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On their journey to real empowerment

Archana Phull | Shimla |

Wrinkles on her face tell the tale of her empowerment, as she calls visitors to have a taste of the ‘saag aur makki ki roti’ at a health fair here on Saturday.
Seventy-five-year-old, illiterate Kaushalya Devi of Neri village near Shimla is here as a part of the Self Help Group (SHG) under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) to sell traditional food along with other village women. 
She is happy earning few bucks by using her culinary skills.
“I have been associated with village ‘mahila mandal’ for long for social activities. But since I became member in SHG under NRLM a couple of years ago, I don’t have to look to others for financial needs,” Kaushalya shared with The Statesman.
“True. It has helped us stand on our own feet, while giving us confidence to move out,”added Neena, a matriculate, from nearby village Basantpur, who was selling dried Curry leaves.
Silently, the rural women in HP have started witnessing a  gradual but revolutionary change in their social and financial status, thanks to the NRLM, launched in 2013 with focus on women.
 A rural state, Himachal Pradesh has around 8000 SHGs of women (including some vulnerable groups) under NRLM in all the 12 districts. Around 2000 more groups were merged in it, which were functioning under Swaran Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SJGSY). Each group has 5-20 members depending on topography, 
“We have taken off well.We hope for a bigger success in the years to come,” said Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Himachal Pradesh, Onkar Sharma.
On ground, not only that the illiterate women are at advantage, the NRLM has helped even educated unemployed women in villages join this journey towards self-reliance.
Shanta Sharma of Mashobra near Shimla is an example. She has done Master of Arts in Hindi language and Political Science. “I am married and have three daughters to take care of. Since it was difficult for me to look for job all these years, I joined village SHG and am now earning Rs 1000- 1500 a month, which supplements my husband’s income from a tea shop to an extent.”
She along with other women knit sweaters, make pickles of local fruits, stitch bags and earn profits by selling them locally and at fairs. The women save Rs 50-100 per month and use this money either for some venture or for inter-loaning at 2% interest rate, which gives them a lot of social security.
The activity may have made a little-little difference in their income, but has turned out to be a big leap for them individually, in terms of exposure, confidence, and collectively in terms of entrepreneurship through Gram Sangathans. 
The Sangathans are given Community Investment loan of Rs 75000-one lakh on regular repayment basis at 4% interest. In three years, the Banks in HP have disbursed Rs 100 Crore under the NRLM to the targeted groups.
 “The NRLM is a departure from subsidy culture. We train the women strengthen their existing avocation. We build their capacity in Panchsutra- regular meetings, savings, inter-loaning, repayment and updation of records. We give them practical trainings to earn income through various ventures,” informed Bhuvan Sharma, Project Director or the Mission in HP.'
“Look at the difference it has made. The village women, who were very shy and would not come out of their homes hitherto, are now getting trainings outside the state to empower the women back home,”he added.