The National Rural Livelihood Mission under the Ministry of Rural Development has supported forming of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) across the country. The 6.3 million SHGs in every nook and corner of the country have been found to be helpful in uplifting society by bringing women together. Approximately 69 million SHG women members are helping each other through collective savings, promoting livelihood activities, and giving emotional and financial support to the person in need. They also work with Panchayats at the village level on various development issues. To fight against Covid-19, many women SHG members are coming forward and becoming a backup for the administration.
These SHG members are contributing in every way to keep rural India away from this crisis. For relief against the Covid-19 pandemic, provisions are being made by the government to release funds in the bank accounts of beneficiaries. The release of DBT funds then led to an expected rush at the banks. SHG women members thus intervened as Business Correspondents at the banks (BC Sakhis) and are playing a vital role in the disbursement of the fund. Over 8,800 BC Sakhis and 21,600 Bank Sakhis are working amidst the nation-wide lockdown and supporting bank administration in managing the crowd rush at the branches for the DBT payment.
The Sakhis ensure social distancing by creating awareness in the community. These women have become the primary source of disseminating information about the financial provisions announced by the government in rural areas. The BC point for providing banking services in areas where there are no banks are being managed by BC Sakhis and Bank Sakhi of that village. This doorstep service provided by Sakhis at this juncture is helping keep the distressed poor out of hunger.
The creation of SHGs and their linkage with Gram Panchayats has been found to be very helpful at this time of crisis. Many states have set up community kitchens for serving food to the needy. Nearly 10,000 community kitchens have been set up across states. The responsibility of handling these community kitchens has been given to the women of SHGs. The community kitchen run by SHGs of Kudumbshree, in collaboration with the local government of Kerala, is preparing food packets that are then served to people under home quarantine. The primary food menu includes ghee rice and chicken curry to take care of the nutritious aspect of the food.
Similarly, in Tripura, the state government has given a contract to SHGs who are already taking cooking orders in large quantities. The SHG women in Arunachal Pradesh are providing breakfast, lunch, tea and refreshment to police personnel deployed in Covid-19 duty. They are also providing free stitched masks, and rice and vegetables to them. SHGs under Mission Shakti in Odisha are providing necessities including dry ration, groceries and cooked food by community kitchens to people in need. Around 45,000 people are being fed via community kitchens under Mission Shakti.
The Jharkhand government runs its Mukhya Mantri Didi Kitchen (MMDK) Scheme with the assistance of SHGs. Over 4,185 community kitchens, handled by SHG women members, are providing free food to the needy, differently-abled children and destitutes in villages. To take care of essential needs and nutrition of rural household without the spread of Covid-19, SHG women are taking various initiative. These include the production of ‘Ready to Eat’ Take Home Ration and doorstep delivery of dry ration and fresh vegetables.
Many SHG women members are volunteering in the distribution of PDS by collecting ration supply using ration cards and distributing them to the cardholders to prevent crowding of PDS shops. SHGs in Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh are supporting front line health workers in child delivery, maternal and adolescent health and nutrition-related entitlements. Women from 2,118 SHGs from these states have reached out to 4,310 pregnant and lactating mothers who are malnourished.
Almost 78,000 SHG members across India have produced more than 20 million masks. These masks are sold at a subsidised price. As per the requirement, these masks are also made available to local government administration, medical staff, police and others. The Micro-Enterprise run by SHGs is trying to ensure the availability of hand sanitisers in rural areas. Over 1,150 litres of sanitiser has been produced by 900 SHG enterprises in nine states.
The WHO guidelines have been followed in making these hand sanitisers to fulfil this rising demand. The sanitiser is sold at a moderate price and made available to hospitals, police stations and the general public. Moreover, some SHGs are also involved in producing hand soaps and handwashing products. Over 50,000 litres of handwashing products are being made across seven states of a country.
SHG women members in rural areas are standing shoulder-to-shoulder for spreading the awareness about the Covid-19. Innovative means of propaganda have been adopted to inform about the importance of social distancing, sanitisation, quarantine and isolation. The SHG women of BRLPS-JEEVIKA in Bihar are using Mobile Vaani platform to release voice message. The platform is also found to be valuable for addressing the queries of the rural community. Awareness and preventive message are blowout by making wall paintings and rangolis in Uttar Pradesh by SHG women members associated with UP SRLM-PRERNA. The Didi helpline has been created by Jharkhand SRLM and is operated by SHG women, active 24 hours to help migrant labourers and others in need.
The helpline is enables labourers to connect with state authorities to help them reach their gone state. It is also vital that society doesn’t fall in the trap of fake news and cause panic. SHGs of Kudumbshree in Kerala are spreading only the right information to the community through its network of over one lakh women members. WhatsApp group and messages are used to disseminate only authentic information and updates shared by the Government. The dedication and devotion of the SHG women members as a community warrior are a ray of hope to rural India in the fight against Covid-19.
(With inputs from Press Information Bureau and Ministry of Rural Development)