Sangha meeting: Toravalli village and Devalapura village

Sarada Mahesh | February 2019

A look into the inner workings of the sangha, where the sakhis provide knowledge and information to the women’s concerns about money, entitlements, and rights

Driving through the narrow roads of Toravalli village, we found ourselves smiling at the enthusiastic welcome by the children, clad in their school uniforms. We made our way to the local temple while the village sakhi went to call the women for the sangha meeting. Organizing sangha meetings is not easy, the sakhi admitted. It required calling the heads of the sanghas a week before, and every day after that, to ensure that the other members had been informed so that they could set time for the meeting. 

Despite all this planning, the women still had to be personally informed by the sakhi minutes before the meeting. “They’re very busy, you know?” the sakhi said. “It is very difficult to get their time. Early mornings are tough because they have to tend to their families and then run to work. They return late in the evenings and have to cook and do other housework. Some even make an additional income by milking their cows and selling it to the local diary farm in their village. They have to rush before it closes.”

A few minutes later, the women began to appear, one by one. They sat down, smiling knowingly at us. We spoke about health and general well-being. After 16 women had gathered, the sakhi called for the attention of all the attendees and declared that the meeting had now officially begun. It was important to not waste time, as the sun was already setting and the women could not stay out for long after dark.

After a round of introductions, the women gave their feedback about the Namma Mahiti Kendra (the informediary centre) located in the Thumbasoge cluster. The women began to shower praises on the sakhi, thanking her for her work and sharing their stories of how they have benefitted from the schemes and  vocational courses such tailoring, that she helped them register for. “We can even save money now because I know how to stitch beautiful blouses for myself instead of buying it,” a woman smiled.

One of the facilitators from the Prakriye team then requested the women to formally introduce their sanghas. “There are two sanghas today – Myrada sangha and Stree Shakti sangha. But not all the members of the former are present today,” the women explained. The facilitator shook his head. “See, these meetings are not to be understood as being divided between sanghas. They are for the well-being of all women in general. We want you to think of yourselves as women looking out for other women, and not as sangha members,” he said. The women understood and agreed.

The sakhi then explained the latest entitlement schemes launched by the government, and the way in which the women could go about to apply for them. “What is the point?” the ASHA worker from the village lamented. “I’m a tailor, I have a proper source of income. I applied for a loan from the bank, filled out all the forms, fulfilled all the criteria, and yet I have been denied a loan.” Did she try talking to the bank manager? we asked her. “Yes. I have done everything. I have been struggling for nearly six months now. They either reject me or tell me to come back another day.” The other participants agreed with her and shared similar stories. 

The sakhi noted the details, and agreed to accompany the ASHA worker along with the facilitator to the bank in the following week, where they would personally speak to the bank manager to try and find a solution to the problem. A documentary on the welfare schemes and their benefits was then screened; the women watched in rapt attention. This was followed by a discussion. 

Another Prakriye facilitator reminded the women that in order for a struggle to be successful, it should not be fought independently – they had to come together as one group and collectively approach the bank manager. Only then would the institution be pressured into giving into the complaints of the women.They would, of course, not be alone, because both the sakhi and the team could be approached for providing advice and other sort of assistance. The importance of community mobilization could not be underestimated.

While announcing that the meeting had officially ended, the ASHA worker requested if she could get a legal doubt clarified. What could be done if children throwing the parents out of their homes, despite them being a burden on the children, health-wise or other wise? The facilitators replied by saying that such an act on the part of the children was wrong and legally, not allowed. The parents could either show the children that they had provided them each a portion of the land in their will, which they would rightfully get after the passing of their parents, or they could file an FIR in the local police station. The second act, of course, would involve the children possibly going to jail or the case going to courts, and the parents had to be cautioned about this. Details regarding the procedure to make a will were also explained to the women present, following which the meeting ended.

We then rushed to the second meeting, the last meeting for the day, at Devalapura village, located close by. Sitting in the verandah of the house where the meeting was being conducted, a quick round of interactions began with the team and the five women attendees. The lack of attendees was because of it was nearing nightfall, and the women had to rush to the diary farm to sell their milk. Realizing that the agenda for the meaning could not be implemented, the team requested the women to inform them of a day in the week on which the meeting could be held, and a time at which the members of the different sanghas would be free to attend. The women decided that the Friday afternoons, immediately before lunch would be best, as they would have completed at least half day’s work and would be able to make time for the meeting before their families return from their respective schools and jobs. 

The sakhi then took a few minutes to inform the women about the setting up of Adarsha Vidyalaya, a Model School scheme set up by the Government of Karnataka, which would provide quality education to the children of rural areas. After answering the questions of the women regarding this scheme, the team bid farewell to the women and promised to return the next week for a more fruitful discussion.