Mahila Meetings are the platforms through which ADATS and the Coolie Sangha interpret their policy of positive discrimination in favour of Coolie women. They are village level gatherings of one woman from each Member Coolie family that meet on a fixed day every week.
These Meetings discuss problems that are particular and peculiar to Coolie women. No men are allowed to attend these exclusive Meetings of Coolie women. But at the same time Coolie women have the right, and are indeed encouraged, to attend the mixed CSU Meetings.
As a result, Mahila Meetings are platforms within the Coolie Sangha, and not separate entities to offer Coolie women the crumbs.
Vokkaku Sanchi Duddu (Petty Credit for Coolie women)
Once Mahila Meetings start functioning, ADATS helps them set up small, informal credit schemes with initial grants of Rs 1,000 per Mahila Meeting. These are called the Vokkaku Sanchi Duddu. The objective of this fund is to make petty credit readily available for Coolie women to counter sexual exploitation by Ryots.
The Village Health Worker (VHW) and woman CSU Representative handle this money at each Mahila Meeting. Coolie women use this facility, without any male interference, to meet urgent needs like tending to a sick child, buying rations from the fair price shop, entertaining unexpected guests, etc.
Since a small portion of these moneys sometimes “get stuck” with borrowers who are unable to repay, Vokkaku Sanchi Duddu grants are further enhanced (initially with ADATS grants and later by the CSUs themselves with Sangha Funds) every year without any questions asked.
Decentralised Health Budget
Community & Referral Health is the main activity that Coolie women tend to rally around. The health objectives of this activity are secondary to the more socio-political one of strengthening Coolie women. Each Mahila Meeting selects, from among its own members, a Village Health Worker (VHW), who is often the tradition midwife.
ADATS trains these VHWs in basic health, hygiene, nutrition, ante and post natal care, simple curative skills and first aid. They are also sent to major hospitals for practical exposure in dealing with difficult deliveries, and to make functional contacts with various doctors and nurses. Maternity kits are then distributed to the VHWs. Thereafter, a small package of basic curative medicines, first aid material, vitamins and other essential drugs are supplied to the VHWs every month.
The procedure for supporting sick persons is totally decentralised. A woman (wife, mother or sister) from the patient’s house explains the problem and requests her Mahila Meeting to please reimburse health expenses. All the women together consider the request and take a decision. They often give her a hand loan from their Vokkaku Sanchi Duddu and ask the family to return the moneys rather than take something as gratis. ADATS very strictly stays away from this process and does not directly help any sick person with succour or benefit.
During our 9 year intervention, the stipends of these VHWs are paid for by ADATS. But they are still not Staff members in the strict sense of the term. Instead they are the cadre that ADATS builds up in the villages. After ADATS withdraws, VHW stipends, monthly medicine costs, referral bills to send patients to hospitals, etc. are met by the Mahila Meetings themselves from out of their Sangha Funds.
This is a special instrument in the Coolie Sangha, administered by the Mahila Meetings through 4 elected taluk level Womens Committees. The effort aims to benefit women headed households without male support (widows, deserted women and young mothers) with grants and loans.
- To date, 716 single women have received a total assistance of Rs 10.06 million - Rs 3.32 million (33%) grants, and Rs 6.74 million (66%) loans.
- 32% of the assistance has been given in Chickballapur taluk (40 months old), 25% in Chintamani, 18% in Siddalaghatta taluks (both 34 months old), and 25% in Bagepalli (24 months).
- Benefiting women have used their capital for a variety of purposes including livestock (crossbred cows, sheep, pigs and buffaloes), construction of sheds, shops and houses, starting petty businesses, sericulture, redeeming lost lands and for skill training.
This activity is supported by the New Zealand government, through Save the Children New Zealand (SCNZ), under the Voluntary Agency Support Scheme.