Impact study of ‘Tejaswini – A women empowerment programme’

Tejaswini group at Bagota (Self help groups -azadi, pragati, Kohinoor to name a few), Chhatarpur

Tejaswini program was started in 6 districts of Madhya Pradesh namely Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna, Dindori, Mandla and Balaghat since 2007. The parameters for selecting the above districts were poverty, gender imbalance (for Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh and Panna)and tribal dominance (for Dindori, Mandla and Balaghat). The programme was financially assisted by an International fund for agricultural development (an international financial institution and a specialized agency of UN dedicated to eradicate poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries) and implemented by Madhya Pradesh Women Finance and Development Corporation.

The project has been officially wrapped up by the government of Madhya Pradesh in 2019 with the intention to merge it with the ongoing National rural livelihood programme (NRLM). The present article focuses on the impact of the programme in Chhatarpur district and its present challenges. In all 440 villages have been covered, 3132 Self Help Groups formed and 38139 women have been mobilized in the district under the programme.

Impact of Tejaswini among women:

SHG’s were formed in selected villages and each group today has upto 10-12 members in each group. In some villages there are upto 16 to 20 groups (like Bagota and Kathera village visited by researcher had 18 and 16 groups respectively). The groups save their own money and lend to each other during a need on a predefined nominal interest rate (say 1%) and also to others outside the group with a little higher rate (say 2%). This has inculcated a habit of saving among women, freed them from the clutches of informal borrowing at higher interest rates (as high as 10 to 20%) and also provides a channel to avail institutional loans through Micro Finance Institutions (likeSangmitra in Chhatarpur), small banks, rural banks and scheduled commercial banks(like SBI) which is four times their saving.

The main purpose was to mobilize women first financially and then socially. Within Tejaswini groups there is ‘Shaurya Dal’ which comprises 5 active women and men; they act as pressure groups against any form of violence and injustice towards women. Women within group are better informed about their basic rights like availing gas cylinders under UJJWALA scheme, more concerned about hygiene and sanitation as they are the front campaigners with the officials in making their villages ODF (they used whistles, sang in bundelkhandi during rallies early morning to discourage open defecation) and today they are more confident to speak, ask questions, break the social barriers like wearing a veil (ghungat) and step out of their home all alone. Recently these groups were chosen to plant special seeds in their backyard under ‘Poshan Vatika’ programme aimed at arresting anemia by introducing fresh, organic vegetables in their diet.

Tejaswini groups (Milan, kajal to name a few) in Kathera village, Chhatarpur.
Tejaswini groups (Milan, kajal to name a few) in Kathera village, Chhatarpur.

Story of Sangeeta – A fine example of how ‘Tejaswini’ is today a mass movement among women:

A young spirited girl in her early twenties started as a community resource person in 2015 and rose to position of livelihood assistant (LA). She started from morning 8:30 and covered villages on foot, it was tough to convince women to form groups and start saving as there is no financial assistance to groups, unlike NRLM where groups are provided with revolving funds (upto 50,000) after 3 months of formation and community investment funds (upto 1lakh 20 thousand) after 6 months of their formation.

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 For Sangeeta whose father had died before some time had economic responsibilities and a deep urge to utilize the opportunity provided by Tejaswini. In order to convince women she started to take up their personal matters like that of an old widow lady whose name was cut from the BPL list , the lady was unable to get subsidized food grains and was eating rice flour as there was no wheat. Sangeeta took lady to the office of Tehsildar filled her form and was successful in getting her name added to the list. The old lady happily consented to be a part of Tejaswini and soon others followed as they hoped that Sangeeta will also help them personally in getting their rights like widow pension, complain about poor food quality provided in Mid Day meal, absence of teachers, Aanganwari not opening on time and many more. She took all of them and also has been able to resolve many of them. 

Today she owns cycle and has about 47 groups out of which 41 have got their accounts linked with the banking 7 villages under her. She has been rewarded for her courage and determination by District Collector on women’s day. The same urge and confidence reflect in the whole staff who have successfully transformed these rural women into real ‘Tejaswini’.

Sangeeta with her groups, Chhatarpur.

Future of ‘Tejaswini’:

The programme is destined to be merged with NRLM; as both Tejaswini and NRLM have same objectives of empowering women both financially and socially. Though the purpose is same but both programmes have separate ground structures and different strategies to realize those objectives. As there are always two sides of the coin in the same way the merger also has its own set of opportunities and challenges which needs to be discussed-

  1 The groups will get revolving funds (RF) and community investment funds (CIF) which they can utilize to start a business of their own.In Tejaswini, the groups save their own money and get loans out of it (which is 4 times their saving). So they are self-sufficient and more financially viable as they are independent of government funds to sustain and continue.    
2.    NRLM focuses on livelihood so the merger will provide opportunities of employment to women within group (like making incense sticks, sanitary pads, soaps, carpets, etc).     Tejaswini has also started with a livelihood project recently which is collection of milk on a big scale for which both forward and backward linkages have been created. But it is in nascent stage and the merger can impact its smooth functioning.

Tejaswini is supposed to get merged with NRLM as the state government feels that two programmes with the same objectives cannot run in the same district. But this will end the diversity which is visible in both the programmes with respect to empowerment and mobilization among women. Instead of bringing uniformity through merger it will be better if Tejaswini is taken to next level by providing skills, training and livelihood opportunities to women in the group. The state government owned Madhya Pradesh women Development Corporation must be strengthened to finance livelihood projects under Tejaswini and make the federations (made in Tejaswini) self-sufficient financially. This will not only reduce the financial burden from the state government’s shoulder (in the form of RF and CIF) but also help in maintaining the group’s distinctive identity of being ‘Tejaswini’.

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Present Condition:

  1. On paper Tejaswini is merged with NRLM, but on field Tejaswini is working individually on its previously running projects in some districts and in others it is in a state of stagnation.Both the staff and the SHG members are in the lurch of information with respect to the future of programme.
  2. There is a sense of hopelessness among the members as their savings are stuck, meetings have not been commenced for last one year and information regarding merger has not been floated at the ground level.
  3. People who were once part of Tejaswini staff are looking for new jobsas the merger does not include merger of staff. One of the staff member said in a low tone ‘I have become overage’.
  4. Longer pendency in merging the groups at the ground level and remobilizing them will only increase the woes of women who are already dealing with the challenges of poverty and migration.
  5. In the present COVID 19 situation it has to be seen how these women get the same benefits as other active SHG women from NRLM (Rs 500 per month per SHG member for 3 months).
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