Self-help groups ensure Rajasthan rural women's prosperity

Jaipur, June 29 (IANS) When Shahnaz Hussain lost her husband 15 years ago, her life came to a standstill. The thought of funding the education of her two children and bearing the family's expenses almost sent the homemaker from a Rajasthan village into depression.

Speaking to other women in her Bichhdi village in Udaipur district, she came in touch with the Jai Hind self-help-group (SHG), which trained her in stitching and tailoring.

Today, she is one of the many businesswomen of rural Rajasthan supported by Hindustan Zinc, a Vedanta Group company, who are making a mark by generating resources using their skills in fields like handicrafts, embroidery, terracotta, tailoring, saree decoration, jewellery making, cultivation, poultry, husbandry and beauty parlours.

The Jai Hind SHG not only helped her get educated but also empowered her socially and economically. Shahnaz is one of the 6,000 rural women who have been able to support their families by joining Hindustan Zinc's SHGs launched in 2006.

Another success story is that of Dalla Soni from Rajsamand, near Udaipur, who joined the Joganiya Mata SHG that was engaged in micro-enterprises.

"I, along with 15 other women, learnt meenakari and tailoring, and have tied up with the exploration department of Hindustan Zinc for making cotton bags - an order worth Rs.75,000," she said.

"For me it's just the beginning," she added.

Pavan Kaushik, head of Hindustan Zinc's corporate communications, told IANS: "It was never easy to bring rural women together as they had clashes of interest or rural beliefs and also difference of temperament."

"Once they came together, they started working like a strong team where they extended a helping hand to one another and ensured their SHG came out with the best of products," he said.

Each SHG has about 10-15 women who are trained and linked to the market for selling their products. Finance from banks for raw material is also facilitated.

Raising the SHG was not a smooth ride. There were some challenges in attracting women.

The company's representatives had to convince not just the women but also their family members and make them understand how their empowerment would bring prosperity to the family, Kaushik said.

Most of the rural women were illiterate and Hindustan Zinc arranged for adult-education classes in villages.

Vedanta has also developed and organised more than 2000 similar SHGs in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Odisha and even in Zambia in Africa.

A number of NGOs across India and banks like HDFC Bank, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur and other local banks have come forward to provide financial assistance to the members of the SHGs, Kaushik said.

(Anil Sharma can be contacted at anil.s@ians.in)

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