Initiating empowerment

By Supriyo Hazra

Poor families in India, struggling to eke out a living, see the girl child as a burden. Often girls are the victims of infanticide and child marriage. According to UNICEF, one in every three child brides in the world is from India.
In 2014, Shree Cement initiated a project as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to find out if they can uplift the lives of girls from impoverished families and provide incentives that can prevent child marriage while also empowering women to stand on their own economically.
Over a span of five years now, the project has supported more than 530 girls from BPL families across India through the “marriage support gift” scheme.
Initially, the Yojana was launched in Rajasthan and then implemented in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. The Yojana provides a start-up marriage kit to the poor girls from backward areas. Known as marriage support gift (MSG) it provides for a set of essential household items that a girl needs after marriage. And yes, it is for the girls who are getting married after attaining adulthood.
The MSG kit contains an array of kitchen and daily-use utensils, pressure cooker, kettles, casseroles, stove, cot, sewing machine and other home-use items. The value may range anywhere from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000.
For the BPL families in India, who live in conditions lower than the economic benchmark set by the government, MSG is a big support. “Seeing daughters growing up was a nightmare. I was plagued by the thought of their marriage and spent many sleepless nights. In our community, it is customary to get daughters married off in a social function. People often have to sell off their land or incur lifelong debts in order to give dowry,” said Biramji of Rawla ka Badiya village in Beawar, Rajasthan.
“I had to marry off my three daughters in a single ceremony to save cost and still had one more to worry about. I was able to marry her off only after I got enlisted and received the ‘marriage support gift’ under the Shree Balika Samriddhi Yojna,” he said.
Another beneficiary, Salma, from Thal ka Badiya village in Rajasthan, said, “My family could never afford what I got. My in-laws feel I am lucky for the family and my views and opinions carry weight. They are no longer averse to the idea of having a girl child in the family.”
Jagdish Singh Rawat, a former sarpanch from Rajasthan, said, “It is like a poor girl’s marriage start-up kit. For the BPL families, MSG is a great facilitator and comes at a time when a girl’s family needs it the most.”
However, the Yojana is exclusively for families enlisted in the BPL list and for a single girl child per family. The gift is officially handed over to the beneficiary a day prior to her marriage.
“Shree Balika Samriddhi Yojna has a direct impact on the life of the beneficiary and an even deeper impact on the village community. The Yojna has successfully spread awareness of girl child education. Unlike the past, community response to our campaigns against child marriage is very positive. This is a huge achievement while dealing with communities where marriages are decided even before a child is born. We are very encouraged by the social impact of the Yojna and hope to expand it to cover more states across India in the years ahead,” said Prakash Narayan Chhangani, director, Shree Cement Limited.
Another offshoot of the Shree Balika Samriddhi Yojna is a scheme to gift Rs 5000 fixed deposit to a girl child below five years of age, from a BPL family. The amount can be encashed after the girl attains 18 years of age.
Recalling the impact of the initiative, Seema, a beneficiary from Bharkala village in Rajasthan, said, “Earlier, most village girls were married off when they were 10 or 12 years old. Now, more and more poorer families are willing to get their daughters married after they attain 18 years.”
There are also many other positive spin-offs of the Yojna.
The number of girls going to schools has increased and so have the age of their marriage. This indicates that many of the poor villagers are slowly moving away from child marriage.
“The overarching impact of Shree Balika Samriddhi Yojna is evident from the social changes it is gradually ushering in. It is not a dowry substitution scheme since it imparts a sense of self-worth and importance to the girls from the BPL families who are one of the most vulnerable social groups of India,” says Vishal Jayshwal, CSR team member of Shree Cement Limited, Ras, Rajasthan.
Another CSR team member, Rajat Surana said, “The SBSY scheme is very popular across India. BPL families attend our community meetings in large numbers. This gives us a window to spread awareness and launch our other social welfare campaigns. We can clearly see that the community bias against the girl child is changing slowly.”
Sunita Rawat of Naharpura village in Rajasthan, who had received a sewing machine as a part of the MSG kit, said, “This sewing machine is helping me to earn my livelihood and support two other relatives. I could never dream of affording one. This marriage support gift has been the turning point of my life.”
Hailing from a village in Bavra panchayat in Rajasthan, Geeta Prajapat’s father is physically disadvantaged.
But she was able to improve her skills after receiving the sewing machine under the Yojna. “I have honed up my sewing skills and am able to earn some money with which I help my family,” said Geeta.
“The sewing machine which my daughter received as a gift has in fact been a gift for the whole family. It has made a big difference to our lives,” said Geeta’s father.
The aim of the scheme was to find ways to make the girls confident about facing challenges. Realizing that the Yojana was making an impact on these impoverished families, the company began to expand the reach of its project. The efforts saw lives of many changing for good. (IBNS-TWF)

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