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Have The Chronically Poor Gained From The Poverty Alleviation Programmes?

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By P. Alli:

Lear:  O reason, not need, our basest beggars,
Are in poorest things superfluous;
Allows not Nature more than Nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.

Chronic poverty — a multi-dimensional concept is one of the persistent and intractable problems being faced by the governments throughout the world.  And India is no such exception, which is home to almost 22 percent of the world’s poor. It is worth emphasizing that at the beginning of the new millennium, 260 million people in the country were deprived of accessing the ‘consumption basket’ defining the ‘poverty line’ (of these nearly 75 percent were in rural areas) [10th Five-Year Plan].  At the backdrop of this, the tall claims of the Indian government that poverty alleviation programmes indeed expanded the ‘capabilities’ and ‘choices’ of the chronically poor (largely the casual agricultural labourers and cultivators) seem to be contradictory and misleading.

The approach to overcoming chronic poverty have evolved in different directions especially since 1950s when it began to be recognized more than before that overall economic growth by itself could not bring about a reduction in poverty. Various poverty alleviation strategies complementary to one another in achieving the objectives came to be incorporated in the developments plans.

India spends a massive amount — as much as Rs. 17,856 crores (as per 9th FYP) on IRDP/SGRY and JRY/JGSY programmes.  Although the success of these anti-poverty strategies can be gauged from the decline in the poverty level from 37.27 percent (1993-94) to 27.09 percent (1999-00).  However, it has to be seen how far the poverty alleviation programmes were able to reach the targeted beneficiaries.  Now, we begin with the IRDP (1980) — a very gigantic scheme launched to improve the living conditions of the chronically rural poor whose income was less than Rs. 6,400 and possessing assets worth s. 4,000.  In fact, from 1980-81 to 1997-98, a total of 520.12 lakh families were assisted with an investment of Rs. 30.77 thousand crores (PEO, 2000), through the creation of self-employment opportunities.

The success of the programme is said to be reflected in the fact that there has been about ten percent increase in the coverage of families and about 71 percent increase in investment during the 7th Plan over the 6th Plan. Various surveys and studies however, present a rosy picture about the deplorable condition of the chronically poor across states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, in spite of the fact that the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS, 1993), was especially designed for such drought affected, hilly and backward regions of the country. In fact, around 10,719.59 lakh man days of employment  was generated during the 8th Plan and 4,717.74 lakh man days during the first year of the 9th Plan, with wages being Rs. 70 per seven hours per day.  But the estimates of GoI, reveal a different story — there has been a percentage increase in the absolute number of chronically poor since 1983!  Besides, under JGSY (revamped JRY), it was found that the village panchayats of West Bengal and Orissa were able to get susbstantial amount of funds (more than Rs. 50,000 per annum); morever, the Food for Works Programme (2000-01) which aimed to supply the food grains to the backward states free of costs, seem to not have reached the targeted beneficiaries, which is very well reflected with cases like chronic unemployment and malnourishement in Orissa hitting the headlines every now and then.  Against an allocation of 35-31 lakh tonnes of food grains, only 21-36 percent lakh tonnes were lifted by the targeted states upto January, 2002.  So, what puzzles me is, why the entire allocated quantity could not reach the targeted states?

Having provided employment to around one-sixth to one-third of rural unemployed and under-employed in the state, the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (1977), was praised by a number of observers and advocated as a model for poverty alleviation programmes throughout South Asia (Dreze, 1988).  To say, that the programme was expanded from providing 4.5 million man days (1978) to around 190 million man days (1986).  Various surveys revealed that, although the expenditure for the programme amounted to as much as 10-14 percent of the total development budget of the state, but there was indeed a decline in the employment generation, i.e., 80-90 million man days in 1990.  What attributed to this decline?

The NREP and RLGP (6th and 7th Plan) was reported to have benefited around 36 percent of the landless labourers (PEO, 1999).  However, against 40 percent of the population in village panchayats who sought work, only 15 percent actually were employed.  Moreover, as against an assurance of 100 days of work, the programme barely provided around 50-60 man days per year.  Have any efforts been taken in rectifying these lacunae?

Besides the strategy of providing employment opportunities to alleviate chronic rural poverty, ceiling on land holdings were also considered to be an effective measure in improving the plight of landless.  At the end of the 8th Plan, 74.9 lakh acres were declared as ceiling surplus and 52.13 lakh acres were reported to have been distributed among 5.5 million beneficiaries.  But, by the end of the 9th Plan, the position virtually remained the same.  Then why was there no progress in the detection of concealed land and its distribution to landless?

Most of the poverty alleviation programmes share one thing in common — they provide employment in the lean season.  Then won’t this lead to casualisation?  Although, a quantum of work is provided by these programmes and wages paid to the beneficiaries; but what would be the plight of these persons at the end of work?  Will they be left behind to feed back to unemployed situation in which they were?  Above all, were the beneficiaries of these programmes, the ‘real’ beneficiaries or managed to become ‘beneficiaries’ through official inefficiency and connivance?  This question arises in the light of the fact that land transferred through land reform measures mostly went to the medium and small owners, already possessing land (C.H. Hanumantha Rao, 1988).

With the launch of a host of poverty-alleviation programmes by the so-called ‘pro-poor’ governments, I think that the need of the hour is probably to follow the maxim:  ‘To teach people to fish, instead of providing fish’!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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