Five years ago she had taken a loan from the then fledgling Self Help Group (SHG) in Nana Bhadiya village in Mundra Taluka of coastal Kutch, Gujarat. She had bought a cow and manning her own house through added secondary livelihood options —a very common, tried and tested livelihood option in rural India. She paid every installment on time—as a founder member of the SHG she kept her account in apple pie order. Now she is ready to borrow again. To set up a new line of business, and there is nothing predictable or ‘tried and tested’ about this one. In fact, she has already worked out a business model of her own, and is chafing to get started. Inspired by a training programme she recently attended, on beauty and healthcare, organized by Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL) in collaboration with Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS), she plans to set up a beauty salon in her village.
A far cry from a dairy centre? Yes indeed it is. In fact, this lady reflects the winds of change that are now gusting in the coastlands of Kutch.
In this article our spotlight is on the women folk of the fishing communities living in Mundra and Mandvi, the two talukas in the coastal belt of Kutch, Gujarat. Their villages lie within the site of the massive 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Plant, flagship project of Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company.
While the fishing enterprise in India, particularly in the state of Gujarat, does brisk business, locally as well as globally, the Kutch community is lagging far behind in the race. CGPL, as a member of the Tata Group, believes in forging committed partnerships with local communities, and has taken this up as a challenge. It has adopted an integrated development approach in these villages, with a vision of ‘lighting up the lives’ of its inhabitants for generations to come. This includes building strong local institutions, stable enterprises, and most importantly, an informed community that is capable of sustaining these on its own strength. And CGPL envisages the womenfolk to be at the helm of affairs in this regime. “Because a recent survey conducted by our experts to gauge the socioeconomic status and expenditure pattern of women employed in fish processing factories, and to assess their contribution to the economy of the industry, has found that women dominate the industry with a male to female ratio of 3:10,”informs a senior CGPL officer.
The initial steps, however, were the toughest. It was found that most of the women in the villages stayed at home and were not accustomed to stepping out for work. They had to be first persuaded and then trained to play the role envisaged for them.
The Self-help group initiative was finally launched by CGPL in early 2008. But before that dialogues were arranged with the local Panchayat on the rationale and need of SHGs in the villages. Its main objective was to help the fisherwomen to become skilled finance managers. SHGs typically comprise of a group of micro entrepreneurs with similar social and economic backgrounds, all voluntarily coming together to save regular small sums of money, mutually agreeing to contribute to a common fund and to meet their emergency needs on the basis of mutual help. They pool their resources to become financially stable, taking loans from the money collected by that group and by making everybody in that group self-employed. The group members use collective wisdom and peer pressure to ensure proper end-use of credit and timely repayment