Jhargram DM Ayesha Rani opens up about the all-round development of the district, touching upon increased representation of women in the administration and how Self-Help Groups are assisting them in achieving employment and livelihood.
Women’s representation in administration:
There has been a specific policy for proper representation of women in Jhargram, West Bengal, for the past couple of years and the role of government is indeed proactive in assuring that equal representation happens. In fact, in urban bodies, there has been adequate participation of women. They are no longer in the backseat and are rather receiving training and other skills that provide huge motivation for them to take part in different social activities. Even today, women in remote areas and from tribal households are still conservative and do not open up easily. However, with due training, these women are now breaking their shackles to come to the frontline. Handling work and household matters act like additional responsibility but the administration has given them support and encouragement in every aspect. There are times when women face discrimination and it decreases their decision-making power. However, it is true that with proper support and motivation and with the increase in representation in Panchayats and administration, the fairer sex is now making a mark.
Decentralisation and development:
Jhargram has a three-tier system that works well in this district. The Gram Sabha, Zilla Parishad and Gram Panchayats work in close tandem. After almost 10 years, it is evident that a huge development has actually taken place. Also, people who visited Jhargram years ago, are not able to identify this district because of the all-round development. Roads have been constructed and new developments have taken place. Three superspecialty hospitals, namely Jhargram Super Speciality Hospital, Gopiballavpur Multi Super Specialty Hospital and Nayagram Multi Specialty Hospital have been set up with critical care units and other highly developed infrastructure. Also, public health centres have been set up. The Kishanbazaar, Lalgarh College, the polytechnic institute and Nayagram College have been set up to ensure all-round development. The district headquarters is now located in Jhargram so people do not have to travel to other places along with a host of employment opportunities that have come up.
There was one sub-divisional hospital which has now been upgraded to the district hospital. This was earlier located in Cuttack due to which people had to travel long distances but now they have everything in their own district. Regular medical camps are also held. Ambulance and other emergency vehicles have been provided for people as well. Mobile medical facility is available for the tribal people. Moreover, Jhargram was a health district earlier in 2014, but in the year 2017, it has turned into a revenue district. All facilities have been incorporated in this area.
Women employment & development:
We are all aware of the Kanyashree scheme and how well it is doing across Bengal. Jhargram women have benefitted from this scheme too. Several volunteers visit families urging them to send their children to schools. Since the population here is mostly tribal hence persuading them is difficult, however, Kanyashree is helping them to a great extent. Jhargram receives a lot of financial help from the Social Welfare Department. Over the years, drop-outs have decreased and the number of students going to school has increased. Awareness of several government schemes is important to educate women about the latest schemes for employment and livelihood. The NREGA scheme works very well here. With 100 days of work, most of them have a decent livelihood source.
Various schemes such as ‘Matir Shristi’ and ‘Anandadhara’ scheme have benefitted people. Here, 50 percent of society comprises women and considering the fact that those who can handle families so well, will also be able to take decisions for districts. This is why women participation has increased over the years in the district level and administration. It is a fact that when the fairer sex gets involved in administration, then women and child issues start coming to the forefront. The Tribal department takes regular initiatives for the tribal populace to get them proper work and improve their livelihood. The district administrations give vocational training and impart skill development to support SC, ST and other tribal people. Various other schemes have been provided by the state government and corporations to improve the livelihood of the rural folk along with the tribals. Through the Matir Srishti project, 100 acres of barren lands have been made fit for production. The Anandadhara scheme is a West Bengal State Rural Livelihood mission through which many Self-Help Groups operate.
Till now, under the leadership of the DM, almost 1,500 Self-Help Groups have been developed. Various Gram Panchayats have joined hands with them. These developments have now made women socially and economically empowered to start their own ventures. Earlier, they used to be economically dependent but now they are earning on their own which is a big step. They are not empowered individually but as groups. These women have formed their own sanghas and every sangha has a netri who act as their leader. Regular videos are also uploaded for the ease of women to learn new craft. Regular interactions with Sangha netris and the DM ensure that women do not face any problem and can come out of their houses and make a mark of their own.
Shaal and baru grasses are a common sight in Jhargram. These act as sources of income for women. They receive vocational training, bookkeeping training, horticulture training, skill development, mushroom cultivation and selling. These products are sold and marketed in various stores, even in Kolkata’s Dakshinapan. Through NREGA schemes, nurseries have been set up where women can work. We can see holistic development and productive interventions that have brought Jhargram a long way.
While the entire world was battling with the pandemic, Jhargram recorded the lowest number of cases. With a small population, almost 20K tests were conducted which kept the pandemic in control. Regular checks were done and all borders were sealed during the lockdown so that no one could enter the district. However, when the borders opened up during the unlocking phase, there was a spurt in the number of cases but it was under control. Messages were propagated in every language to spread awareness about the safety measures and guidelines regarding social distancing were issues. Strategies were upgraded and updated from time to time with the changing situations. People of Jhargram are cooperative by nature which helped the administration to implement rules and policies to contain and curb the spread of infection.
A lot of initiatives have been taken by Sabuj Sathi and Kanyashree to develop the lives of women in the tribal areas. Schools, colleges and institutes have more tribal students and drop-outs have decreased with more students getting themselves enrolled in the education institutes. The change will be seen after 2-3 years. Some students have got opportunities in prestigious institutes such as IIT Patna and other MBA courses as well. Tribals getting into productive and prestigious institutes are proof that development has been taking place. Also, in the higher secondary level, Santhali language has been recognised as a medium of learning.
The desire of being an IAS was always there since childhood. After completing B Tech, my journey to become an IAS again was rekindled in 2009. After being inspired by district collectors, it was a different feeling to serve people and Kolkata. From being the SDO in Durgapur to a probationary officer at Bardhaman and working during the Enclave Movement ADM at Cooch Behar, then to Raiganj and then as DM Uttar Dinajpur and finally to Jhargram — the journey has been long and enriching. Jhargram has been different as it is a tribal area and there was a lot to learn with an opportunity to work for the people at the grassroots level.
How has the journey changed you as a person?
The most important lesson I received is how to stay calm and composed throughout. Taking responsibilities, motivating team members both at the personal and professional front is most important take away from the journey.
Communication during COVID?
Communication has been the key throughout the pandemic. Virtual meetings and conferences were conducted and physical interactions were avoided. The personal touch was lacking but it did not affect work much. The entire concept is pretty new and will take time to adapt but bonds have grown stronger.
One lesson learnt?
“Lead from the front” is the mantra which is followed every day. The motto should be to work as a team. Taking a lead and working together is the key to a successful team and is of utmost importance to set an example for the masses in general.