Women are often the neglected lot in Sunderbans. Many do just as dangerous work as the men like catching fish, prawns and crabs, and collecting honey or wood in the mangrove forests. Often the incomes of the husbands are not enough to sustain families. So the wives are forced to supplement the family income.
Supplementing the husband
Men are regularly mauled by tigers while going about their livelihood of catching fish or collecting honey or wood, and these mostly go unreported in the press. Another major cause of casualty for men is when fishing boats are lost at sea during storms. When the men are killed, the wives are forced to take up these dangerous works to sustain themselves and their children, as these are the only work available in the Sunderbans.
And when the women are killed or injured, which happens just as often as well, many a time there is often no one left to look after the children, as their fathers may have already been killed or died at sea. According to Paritosh Mandal, secretary of the Jata Nagendrapur Social Development Society, “In most cases, women die following boat capsize, snake bite and storms in the deep forest.”
Empowering the women
In order to bring some relief to the women of the Sunderbans area, a group of local youth has set up a training centre in Raidighi near Diamond Harbour, utilising funds they got through Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS). Through the centre, women would be trained to work on silk saris, which would then be exported.
This is a very positive development, as the initiative would be able to provide local women with an alternative means of livelihood. No longer would they be forced to put their lives in danger daily in order to earn a living.
The youth have contacted some businessmen in Kolkata who would supply them regularly with silk saris, on which the women would do the embroidery work. The women would be earn anything in between Rs 500 and Rs 1000 per sari once they have learned their craft. A person can complete the fabric work on a sari in two to three days.
Another avenue which would open up is as instructors. Women who learn the skills can then teach it to others and earn money in this way as well.
However, funds for the purpose are insufficient. According to Mandal, the youth are trying their best to collect more funds in order to be able to continue the programme. Also, as Vijay Kumar Singh of the Asian Front of Human Rights said, though several NGOs as well as central and state schemes provide funds for development in the Sunderbans, “most of the projects failed due to lack of monitoring and corruption.”
So, the need of the hour is not only initiatives such as the one started by the youth of Raidighi, but also monitoring of the utilisation of the existing funds and the schemes they are supposed to pay for.
More such good initiatives would go a long way in bringing relief to the women of the Sunderbans. With very little scope for cultivation, earning a livelihood becomes a huge problem, and such local schemes can go a long way in preventing women from regularly putting their lives on the line, and thus being able to look after their families.
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