How does a devastating earthquake liberate women?
Part 1 of a three part series.
SSP office, Osmanabad. The heat is unbearable, but the sights around us take our minds off it. The office in Osmanabad bustles with village women in colourful sarees. Known as Sakhis, they are part of Self Help groups organized by the Swayam Shikshan Prayog, a group that has been functional since the devastating Latur Earthquake.
Â Few who read this will know of the 1993 Latur Earthquake. It measured 6.4 on the richter scale, a number classified as â€˜strongâ€™: the quakeâ€™s toll can spread as far as 160 kms from the epicenter. Nearly 8000 people died. 30000 were injured. Osmanabad was one of the worst hit areas.
Not that Osmanabad was a haven of prosperity to begin with. It was one of the most underdeveloped areas in Maharashtra. With the years, the population grew, but the portion of arable land did not, forcing the villagers into migrating, or seeking work at the mills. The quake was like a coup-de-grace.
But Prema Gopalan, founder of the Swayam Shikshan Prayog, saw a ray of hope here.Â The SSP organised self help groups among the women of Osmanabad. The women started saving money, borrowing loans, and repaid them on time. They turned meager but all too precious profits running small cottage industries.
All this while the quake rehabilitation projects organised by the government were stalling, and the World Bank was expressing reservations about funding it thanks to government ineptitude. With sublime audacity, the SSP sent a proposal to the government offering to collaborate with govt officials in the reconstruction projects.Thanks to the SSP, the reconstruction was completed on time.
Later, SSP's women helped Gujarat when the tsunami hit, and diversified further, eventually joining the microfinance initiative (covered in part 2)Â