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Phoolbasan Bai Yadav

Introduction

1. Padmashree Phoolbasan Bai Yadav, a social entrepreneur leading the women brigade in Chhattisgarh is a seventh-grade pass out from an impoverished background who heads a 200,000-strong women self-help group in Chhattisgarh, has been at the heart of a mini-revolution in the state.

2. A SOCIAL entrepreneur, change-maker and a reformist social worker– these are just a few names to describe Padmashree awardee Phoolbasan Bai Yadav, who has literally made it from ‘nowhere to everywhere’.

3. One of her proudest moments came on the morning of April 4, when President Pratibha Patil conferred her with the Padma Shree award, not before informing her that ‘you have done it at a very young age’.

4. In just eleven years of her social work, Mrs Yadav has gone on to lead 12,000 women Samitis or self-help groups that have a total strength of 200,000 women workers in almost all the districts of Chhattisgarh.

5. Just a seventh-grade pass out, this woman has created a viable business model, which highly-educated entrepreneurs in big metros can only dream about. Named after the goddess Durga, the Maan Bamleshwari Janhit Kare Samiti, not only acts as a watchdog on the government departments in the state but also does the sanitation, cleanliness drives along with digging soak-pits and operating women sewing centres.

6. Mrs Yadav's initiative is an example of how simple attempts to bring important change at the very grassroots can gather momentum and become a powerful movement that power structures at the very top take notice.

7. Female brand ambassadors to curb female foeticide in Rajasthan The group doesn’t ask or receive any donations from any foreign or local donors but has still managed to collect a sum of Rs 15 crore in a decade. “We started with Rs 2 per head per week from every member and because of that we managed to collect this sum,” says Mrs Yadav.

8. While poverty and illiteracy force women to take the extreme step of suicide but for Mrs Yadav, it seems like a blessing in disguise. “We have faced endless nights when we went to sleep without a morsel in our stomach and realising the pain of hunger and poverty, I vowed to improve not only my situation but all such families living around and I tell you, there are countless such people in our state,” informs Mrs Yadav.

9. Currently, the group has taken the responsibility for the education of 54 kids in the state but how does that make a difference as the government already provides free education to all primary school students? Mrs Yadav has the answer. “Parents don’t let children go to these schools as they want them to earn a livelihood for the family. So the government process fails at that point in time.”

10. It is here that the role of this self-help group comes in the picture. “We approach such parents and ask for the reasons but in most of the cases we found out that they don’t have any sources of income and then we decided to address that root problem. We approach the bank and make sure that these people are provided loans to start their own businesses and once money starts trickling in, they make sure that their children attend the classes,” adds Mrs Yadav, with a smile.

11. Dressed in pink saris, these women groups could be spotted keeping a watch on the school teachers when they are not travelling on their bicycles through far-off villages, creating awareness against the ill practices against women. Under the leadership of Mrs Yadav, the group has forced the closure of 250 liquor stores during their campaign, ‘Sharab Bandi’ (end to liquor consumption).

12. Mrs Yadav had to spend several nights in the shivering cold when she was beaten up and thrown out of her house by her husband for her social work programmes but in a decade things have completely changed, though her husband still grazes cattle in the Sukuldaihan village. “The main reason was that the society is male-dominated and adding to that was the poverty but once he saw me on every TV network and newspapers and everyone praising me for the social work, he had to change his opinion,” says Mrs Yadav said with raised eyebrows.

13. Participation of women in Gram Sabha is something still unheard of in rural areas of the country but the campaign of Mrs Yadav has changed the equation, at least in her Rajnandgaon district. “More than 75% women participate in the Gram Sabha and women who wouldn’t even dare to raise their covered heads now speak uninterrupted at length in these public meetings,” a confident Mrs Yadav says.

14. Child marriages have become synonymous with illiteracy and poverty and this was always the focus of this group and through their efforts, more than 570 such marriages in the district. How do they manage to stop such marriages? Mrs Yadav says that the group convinces their parents of harmful effects on the health of girl child. “I was married at 10 and that gives me an edge to make them understand better,” says Mrs Yadav.

15. Awards are nothing new to this woman who has been striving not only to make women economically independent but also make sure that they are given due respect. Mrs Yadav and her remarkable social work has earned her the title of ‘Brand ambassador’ for state government’s Janana Suraksha Yojana (maternity security scheme). Zee TV Mumbai conferred her with ‘Zee Astitwa Award’ in 2008 and Government of India awarded her with ‘Stree Shakti Award’, to name a few.

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