rs. 18 lakhs worth provisions during the 10 days of Onam collecting Rs.3,000 each in the bargain.

Direct marketing has become the hallmark of Kudumbashree thus eliminating middlemen and ensuring that actual profits reach the producer. There are 45 direct marketing units in Ernakulam District.

In all, Kudumbashree has effected a healthy change in the Kerala scenario. "The women have become self-confident under it and they have regained their individuality," commented Neena Joseph, while another Kudumbashree woman added, "It gives us an avenue to step out, to interact, to expand our horizons which is no more limited to the four walls of our homes." This is some change indeed!

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