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Gayapati had long wanted a toilet constructed in her home. Lack of money and little support from her family, who did not see it as priority, prevented this from happening. During one of her SHG meeting, she learned it would be possible to borrow money to finally execute this project. Although it took some time for her family to accept the idea, construction was eventually underway. Little by little, she repaid her loan and today, has a fully functioning ‘pucca’ toilet, which is appreciated by her entire family. Gayapati and her family also enjoy the benefits of having a kitchen garden, which she learned to grow through her SHG.

Bhikipur, Sultanpur

Rehmatul was married into a poor family of bonded labourers and her life was a daily struggle for food and water. When her son died of meningitis, her husband went into deep depression. It was the support of the women in her SHG that offered a ray of hope.

With financial support, she started an egg stall and invested the money she earned. With newfound confidence and continued support from her SHG sisters, the emotional heaviness in her home had lifted and she even managed to help her father-in-law escape the clutches of an exploitative moneylender. 

Her decision to run for the position of the village Pradhan (local leader) was met with great opposition, even escalating to death threats. When riots broke out within the village, Rehmatul and the Village Organization, of which her SHG was federated, lodged a formal complaint against the current tyrannical Pradhan.

Rehmatul was triumphant in her struggle, eventually being elected as the village Pradhan, and has since made critical improvement to infrastructure, livelihoods and women’s critical condition. She remains humble and grounded today, and still relies on her SHG members and family for support and love.

Pierro, Sultanpur

Shama barely had time to recover from the tragic deaths of her father and brother when her in-laws, who deemed her inauspicious, kicked her out of her house. She was forced to flee with her six children without shelter and resources, living like a pariah of Uttar Pradesh.

She was approached by a Community Resource Person while living in a cowshed with an absent, abusive and unsupportive husband. Not until he moved away did she seize the opportunity to join the SHG and begin participating in internal lending and explore new ways of income generation. This later afforded her the ability to acquire goats and even ensure a water connection.

When her husband returned after several months, he was suspicious of Shama’s character and questioned how she could happen upon so much fortune in such a little amount of time. She took time to explain the processes and he eventually came to respect and admire her committed efforts.

Finally connected to resources, Shama was able to receive a BPL card to receive various benefits. She also underwent training to become spread RGMVP’s messages and encourage other to learn and study, despite not being a literate herself. She believes that her greatest achievement has not just been in material terms but the respect and the acknowledgement that she has received from her community.

Dhanpatganj, Sultanpur

Suman had little to look forward to in life. Married at fifteen and belonging to the Dalit Ahirwar community (lower caste), she was confined to her home and always veiled. She had very little education and even lesser money to escape the vicious cycle of poverty.

She reached her breaking point when she was unable to get medical treatment for her child’s bleeding ear. Around this time, a Community Resource Person visited her to discuss the benefits of joining an SHG and saving little by little. Reluctant at first, Suman eventually joined and soon after underwent training and capacity building exercises.

Her most important achievement was organising a rally to protest in Bundelkhand against the practice of forbidding lower castes to wear ‘chappal’ (sandals) in front of upper caste houses. Although she faced enormous resistance from the community and even disciplinary action from the Panchayat (local government), she continued to challenge humiliating and discriminatory traditions and later gained supported from 5,000 of her SHG sister.

Following the rally, Suman went on to become an ASHA and also work for MGNREGA. Today, she is committed to bringing other women under the fold of RGMVP to begin income-generating activities and advocate for social change. Her story is one of courage, against all odds, and demonstrates that where there is a will, there is a way.

Bundelkhund, Uttar Pradesh