One of the Freedom Fund’s partners, Adithi, has been working in Ram Naika village in northern India since the beginning of 2015. The village is a primarily Muslim community of about 250 households. Bonded labour is common in this area, where we and our partners seek to reduce debt bondage and other forms of modern slavery. Last summer, we met with members of Self-Help Groups, the Community Vigilance Committee and adolescent girls group.
The Community Vigilance Committee is helping households to access crucial entitlements such as food ration cards and pensions. The committee is also helping people discuss the problem of extremely low wages in the village. Until now, the members borrowed loans at 60% interest per year, having to work for their creditors to try to pay off the loans. They can’t change employers because of the debt bondage, and they feel obligated to continue working because they may need more loans in the future. At the same time, through Adithi, they’ve become aware of other groups who have come out of similar situations.
Members of the adolescent group explained that when they were younger, some of the girls had been going to school, but as they became older, their parents made them drop out. When the adolescent group started, it gave the girls a new opportunity for education and skills training. Members are divided into different groups for education who meet every day for three hours. They get basic education as well as life skills training and discussions about topics such as early marriage and health.
Women in the community usually earn Rs.50 (less than a dollar) for their daily work in the fields. They are a little fatalistic. One said “Because I’m a woman I can only get Rs.50″.
Through the Self Help Group, the women are starting to save together and are accessing poultry and goats for income generation. One of the visitors asked what would happen if they demanded better wages. It’s clear that the women feel afraid. One of the women explained “Sometimes they beat us up if we ask for more wages. We don’t want it to stay the same. We’ll have to motivate other women not to work for less.” But they didn’t sound very confident.
Turning to members of the adolescent group, we asked them what they hope can improve. They started by talking about basic facilities in the village. They wanted the school to be better, an improved pre-school centre, water supplies and roads.
Then one of them started to talk about deeper changes that she wanted for herself and her community: “I want equal opportunities with my brothers, to go out to distant places to study. To get out of poverty, we need to get our rights. If we push for our rights, we may need legal help. We know we can go to the police station.”