India – Can Sumati and Mina bring change to their village?

Sumati Vanwasi and her sister-in-law Mina are young women living in the village of Kharkhatta in Jashpur District in Chhattisgarh State in central India. They come from the Korba Adivasi (scheduled tribe) community, and their surname means “forest dweller,” reflecting the historically isolated and nomadic nature of their community. Kharkhatta is one of 20 villages that are part of the Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) to Climate Change project under the Where the Rain Falls (WtRF) project. The focus of the first phase of WtRF CBA activities is on enhancing resilience to climate change by improving water resource governance and facilitating effective partici-pation of Adivasi women in decision-making by local authorities related to water.

Sumati, who is around 21 years of age, is paid a small monthly allowance by CARE’s local partner as a village animator and is responsible for helping to mobilize and educate the women and girls of her village on important issues related to water resources, livelihoods, local governance and the legal rights and entitlements of the community is entitled. She is also continuing her education (now second year in college) by correspond-dence course, having already completed 12th standard, which is a significant accomplishment for a woman from her community.

Mina Vanwasi is 25 years old and has been married to Sumati’s elder brother for five years. She is a resident of Korba hamlet and a volunteer member of the WtRF Project Management Committee for her village. They have one son, who is two and a half years old. Mina and her husband share 22 acres of land, of which 4.5 acres are lowland suitable for rice cultivation, with his six brothers. This amount of land is capable of only providing 4-5 months of the household’s annual food need, even though their nuclear family is small, compared to the 6-8 members in the average household in the village. This sort of land fragmentation over the generations is a common problem in the rural areas of India, forcing many family members to seek employment on others’ farms or outside the village. From the village of Kharkhatta a number of families already migrate seasonally for up to six months, most to the neighboring district of Raigarh, which is a center of mining and heavy industry.

Mina says that her family is doing alright compared to many in the village since they only have three mouths to feed. Food is most scarce during the lean season in September-October before the rice harvest and when little outside work is available in the village. In addition to food they are able to produce on their own land, Mina’s family is eligible for subsidized food rations, including 35 kg. of rice per month at two rupees per kilo, through the Government of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS). To make ends meet, Mina and her husband engage in daily labor for families with larger landholdings. Daily wages are 100 rupees for men but only 70 rupees (equal to EUR0.84) for women. When the family has no money to buy food, they borrow from local landowners and repay the loan with their labor. In addition to their own production, PDS rations and daily labor, Mina and her husband are able to participate sometimes in local public works projects implemented by the Government of India under its flagship 100-day guaranteed employment (MGNREGA) scheme.

One of the biggest struggles of the women in Mina’s village is obtaining sufficient water to meet their domestic needs. Particularly during the hot, dry months from May-July (the normal onset of the monsoon rains in Chhattisgarh), the hand pump close to Mina’s home goes dry. During this period, the women of the village often have to wake up at 2:00AM to fetch water from a traditional water source called a “dhodhi”, where they obtain poor quality water that they sometimes treat with chlorine tablets. When the village’s children fall sick with diarrhea, their mothers take them to the nearby hospital. Improving year-round water supply is one of the highest priorities of the women in the villages where WtRF works. While the project has a budget to rehabilitate water sources in just five of the 20 villages, staff from CARE and the local partner organization will work to connect these communities to local government authorities with budgets for such work, while also seeking additional funds from other sources to expand this component of the project.

By Kevin Henry
2013, November


Sumati Vanwasi, Where the Rain Falls Village Animator

Mina (right in blue) Being Interviewed