BREW RICE beer at home and sell it at the local market; dealing with taunts from unruly customers; struggling to feed her family of six and ultimately face casualties.
This was the life of Sushila Devi for seven years. Today, she owns a small grocery store near her home in Upperkonki village, Ranchi district, and earns enough money to save money at the same time.
The 45-year-old says her search for a “respectable life” is finally over.
Devi is one of 15,456 women identified by the Jharkhand government for its Phoolo-Jhano Ashirwad Abhiyan, which was launched last September to rehabilitate women selling unregulated alcohol and advise them to adopt a source of ‘alternative business, with the granting of interest-free loans up to Rs 10,000.
These women were selected after a statewide survey conducted by the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), which reports to the Department of Rural Development. Officials say the JSLPS has so far helped 13,456 women with loans through self-help groups and counseling to adopt alternative microenterprises – from farming activities to ranching, selling forest products, sericulture and poultry.
âCounseling is the key, educating women about the harmful effects of selling alcohol,â said Nancy Sahay, CEO of JSLPS.
Officials say the women were initially resistant to change. âIn many places, they couldn’t believe the transition would be easy and that they wouldn’t be in debt. It took us a lot of follow-ups to convince them, âsaid an official involved in the initiative.
An important step was to get those who signed up to motivate others to follow. âThese motivators are called Navjiwan Sakhis. There are already 138 of these women in the program, who receive a minimum of Rs 100 per day for their services, âthe official said.
One of them is Sabita Kumari from Kori village in Chatra district. âI joined Navjeevan Sakhi last October. I used to sell alcohol, but now I have started a business raising goats and pigs for meat. There were 21 women selling homemade alcohol in the village. We convinced them to start other businesses with the loan of Rs 10,000. Many have started restaurants and grocery stores. Only three women still sell alcohol, âshe said. Kumari, however, says she has yet to receive any money from the government for her efforts as Navjeevan Sakhi.
In the village of Upperkonki, meanwhile, Sushila Devi is “so relieved”. âMy husband cultivates a small piece of land that we inherited, but it was never enough. Over the past few months, there has been low, but steady, income from the store. There is a turnover of over Rs 3,000 per month and it has started to generate profit. At least I don’t have to sit in the market listening to all the nonsense after the men get drunk.
Devi said she got a loan of 10,000 rupees to start her store from a local self-help group. “I will return it on time,” she said.
About 110 km away, Kalawati Kumari, 26, opened a “pakora shop” in Satanpur panchayat in Bokaro, after selling homemade alcohol for more than three years. âI used to sell alcohol for around 2,000 rupees a month. It was a very difficult processâ¦ mixing Mahua flowers, jaggery. Sometimes it got sour and all the stock was wasted. Then there was the issue of the treatment of drunk men. It was just problems all the time, âshe said.
According to Kumari, the pakora business earns him about Rs 6,000 per month. âAt first I wasn’t convinced and it took me a while to get in. But now I’ve realized it’s a much better job.â